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Follow Your Bliss

By: Ashley Dane

Follow Your Bliss is the blog of Ashley Webb Dane, a mother of two teenagers who has been in recovery for five years. She is committed to carrying the message of the spiritual aspect of recovery and the empowerment of women in recovery. She is a certified hypnotherapist, and is currently Director of Communications at ONE80CENTER, a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Beverly Hills.

Abundant with gratitude

Apr 05, 2013

I was having a philosophical discussion with a good friend yesterday. He had been pondering the idea of scarcity and how it adds value to just about everything. He sited the historical relevance of the idea: For a long time, it was not really any sort of question to be asked; there was not much else but scarcity. Once there was abundance for some, but clearly not for all, the idea of manufactured scarcity came about.

Manufactured scarcity? It almost seems preposterous, but it's a real thing and has existed for a long time. For example' think of something that you love in which you rarely get to indulge. Perhaps it's a massage, or a day of sleeping in, or lobster. Part of what makes it special is that it is scarce, at least, this is the idea. f you were to be given any of those things every single day for a year, they may not be so special to you. You probably would learn to take it for granted, because it was the very scarcity that made it so singularly appealing.

Many, many businesses today operate on this very principle (or lack of principal), creating a demand and reducing supply and charging the consumer more for it. Take the latest Gucci purse, for example. The manufacturer will say there are only limited quantities and you have to get on the waiting list. The magazines feature it in every
editorial. It creates a storm of desire in women, who feel so blessed to be granted the privilege of paying $2,500 for the coveted bag of the season: They feel as if they have won the lottery to be one of the few to get their hands on that bag. And truly, there is no scarcity of said handbag. Hence, manufactured scarcity. It's not a treat if you can have it whenever you want it.

I had trouble with this idea, though. I like to think of abundance as something that is everyone's birthright. Not all of us step into it, or call it to us, or recognize it as such. But I do like to think that if we got out of our own way, we would be able to access abundance.  Abundance of what, you might ask? That entirely depends on you and what you value. I have, most of the time, an abundance of ... not enough money. I also have an abundance of friends. Both of those things reflect a lot about what I value, and what I still am learning to put into perspective.

This concept of scarcity, while I get it, bugs me. It makes me feel that, if one bought into this concept, then one would, if given unlimited access to abundance, soon enough take it for granted. If one took abundance for granted, then there would be a scarcity of  gratitude. And scarcity of gratitude on any level is a recipe for a meaningless existence. Gratitude is the one of those things that, if you always had it, you would always be rich in the right way. It is also one of those beautiful things that are entirely our own choice.

We can have as much as we want and no one can take it away from us. I stop and consider what would happen if I lived somewhere where I saw an amazing sunset every day, and had a clear view of the stars at night, and I could jump into a warm turquoise ocean whenever I wanted. Would I value these things less for their accessibility? I kind of don't think so. I have a lot of gratitude for my life now, which is far less ideal than the aforementioned scenario. I am still grateful for it. I wouldn't be more grateful for that life; I would be equally grateful.

Gratitude takes me to a place that is beyond better or worse or any sort of comparisons or judgments. It is gratitude for what is, right now, no matter what that right now might look like. Can I stay grateful if I wreck my car? Or lose my job?  That, my friends, is no
easy feat. I work really hard at maintaining that state of grace no matter what the external conditions. I feel like my life depends on this positive perception. I am no superhuman: I fail at this ALL the time. But I am getting better. And I am dedicated to perfecting it, fully knowing I may never get it perfect. Perfection is not the point. The point is this:

Gratitude gives meaning and substance and joy to my life, and that is my choice. It's my attitude and no one can take it away from me, not unless I let them. That's the beauty of it: There is no scarcity when gratitude is intact. And that makes a person above the entire philosophical discussion about the value of scarcity. Gratitude transcends the more obvious human conditions. I think that is entirely the point.

I saw the signs!

Mar 15, 2013

I write often about the element of play, and the importance of keeping the spirit of rambunctiousness as an integral part of recovery.

I continue to write about it primarily because it remains so pivotal, and yet easily lost in the seriousness of sobriety. And sobriety aside, life is challenging no matter what else you might have going on.

Like any challenge, the experience one has is based on the spirit of the the endeavor. It's fairly textbook, and we all know this: You can look at a mountain and say, "I have to climb that?" Or you can look at the mountain and say, "I get to climb that!" We all know this; most people in recovery will espouse this, but when it comes to living, breathing, being an example of this doctrine, we all find life grabbing us by the short and curlies at times. We get emotionally hijacked. We feel victimized by circumstances beyond our control. And that whole mantra and way of being we all aspire to goes directly out the window.

It happens. We are human, after all; what we do is err. But we get to learn from our erring ways, and hopefully we do. Recently I found myself clenching my emotional fists, for weeks, I was white knuckling it. My mind was curled into a tight ball and very little light was getting in. One gets used to this posture, and if one isn't careful, like our Moms used to tell us when we crossed our eyes and made faces, "If you aren't careful, your face will get freeze and stay like that!"

Thankfully we have the option of getting out of it before we become frozen and narrow minded, but we still need to be mindful. We become brittle and frozen when we do not exercise our emotional flexibility. Playfulness is exactly the thing that keeps us supple and vibrant.

As I said, I had a couple of weeks recently where my life circumstances had changed, and my schedule became more hectic, including the addition of two hours of driving to my already busy day. I had discovered I owed the IRS a huge amount of money. I had a list of grievances. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was ... crunchy. And then I saw a sign. Literally.

I was driving to work after dropping my daughter off at school, still getting used to the new routine, when I whipped by one of the many construction signs that one can't miss, as construction in Los Angeles is happening everywhere all the time, and always on the route you most want to go. It's absurd, really.

This sign, however, said, "World Peace." Then it said, "Make people laugh." Then it switched to, "One smile at a time." Finally it read, "Also, construction."

I couldn't really believe it the first time I saw it. I was driving and there was no one to turn to and say, "Hey! Did you see that?" But even so, it had an immediate effect. My outlook changed. It became lighter, because someone had taken the spirit of playfulness to another level, and because I needed a sign and I got one. I was infected by it.

All it took was a little boost, and I got my bounce back. I don't ever want to go flat, lose my humor, and value victimhood over freedom. All bondage is of our own creation. It's just how we see it.

I love that someone changed the sign to read something fun and thoughtful. Its the spirit of the person who did that which infected me more than the sign itself -- that someone found it important enough to stop and play with all the people who would drive by that sign and see it -- honoring that impulse, as it were- is what really inspires me.

How liberating is that? To step outside of the demands of life and just goof around with others? How much fun must that have been for that person?

And lest I forget, my Higher Power will make sure to remind me, and I love that. I count on it, and I am never let down.
 

The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us

Feb 17, 2013

Vulnerability and all that it entails sends us running for the hills. I wonder, however, is our collective recoil at the idea of being vulnerable a natural state, or is it a flaw of some sort, a defect in our programming? Because by our very nature we are flawed. It's how we deal with our shortcomings that defines our personal evolution.  

I am reminded of the movie "Cinderella Man," a film in which Russell Crowe stars as the real-life boxer James Braddock. He's down on his luck, off his game, losing fights and unable to care for his family. Then he breaks his right arm and can't fight at all. He goes to work in a factory where he must grab hunks of ice with his good left arm and haul them on to trucks. After a while, he gets back in the ring, only to discover that his injury made him stronger. Since he had to use only his non-dominant left arm, he became a very strong boxer; stonger than before, as he now has a great left hook to back up his powerful right jab. 

Simply put, this man's defect lands him in a place where he is able to emerge stronger. He didn't foresee this at the time: He was mired in defeat. He didn't see any way up and out of it, even as his salvation was being exercised while he despaired.

So we are with our vulnerability: It keeps us out of the ring. Or if we do get in the ring, it keeps us from being able to be present to create a fulfilling scenario. What do we do? Too often we shrink, hide, run, judge others for our own shortcomings, get angry, blame, become promiscuous instead of connected (and not just romantically, but on all levels). We refuse to commit. We become rootless, lacking purpose.  

What don't we do? We fail to show up, take risks, allow ourselves to feel or be exposed, possess a willingness to make mistakes and own them. We refuse to care, out loud and in public for all to see.

Author, speaker and researcher Brene Brown says that most people equate vulnerability with weakness. And yet, a willingness to be vulnerable actually defines courage. Saying "I love you" first, asking for a raise, saying no to your kids, asking someone on a date, speaking in public: All of these things make a person feel vulnerable. When embraced, these acts can become defining moments in life. These situations call for courage, not weakness, because they require we risk being exposed, rejected, denied, failing, succeeding, losing.

"We buy into the myth of vulnerability as being a weakness because by doing so we give ourselves permission not to do it," says Brown in a conversation with Krista Tippet in her podcast, "On Being." "Try to remember the last time you did something brave, or saw someone do something brave." There's always something at risk, she points out.

All of this got me to thinking about heroes, who risk something big to help someone else. Because if vulnerability is opening yourself up to life in all its glory and pain, we all are heroes when we show up in our daily lives, stripped down and available to what life brings us, willing to be exposed, rather than avoiding the discomfort. 

Life is either a hero's journey, or its not. 

Without exception, I have found that people who ask the hard questions and get in the ring again and again after being beaten badly are the ones who also are capable of the greatest happiness. It's as if the struggles and the quest for understanding carve a deep reservoir in a person. The deeper the reservoir, the more capacity for joy. In an emotionally promiscuous life, where no commitments are made and vulnerability is avoided, a person can only scratch the surface. There is no capacity for deep and abiding joy, only fleeting distractions and drudgery. There are plenty of people who live like that.

And this got me to thinking about what I saw on "Project Appleseed" recently: The zombie apocalypse is already happening. Just peruse facebook for an hour.  The zombies avoid commitment, vulnerability, pain, growth, depth, true connection. They can't focus, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. And guess what? They want you to be zombies, too. Because people who are fighting the good fight remind them that their existence is shallow and half-hearted. It's always easier to bring a person down a peg than to bring one's self up a peg. We must always be wary of the dreamers who want to lure the wakers back to sleep. 

Waking up to your true self is never easy. It isn't supposed to be. Like the baby chick fighting to get out of its eggshell, the struggle is critical for survival. In fact, studies show that when a person helps a chick out, the baby soon dies because it doesn't develop the muscle strength it gains by the very act of breaking out of its shell.

Vulnerability builds the muscles of a wholehearted human being. You might get hurt. You might look silly. You might be rejected. You certainly could fail. Then again, you might not.

Redemption—if the Grinch can do it …

Dec 20, 2012

I’ve been thinking about the tough spots during the holidays. I know others are also fragile during the holidays, more so than at other times. I’ve heard some people say they don’t like it when people keep portraying the holidays as a hard time for us alcoholic/addicts. Their argument is that we shouldn’t be more careful at the holidays, that we should be that careful at all times.

I for one think of the holidays as a potentially icy road—it might not be icy, but it’s best to drive with extra caution in the event that you hit a patch. You wouldn’t need to drive like that on a summer day, but you still have to drive mindfully no matter what. Mostly, though, I speak to the newly sober when I talk about the potential minefield the holidays can be. The first Christmas can be difficult. 

As much as I believe the holidays to be a tricky time, I also love them. My kids and I put up the tree right after Thanksgiving, and Christmas movies are played on rotation until the new year. I love holiday movies and the theme of redemption most of all. Even if you don’t recognize Christmas, this is a theme that is appealing no matter what you celebrate.

Let’s talk about “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a classic about the power of perception. George Bailey’s life is reviewed by a bumbling angel so that he can help save him during a time of crisis. George is thinking about taking his own life, and here comes Clarence the angel to save him. When George says he wishes he had never been born, Clarence grants him his wish, and George gets the rare opportunity to see how his life has impacted others.

His vision of his life had become so small, his priorities so skewed, that he was ready to take his own life. He needed to see the big picture. In our using, this happens to us. We become entirely subjective; we can only see things as they relate to us and not as they are. We take everything personally. George was able to see a world without the children he wasn’t there to help create, without the wife he wasn’t there to marry, the brother he wasn’t there to save, or the community he wasn’t there to protect. It helped him see that his unfulfilled dreams of travel and adventure were not worth resenting his life— that his concerns for his family business were unfounded, his life was worth living for, it was rich with the love and grace and family and friends, and that it truly is a wonderful life.

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasOr, take “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” for example. No one knows what made the Grinch so Grinch-y, living in isolation and mad at the world, blaming the Whos and all their joy for his great unhappiness. We all know how the Grinch set out to steal their joy and discard it, as he himself felt discarded, living in the trash dump as he did. So he stole all the trappings of Christmas, all the presents and Yule logs, and even the last can of Who Hash. And when he heard the Whos singing in the morning, stripped as they were of all the ornamentation and fanfare of the holiday, he understood implicitly that the joy he sought to steal was not dependent on the “stuff,” but came from the heart.

Suddenly, his own heart grew three sizes. I experienced that in getting sober. I remember that feeling. In the Jim Carrey film version, when the Grinch’s heart started growing, he grabs his chest and shouts, “I’m FEELING something!” I had medicated myself through every holiday for most of my life, and the first Christmas I was sober, I felt exactly that way. “I’m FEELING something!” And I was. I wasn’t even sure exactly what it was, what to call it. I had a million feelings that needed naming when I got sober, things I never let myself feel so I didn’t know what they were, what to call them, or what to do with them.

That first Christmas I felt elation and melancholy at the same time. I didn’t know it at the time, I couldn’t have articulated it. Thank God there were marathon meetings and my newfound family of friends from AA. I learned to love Christmas without the crutch of alcohol, just as the Grinch learned to live without the crutch of his animosity and loneliness.

Finally there is the most classic of all, “A Christmas Carol.” This entire story, from how the Scrooge-like character turned from the things that spoke to his heart as a young man, and instead honored the desires of his ego, is the story of alcoholics. Like alcoholics, we know the truth, deep in our hearts, but we honor the lie that that is our addiction.

His life becomes, like the Grinch, like George Bailey—very, very small. Everything is taken personally; life itself is an insult. He is visited in the night by four spirits—the first his old business partner, who comes to tell him that his very soul is on the line. And then, in the night, he is visited by three more spirits, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. One reminds him of who he was before his heart turned to stone. He got to see the moments where he turned his back on love, and how his heart hardened as a result. He saw the present, how the people in his life suffered as the result of his miserliness, his stinginess of spirit, and how he could change their lives if he were able to open his heart to them. And he saw his future, bleak and alone, his death, with no one there to mourn him, and the deaths of others he could have helped.

Christmas morning, following the visitations, he was reborn. Reborn! Just like we are when we get sober. Birth is an absolute; there is only one percentage at work in absolutes like this and that is 100 percent. That is why our surrender must also be 100 percent. Anything less and there is no rebirth. And that feeling, I can tell you, is like nothing else. To be redeemed, to be given a second chance, to be able to settle old debts and right old wrongs and restore oneself and one’s life to grace, to be able to make a difference in the lives of others, to be a part of a community, and to see, every day, the workings of the Divine in the events of  one’s life—this is the greatest gift of sobriety, to me.

The redemptive quality of the holidays should not be resigned only to the holidays, but it is a time when it is more poignant, relevant, intense, and in your face. Just as it is a time to drive with caution, it is also a time to drop old hurts and simply love, in spite of yourself. There is a lot to enjoy, there is a lot (A LOT) to be grateful for, and there is an entire world that will be improved by the power of your smiling heart. Your smiling heart will provoke a smile in someone, and theirs will inspire one in someone else, and so on and so on. Joy is infectious. Love heals the planet. This isn’t just happy hippy crap, or a hokey Christmas sentiment, it’s an absolute.

Happy Holidays! And God Bless Us, Every One!

Connecting is healing

Nov 26, 2012

A couple of days ago I went to the gas station by my house, which I do on a regular basis. I know all the guys there, all hailing from India. I like to go in and talk to them for a minute while paying for my gas because while standing in line I see most people don't acknowledge them at all, as if they were nothing more than a vending machine. On this particular occasion, I walked in and said hello to Omar in my usual way. He was half turned around, doing something off to the side of the window that separates them from the potentially hostile customer. Omar looked up, almost startled and then blurted out, "My father died this morning; my father died."

Offering a helping handI was stunned for a moment. The force of not only what he said, but how he said it, hit me hard. It was as if he needed to tell someone, as if he was waiting for someone familiar that he could share this sad information with. I stood at the little window and told him I was so sorry to hear that, and asked if he was OK. I asked if he was going to go home—all the things one says in the face of such a declaration. He had tears in his eyes. There were people in line behind me. I wanted to grab his hand underneath the window to connect with him in spite of the obvious barriers, both visible and invisible. But I didn't. I don't know why I didn't, although I felt my energy reaching out for him, my hand didn't.

The people in line behind me starting to make the kind of noises people make when they are tired of waiting, and I was about to turn and leave when Omar grabbed my hand. We stood there like that for a short while looking at each other, and then he suddenly composed himself and said, "Thank you, my friend." He wiped his eyes, and gestured for the next customer to step forward.

I thought about this interaction for days afterward. We really do need to tell people what is going on inside of us. It truly is a function of healing to be able to connect with someone, no matter how briefly. I think that is one of the really beautiful things about recovery; that it promotes sharing our secrets, the things we are not inclined to share, by teaching us how to trust people.

I think Omar trusted me because for years I have made sure that he knows I see him. I see him— he isn't invisible to me, he is flesh and blood. Because of this, he was able to trust me and was compelled to reach through to help himself heal. When I got sober, there was a moment when I realized I wasn't invisible anymore. Not like people didn't see me, they just didn't see the real me, and that is entirely because I didn't let them. I didn't trust that people would not abandon me if they saw the real me. But lo and behold, I stripped down to my psycho/spiritual skivvies, as raw and vulnerable as a baby, and the people in the rooms held me up and held me close until I learned not to put up a wall between me and everyone else.

Now that I am in my sixth year of sobriety I have learned that it is critical to my spiritual development to stay open to others, to be available to make a connection with everyone, everywhere. I have days where I am grumpy and don't look the cashier at the grocery store in the eye, and I always get in my car and realize that I was closed up and in my own head and robbed myself of the chance to connect. This happens less and less, but it still happens. Usually, now I will catch myself as its happening and put some effort into being friendly and making eye contact with strangers. That little effort goes a long way. When I do that, and that person looks me back in the eye, I feel the light in them reaching in and brightening my mood. It never fails.

Connecting is healing. Often we are so stuck in our misery that we don't want to heal, we want to wallow. But when we allow ourselves to stay open to others, we are constantly connecting, and thus constantly healing, ourselves and others. I'm pretty sure that is the recipe for an amazing life!

Swimming with sharks - a full-circle story

Nov 02, 2012

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog about swimming with sharks. If you didn't read it, it was about facing fears. Swimming with sharks is a big one for me. Or, I should say was.

I went to Belize a few weeks ago. It was my second journey out of the U.S. in my life, and not coincidentally, both trips happened in my recovery. Also not coincidentally, it was fraught with serendipity and miracles, such as a friend finding a voucher that was about to expire in a month for $650, which he handed to me, casually saying, "Hey, you want this? I'm not gonna use it." That covered my ticket to Central America. Several other miraculous factors made it possible for me to go, which I chalk up to me being available for said miracles—they’re totally related to my sobriety.

BelizeBelize. I love any tropical destination. Belize has a lot of culture to explore, ancient culture more specifically. Our first three days, we stayed in the jungle by the border of Guatemala. We visited Mayan ruins, zip-lined through the jungle, went inter-tubing down a river through miles of caves, in which the only illumination came from our tiny headlamps. We got licked in the face by a jaguar. Tarantulas walked through the dining room as we ate, overlooking the jungle river as the moon came up over the trees. Personally, I feel like life should always be like this. I am happiest in nature and all the ways it speaks to and interacts with me. This is something I seemed to overlook in all my years of partying, and yet it’s so intrinsic to the core of who I am, I can honestly say this is yet another great disservice I did to myself. I wasted years of my life not knowing that I was missing something so important.

The last four days of the trip, we drove through the Creole section of Belize to Belize City, where we took a ferry to the island of Ambergris Caye. This is the island that was made famous by Madonna's song, "La Isla Bonita." At night, we watched the lightning storms come in across the Caribbean Sea, a magnificent display of nature — humbling and sacred. Or, if it was clear, the four of us laid in reclining loungers on the beach and looked for falling stars, talking, laughing and just enjoying each other. On the third day, we finally took a boat out to the barrier reef to snorkel with the sharks.

I snorkeled once before, but it wasn't quite as intense as this trip. Our guide said we would leap out of the boat, swim a few hundred feet to the edge of the reef and then swim along the reef over the open channel through which sea creatures came in and out of the area. There we could expect stronger currents. The ocean has been a huge fear of mine, not to mention sharks. I was both eager and fearful — two elements of any really juicy adventure. The whole reef was like swimming in a huge aquarium—curious schools of colorful fish, sea turtles, and an entire world under the surface. Oddly, the second I left the boat I was in my element. The saying “I took to it like a fish in water" would apply here. At one point I broke away from the group a tiny bit and looked down. Right below me was s small shark. So, here it was: me, in the ocean, a couple of miles away from land, with a shark. Annnnnnd ... I wasn't scared. That freaked me out more than the shark. Why did I not feel fear? Why was I so comfortable and calm? 

We all got back in the boat and drove to another area called Shark Ray Alley. Our guide chummed for the sharks and the sting rays, and they came — first two or three, then more. He said, "Who is going to be the first in the water?" I waited for him to get in, thinking he meant the first after him. He sat there. I waited for anyone else to go. They sat there, too. Then I jumped in. Who was this person jumping in shark-infested, sting-ray infested waters? I have no idea, and that is the beautiful part of this life journey, this adventure of being sober and getting to know oneself. Sometimes you like who you are becoming. Sometimes you really like the discovering the person you never allowed yourself to be.

Now, I have to add a disclaimer: These are not man-eating sharks. They are nurse sharks, but they are still sharks. So, this can be considered a trial run for the day I swim with the potentially dangerous kind. However, these guys look just like any other kind of shark, and there were a few that were 10- to 12-feet long. When those guys cruised up, one of my group panicked and I almost drowned from laughing as she tried to scramble up the boat's ladder with her flippers on. It’s a trip to be in the water with these creatures. I took the mouthpiece out of my mouth, dove down and swam as close as I could to the sting rays and sharks fighting for the conch that was thrown in the water for them. I did flips and felt like a fish myself, perfectly at home in this environment. More so than I often feel at a social gathering in L.A.

So I did it. I swam with sharks. And sting rays, which it must be said are freaky creatures. The incredible feeling that one gets when they confront deeply-held fears far exceeds any moment in my life where I thought I had achieved the perfect high. Without a doubt, none of this would have happened if I had not first achieved sobriety. But not just achieved it, sustained it for long enough to get to know myself, to discard old belief systems and allow for new ones, and to really start to stock inner reserve with values that align with the principles I learned in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. It takes time for these things to evolve. It’s like they say in the rooms: "If you were to kill yourself before you are five years sober, you are killing the wrong person." It’s a rather gruesome phrase, but it’s true.

Belize image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Stop All War — The most important ceasefire is internal

Oct 18, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/a3942426326d465da75edc85ff713bf11.jpgAs I was driving today, I saw a stop sign that said, underneath it, "All war." STOP all war. I love that. It’s an abstraction; the more I read about history, the more I realize that there really hasn't ever been a period of time where there was no war being waged somewhere on this planet. Primarily, though, the war being waged is inside of each of us, daily. It’s often the most brutal war going on. The most important ceasefire must take place internally.

For me, when I saw that today, it immediately brought to mind the war I was waging at that moment. At this point, my sobriety is not battle or a struggle; it has become a way of life and one that I will fight for if need be, but mostly it’s a peaceful choice and state of mind for which I am eternally grateful. However, the human condition being what it is, there is always a battle. There is the war going on about what I want versus what I have — this doesn't happen often.

I am very content, but lately I really want a different, better living situation for me and my kids. I find myself wanting a garden, fireplace, hammock, room for each of my kids. That isn't what is so right now, and I have to fight to remind myself that everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be in this moment. My kid will burst into tears because she can't have an iPhone, go on a shopping spree or go get sushi and I will feel, momentarily, like I have failed to adequately provide for my kids. The old Ego will stick his foot in any door that opens, even slightly. Feeling like a failure, feeling like I want more — these are small cracks but any sliver is enough for the Opponent to come in and start tearing down the good things in life.

The first thing to go in these scenarios is GRATITUDE. My kid is a reflection of me, she wants more, bigger, better, but she is a child so she has a tantrum about it and then freaks me out about being a good provider. So maybe I don't have a tantrum, but my mind starts to focus on what I don't have rather than what I do. Like my child, all my needs are met. More than met, really and truly — I live a magical and remarkable life! But when I am not paying attention, one bad apple of thought can spoil the whole bunch. The trick is to spot the bad apple as soon as it’s there and eject it. And the tool for that is gratitude. I have a garden (although it’s small and on a patio) and I have a fireplace (although it’s small and fake) and my kid has a 4G smartphone (it’s just not an iPhone.)

We have the things we want, we just want MORE. The difference is that she gets hijacked by the feelings of lack and never having enough — it’s age appropriate. She is a child and has not yet learned acceptance. That is too bad for her; she is miserable a lot. She doesn't know how to get out of it.

She isn't alone —I know a lot of people just like this: fully grown, who stand in their own way of recognizing the abundance of their life. I was heading in that direction and my higher power sent me a very awesome sign. STOP ALL WAR! Right there on Wonderland Avenue in Los Angeles. How cool is that?

That is just my war for the day. There are so many battles, daily, we all endure or perpetuate. One of the big wars is the US and THEM war. Whenever we judge we make someone not one of us, but one of them. We are better; they are worse. We are smarter; we drive better; they are dumb and bad drivers. Just in that one little act of judgment, we perpetuate every war that is going on and validate every war that has ever existed — we continue the cycle of us and them, which is the foundation of any and every war ever waged. If we can catch ourselves in the act of judging, feeling superior (or even victimized), in doing so we blame someone else for our so called plight. So, we judge them as wrong doers and we, the long suffering righteous. But if we can stop ourselves in the act, there isn't a more powerful thing on the planet. When compassion and acceptance come into the picture, we accept people for whom and what they are with no judgment. Or we notice a judgment and dispel it with compassion for the person, by
trying to understand.

If someone cuts me off in traffic, I think that they may have just gotten a call that their mother is dying and they have to get to her bedside. How do I know that isn't true? Before I can get to a place where I honk my horn and give the finger, I stop and think this. I do this as often as I can on all levels, but it’s not easy. Or, a more extreme example of this is given in a book by Viktor Frankl, “Man's Search For Meaning,” in which a man in Auschwitz kept giving his food to other prisoners or asking to take their punishments for them. The Nazis were getting pissed and a little nervous, and after a while they decide to kill him. He looked at them with complete peace and tells them he is sorry for their suffering, and that he bears them no ill will, even as they kill him. He refused to make it an 'us and them' situation, even with these people who had killed his entire family and were in the act of killing him. I would say he had every right to judge them, but that he chose not to — to me — is the most heroic thing I have ever heard in my life. I aspire to that, more than anything.

So, when I let thoughts about how I don't have stuff I want or how I want things to be different, then I open my head up to being judgmental, and then it snowballs until I say or do something I may regret. That takes me so far away from where I want to be in my level of serenity, and that is the struggle. To recognize those moments and eliminate the weed right there at the root.  Even thoughts which are seemingly small are dangerous are like pawns in a chess game. They can distract you while the bishop checks your queen. You go from, “Man, I am so bummed. I can't ever seem to have a house. Why can't I live in a house instead of an apartment? How come all these people get to live in a nice house with a garden and a fireplace? Dammit ....”  Then, suddenly you are compromised, the Ego is in the house, and you find you are judging your lover and a fight ensues and you say something you can't retract and it’s over, or you gossip and it spreads and comes back to bite you in the ass. Or you yell at your kid, or any number of scenarios that can stem from sloppy thinking. 

From judging. From acting from that place of judgment. Good things don't come from it. Feasibly one could create a scenario that could trigger a relapse — it happens all the time and it’s just what the Ego wants. War itself comes from that place. If we want to stop all war, then first, we have to start with ourselves.

This all makes perfect sense on a good day. Try to put it into practice on a bad day. That is when life veers off into the next level. It’s not doing what comes natural in times of peace, but acts of valor when one overcomes the natural instinct to do something different that creates a magical life. It’s not being patient when you have no where in particular to go, but being patient in the face of having three minutes to get to the other side of town. That is where real growth lies, where real peace lives.

Gratitude, patience, non judgment.

Don't create adversaries out of your feelings

Sep 27, 2012

I had two conversations this week that gave me a lot to think about. As I was thinking about these interactions, I knew I wanted to flesh them out in this blog, as I learned a lot — not only new things, but also solidifying things I have learned on my path that serve me well. It never hurts to be reminded.

The first was a dear friend who was in a deeply negative space. There was a list of things that he was dealing with that seemed to justify his head space, and it can't be denied that those things all seemed like really great reasons to be dark. Feelings do come up when we are cleaning the wreckage of our past, it’s true. But I think that the idea is that we get to be released from weight of years of dragging the results of unprincipled behavior around with us. I couldn't really get at why he was so negative and down in the dumps. I tried to suggest that these were quality problems. He countered with the relativity of a comment like that, you can tell anyone that it could be a lot worse than it is, but it doesn't change what that thing is. Now, that’s true, of course. But the critical thing here is not only comparing one's problems to worse ones. A quality problem is one where a person can use gratitude to create a state of balance about said problems. It doesn't trivialize the issues. It goes something like this: I take my car to mechanic for a leak. I am told there are no aftermarket parts for this problem and the cost of the hose is, well, a lot more than I have. This is kinda sucky, right? But seeing it as a quality problem gives you the ability to say to yourself, "Well, thank God I have a car. Only people with cars have these problems." It focuses on what is there, not what is lacking. No, it doesn't change the situation, but it does change me and my thinking. And when I am able to unclench my mind and untangle the knot of taking this kind of thing personally, going into financial fear, scheming and planning on ways to find the money to fix it, then I am able to clear the channels for divine inspiration. And it always comes, when I don't let myself get swept into the drama of life. However, this conversation had me questioning myself a little. Someone in a dark mood can still affect even the most optimistic spirit.

A few hours after that conversation, I found this while reading: First, the saying, "Bow to your experience." Wow! That is amazing. It went on to say, "Don't create an adversary out of feelings of fear and confusion. Don't make it be wrong. We practice Radical Acceptance by pausing and then meeting whatever is happening inside us with this kind of unconditional friendliness. Instead of making them the enemy, we pay attention in a way that enables us to recognize and touch any experience with care. This is the spirit of Radical Acceptance." (Tara Brach, from “GPS for the Soul” on Huffington Post).

I loved this, and after that interaction, I needed it. I needed a reminder that this is the difference between letting the stuff in life get you down, and letting it keep you down. It was OK that my friend was in a dark spot. It happens. But he made the negativity such a terrible thing that he couldn't let go; he wanted to shake it but he couldn't. If he didn't hold it as such a bad thing and just let it flow in and back out, it would have much less energy. To “bow to your experience”— how awesome is that? All of our experiences are sacred, if we are mindful and remember to hold them in that way. They can't possibly grab us by the short and curlies if we show all experiences reverence and respect. How negative could we go with a sacred attitude in place? Not very, I'll wager. I had made my friend's mood wrong for him, and that was my bad. I should have bowed to his experience, too. I don't have to always be a cheerleader. 

The second conversation I had was with a very old and dear friend who I haven't seen in over two decades. We talk every few months. He was there at the beginning of my drug use; he used with me. A lot. So two days ago, he said he had something to tell me. I braced myself, of course. That is usually the preamble of bad news. He said that in a few weeks, he won't have had a drink in a year. He hadn't told me he was undertaking this endeavor because he hadn't told anyone, he just did it. The idea was that he would commence drinking again after the year was up, but he says that now he doesn't see any reason to re-introduce alcohol to his life. He is enjoying the clarity, the truth of sobriety. In the past year, he re-focused himself on his family, his relationships and his health. He started going to the gym and lost 80 pounds. For me, this was ecstatic news. I love my old friend dearly, and I am so happy he discovered for himself the art of living that comes with sobriety. But what floored me above all things is when he said: "Well, no. I didn't go to AA or do any of that stuff. I know one guy who stopped drinking at 40. After all my talking to you, I went and talked to him, and he said I should try it for one year. But it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been talking to you, and hearing how your life has improved in sobriety."  

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/f3729da086af4d638de7e64e69eca2ef1.jpgAt 43, he made this incredible shift. Not in the way we usually do it, out of desperation, just because he heard there might be a better option available for him. Amazing!

We are all well aware of how what we say can affect newcomers, sponsees or people who are looking for help. But we can never know when we might affect someone who we don't know needs to hear the hope we carry inside us. My friend is wildly successful, has gorgeous kids and a lovely wife, I would never have thought I had anything to offer him. His bottom was not really a bottom; it was more like an idea that his life would be better without alcohol. 

We can bottom out in sobriety. (Bow to your experience.) And we can get sober without hitting a bottom. (Bow to your experience.) All manner of things can and do happen, feelings come and go, fear and insecurity are always tracking us and waiting to pounce, but we practice radical acceptance as best we can. We bow to our experience. It’s not all good and it’s not all bad, but it’s all sacred. And everyone else's is sacred, too. Everyone is exactly where they are supposed to be, and with the flick of a switch in the mind — a simple choice — it can all become better or worse. What did I learn this week? Bow to better, bow to worse and choose wisely.

Image courtesy of boogy_man/stock.xchng.com.

A night at the Summer Spectacular

Sep 20, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/407e85dd32744716bdc5a11b10eb5cbf1.jpgOn Saturday, I attended the Brent Shapiro Foundation's annual Summer Spectacular Event. It was one of those beautiful, rare LA nights — the kind that stays warm after the sun goes down and the ladies can wear little cocktail dresses and not worry about getting chilly, which is good because the attire was cocktail in black, white or red.

The shuttles carried us up from the Beverly HIlls Library after going up an impressively long and twisted driveway, and dropped us in front of gigantic, wrought iron gates. To the right was the 'black carpet' with the step and repeat for the celebrities, and that area saw a lot of action throughout the night, as the place was wall-to-wall with very recognizable faces who came out to support the Brent Shapiro Foundation.

I watched as the people filtered in, while riding the huge ferris wheel that was situated in front of the house, or sitting under the elegant black and white striped cabanas on red couches. The sun went down and everyone was guided into the backyard — and I use that term loosely. It was more like a football field, covered in tables all the way up to the front where the stage was, too far away to really see from the back. It was stunning, living in the city, to even see that much wide open space, and even more so to realize how many people had turned out, decked to the nines, to show love for the foundation.

Pat O'Brien, of Access Hollywood fame, was the emcee of the night. Pat has been very open about his battle with alcoholism, which is inspiring to see. I love it when celebrities are willing to talk about their own struggles and help lift the stigma surrounding alcoholism and addiction. 

Christopher Kennedy Lawford, son of Peter Lawford (of Rat Pack fame) and Patricia Kennedy (sister of the president) was honored with the 2012 Spirit of Recovery Award. At 26 years sober, he is the author of two books on recovery, and a third, Recover to Live, which will be released in 2013.  He told Hollywood Reporter:

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/b780f18cdfce4c7192b490583dd771a21.jpg“Look at it this way, this disease costs this country three times what cancer costs us. Every year the American Cancer Society raises over $1 billion. You know how much we raise for addiction?  $20 million. The reason is that people are unaware. There is a stigma. People don’t want to deal with it. They don’t know there are solutions and one of the major solutions is awareness that this is an illness. Then people won’t look at addicts like there’s something wrong with them."

His sentiment was echoed throughout the evening. One of the main thrusts of the Brent Shapiro Foundation is education, from creating incentive-based programs targeted at middle school kids in underserved areas of LA, offering things like cell phones and parties with DJS as rewards for abstinence- to creating tools for parents, teachers, and the community to understand the disease and intervene with at-risk youth. As their mission statements says: "We believe that increasing awareness is the first step to change — Change in the way this disease is viewed, change in the way its identified and prevented, and change in the way people who have this disease are viewed by society."

It can't be said enough, and it was a very powerful message that was delivered to all that were in attendance that night.

In addition to celebrating the recent passing of  the ‘911 Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act’ (AB 472), to provide protection against arrest for minor drug law violations for anyone who summons emergency medical assistance to prevent a fatal overdose, the Brent Shapiro Foundation awarded scholarships to two graduates of the Phoenix House Academy of Los Angeles.  They were recognized for their commitment to recovery, and were offered post secondary education scholarships to the schools of their choice.  

Inside the gift bags were copies of the children's book David's Discovery by Lisa Pliscou, which is a story for young children and another endeavor of the Brent Shapiro Foundation. In it, David, the son of a single mom, finds himself alone afterschool due to his mother's new work schedule. He is left to his own devices. Consequently, he starts hanging out with some kids after school, some of which are experimenting with drugs and alcohol. They are bigger and he feels pressure, but he does not cave in. Rather, he reaches out to his mother via text and tells her he is not OK and she comes to him right away and applauds his ability to make a good choice in the face of peer pressure.

As a mother, the value of a book like this is priceless. Stories for kids paint scenarios for them and the reading of them instills the options the book illustrates through the story's characters. My children have afternoons alone as well — their situation is similar to that of David, and kids are vulnerable in those times where Mom is at work and they are alone. In those times, we count on the value systems we have taught them to kick into gear, but it isn't always so. I wish my kids had this book when they were much younger, but I am so deeply pleased that there are children who will be guided by the message of this book. It will save lives. As will the Save A Life card, available on the website www.brentshapiro.com, which is downloadable on any computer. On it, one can find all the symptoms of an overdose and instructions for what to do. In those moments, there is no time for second guessing. All teens should have a copy of this in their wallets.

After the event was over, I felt like I had been in a fairy tale — really. It was so lavish. The food by Wolfgang Puck was exquisite, the attendees so incredibly attractive, the night so sultry and warm — it was a magical night and I was sorry when it ended. More than that, however, I was inspired and excited to feel connected to the Brent Shapiro Foundation.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/04180a7296554741b3b0b85854d35c6d1.jpgI went on their website the next day and spent a good long time perusing the contents. The more I read, the more inspired I became.  I often feel that if I lost one of my children, I would simply cave in. These parents turned the loss of their precious child into something that has already saved many lives, and will continue to do so. His death was an absolute tragedy, but out of it they have built life. There are parents who are not mourning their child today because the Shapiros turned their own mourning into action and solution, and through their efforts spread awareness and education that has spared lives.  

I highly recommend that you go to the website and read about all the amazing things they have done and continue to do,  from the Monument Project, to Somo the Sober Monkey, the book David's Discovery, the personal stories/ videos on the home page, the Save a Life card, the scholarships,  the programs for youth, the events ... there is so much to celebrate on this website, you won't be sorry you familiarized yourself with the foundation, and you may want to find a way to get involved. If nothing else, it will inspire you, and everyone EVERYONE can benefit from inspiration.

Follow the Shapiro Foundation on Facebook.

What you are committed to, defines you

Sep 07, 2012

I was talking to a friend today about the process of streamlining one's life, and the hard decisions that go with along with that. I likened it to cleaning house — not just cleaning, but the kind where you go through closets and drawers and start putting things aside to give or throw away. I am not someone who was born with the ability to naturally discriminate between what should stay and what should go. I am sentimental to a fault, and that sort of thinking wants to keep everything.

It’s all special, relevant and important, especially as a mom. Last week I cleaned out one of our 'catch all' closets, and was immobilized when it came to the stack of 10 or so board games that my kids used to play. Chutes and Ladders, Eloise, some princess board games, Candyland ... man, the thought of throwing them out was impossible. I can look at each one and conjure nights in front of the fire, all of us lying in the floor, my kid's faces scrunched up in concentration or belly laughing when someone had to go 10 spaces backward. It’s a great example of principles over personalities, this conflict that arose for me.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/f93fe3834c5f4253a37ea47f9d6fc14d1.jpgMy feelings were stemming directly from my personality. Not that I fault them, they are completely understandable. But they are not in alignment with what I am committed to, these feelings. I want to live an organized life, free of clutter, and this is true on all levels. If I can't do it here, then I won't be doing it in my emotional life, either. So, I sucked it up and carried them down to the recycling bin. I refused to look back, like the woman in the story about Sodom and Gomorrah, who turned into a pillar of salt when she turned around to see her city burning. When we indulge ourselves, we suffer.

It’s like that on so many levels. There are things that no longer serve us, and yet we still hold on to them for a variety of reasons. We are used to them, they are comfortable. Whatever the reason might be, they clutter up our lives. But when we are all so busy holding onto things that no longer work, our hands are not free to grab onto new and better things that draw us nearer to our higher state of being. When we indulge in them, romanticize or sentimentalize them, we lose ourselves — turn into a pillar of salt, as it were. We are rendered incapable of responding organically to anything that might come our way. You could say we are programmed. And yet we so often complain about the situations in our lives that we have crafted out of those old tools. 

For instance, getting sober. The choice to let go of mind altering substances is a huge one, a surrender that puts one on a completely different path. There is a lot to let go of, not just the substance, but entire ways of being, relationships to self and others (at least the way we have conducted them), lifestyle choices, a myriad of little lies and denials we have told our selves, belief systems that are obsolete in a sober life ... it’s mind boggling. Opening up those drawers and compartments in the mind can be more frightening than jumping into a pit of vipers. Thankfully, we have a community to guide us through the process of letting go of some of the resentments that are formed by shortcomings that end up defining us. We get to look at our lives built on these lies, distorted and warped by our secrets and negative beliefs. We get to redefine ourselves. And we get to be free.

It’s an ongoing process, this surrender thing. I have many things to surrender every day. It’s a beautiful life when you have the capacity to see those things when they happen. It means you have come to know who you are and can identify what is not you and let it go. Like me with my kids games — keeping them was not in alignment with what I am committed to, and what I am committed to makes me who I am. What I am committed to defines who I am. I get to define who I am. And seriously, how can it get any better than that?

Image courtesy of kongsky/freedigitalphotos.net.

Trust the process

Aug 30, 2012

Miracles are pretty much my favorite thing. If anyone asks me what I write about, I would say that miracles would top the list, followed closely by documenting my experiences on the learning curves of life.

I have found that this blog is very helpful in my search for the miraculous, because I am supposed to turn in one a week. That means I have to keep my eyes out for something to write about, and since I love to write about miracles, I am always looking for them. Annnnd ... it turns out that since I am always looking for them, they are always there.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/289b884b59594b25992135e974bc4e8d1.jpgThat makes me think. If I am looking, I find them. I don't think they appear because I am looking, but in my looking I am able to see through everything that would normally obscure my vision of the constant miracle of life. Like the AA saying, God could and would if he were sought, if you are constantly seeking that connection, it will always be there. When that isn't a priority, then those things that have taken priority over that vital connection will be what you experience.

I've noticed that when things get shitty, we get into survival mode, we panic, we stew in our juices or we obsess over things we can't control — and it’s little wonder we feel so small and alone. At times like those, we make the situations our Higher Power. Can't pay rent, and that is all we can think about. Our inability to pay rent has become our Higher Power. Or, it could be said that our focus on Lack becomes our Higher Power. Focusing on lack will mostly just create more lack. We buy into our suffering and make it real, and make it worse. 

How to deal with that, in times of crisis? Get some perspective.

Truly, if you are above ground right now, then any problem you are having is a quality problem. Everything passes. A lot of truly panic-inducing situations lead to times of prosperity. We don't let go of things easily, we addicts, so often it has to get ripped out of our hands or our lives. The amazing thing is that there is something incredible waiting to replace that thing that is being removed from our lives, if only we could trust the process. Consider you are like a moth, and the metamorphosis begins to take place. It really would feel like you are falling apart, literally. Your feet and legs fall off, your body changes completely; everything you know is torn asunder.

We know the good news for that moth and it is the same good news for us. We are transforming. Falsehoods are being ripped away. We are growing wings. We are about to fly. Knowing that makes it easier to let go of the things to which we have become so attached. So know it, and trust the process.

We hear that phrase a lot: “Trust the process.” I like to give examples of it so it isn't such an abstract thing. I have decided that I am going to go out of the country once a year, at the very least. Last year was my first time out of the country, and it was, I discovered, something I could easily live for. This year, my travel friends gave me the dates for our next trip, to Belize.

"Would those dates be okay?” They asked.

"Sure," I said. But really, I wasn't sure. Or, I was, but wasn't sure how it was going to happen. You see, I live very, very close to the vest, in terms of finances. I have a family to raise by myself, and five animals to boot. There is never any extra money lying around. But I committed to those dates like it was all good, because I have learned that the universe seems to align itself to commitment. And it did. A friend was looking for a remote on his desk so we could watch a movie, and picked up a piece of paper and said, "Oh, hey, maybe you could use this ...." It was a voucher that he had had sitting there for nearly a year that would expire in a month for $650 on United Airlines. The flight to Belize? $640. The date the voucher expired on was the exact day that my friends had planned to leave, Sept. 29. I don't really see how it could have gotten any more specific.

I don't tell these stories so people can say, "Wow, Ashley sure does live a charmed life." That might be true, but my point is that I really do believe this is how we are supposed to live. There is a flow to it; there is trusting the process, and knowing everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be. There is knowing what you are committed to and living that commitment, unswervingly. From sobriety itself to the art of living (which is enhanced exponentially by sobriety), it really boils down to what you are looking for. If miracles, or conscious contact with a Higher Power, or principled actions and thoughts are your first priority, are the bouncing ball you keep your eye on no matter what, then life forms around these things and you experience a level of serenity you didn't think was possible. 

Image courtesy of stelogic/stock.xchng.com.

                                                                                                                                       

Destroying old belief systems in sobriety

Aug 16, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/aa2ebca15a834f1188a099d3750228d31.jpgOne of my favorite quotes in the world is: "All that is gold does not glitter. All those who wander are not lost."  

It really brings home the idea that everyone is exactly where they are supposed to be. It also speaks of value systems; what one person may consider wandering and being aimless may actually be someone finding their way. Or, things of real value might not look like it at first. This reminds me of Indiana Jones when he goes into the ancient ruins to fetch the Holy Grail. He looks at all the beautiful, golden, jewel-encrusted cups in front of him, and he selects the crudest one, made out of clay. That clumsy mud chalice was the sacred object so many had sought after.

Life is funny like that.

It’s like on Christmas morning (even if you don't celebrate Christmas, humor me here), when you run to the tree and tear open the most gorgeously-wrapped presents, only to find nothing inside them. On the other hand, opening the most awkwardly-wrapped gifts covered in newspaper and duct tape you might find gifts of great value. Initially, we go for what is appealing. But if you consider what it means when something is appealing, what is it speaking to?

Something that is attractive to us holds the promise of awesomeness. Alcohol and drugs were like that for me. They both whispered to me empty promises. They told me I was funnier, more social, more bold. They told me things would be better with a drink in my hand and a straw in my nose. I would be more creative. People would like me more. I would like me more. Lies!

The Ego wants everything to be fabulous, all the time, while it sucks your blood dry. It loves it when we believe the lies that will eventually destroy us. Bad old Ego.

It’s been interesting in sobriety to look at what I previously considered appealing — on all levels. From relationships with friends, to clothing styles, to men, to the things I chose to spend my time doing. I leave no stone unturned in questioning what is valuable to me. Is it really valuable? Why? What does it truly offer to me and to my life? Is it sustainable? Does it make sense? I can tell you now that much of what I held dear in my using days, in retrospect, made little sense.

I went in my closet after I got sober and it looked like a bunch of costumes, outfits for a life I wasn't really living, but wanted to. Caftans for if I was on a yacht; 1960s cocktail dresses. These were not for MY life. I got rid of them. I looked at the type of man I was attracted to: Emotionally unavailable, stormy, moody, brooding guys. I had to let go of that notion. It served my purposes for when I was also emotionally unavailable, but in sobriety, I am learning to be available on levels I never before considered. At one time, I thought I had to dress up and go out to have fun, going to the cool spots where people gather to look cool for each other (this includes some AA meetings in LA, I might add). It wasn't until my second year in sobriety, after trying to make this shoe fit, that I realized it wasn't how I wanted to spend my time.

I am really a reader. I like to have coffee with a friend, play chess, air hockey, build a connection with a person. I like to play in nature. To travel. I had no idea. But it’s clear that I had it all ass backwards, and in sobriety, I learned not to take things at face value, least of all my own belief systems. Everything has to be examined. As I have heard it said: An unexamined life simply isn't worth living.

There is also that part about wandering. At some point in my early sobriety, I felt some remorse that I had been so aimless. I had just gone where the wind blew me. It blew me to Colorado, to Seattle, New York, LA. It blew me into the arms of men I had no business being with. I went from doing one kind of drug to another — wine to vodka, from heroin to cocaine to pills. Whatever was there, I would take it, and wherever the wind blew, I went.

I was full of regret for a while. But then one day, after going over some step work, I realized that I wasn't wandering as in being lost. I was on my journey, and it couldn't have been any other way. If I changed one or two small things, it all would have turned out different. It’s not supposed to be different. It is exactly the way it is supposed to be, and it always has been. I can't judge my path, but I can, and have, made it a success story by getting and staying sober, and helping others. If all that hot mess of a life turned into this life now, then it was all worth it. It justifies everything. I wasn't wandering. I wasn't lost. I was taking the scenic route to now. 

Here is the rub: in recovery, we learn we have to be ready to let go of old ideas absolutely. As we get more sober, we begin — if we are diligent — to recognize an old idea and to examine it thoroughly. AND, most importantly, to be ready to surrender it absolutely. Staying attached to old ways of thinking is dangerous. I am always ready to jump in and tear it up when I hear myself saying, "I won't," or "I can't." Is it really true that I won't or don't or can't, or is it something I told myself once and then attached myself to that way of thinking? And if I have an opinion, I love to shred those up. Opinions can bring a lot of disharmony; they are like a closed system. In a closed system, as energy is used entropy is created, and chaos and randomness ensue. Opinions take a lot of energy, and thus create a lot of chaos, in the mind. Whenever possible I want to be neutral. And if I am going to have an opinion, I need to make sure it’s one that is alignment with my truth in totality, and worth the risk of losing a neutral stance about it. It’s not easy to let go of long-held opinions, but in my experience, when I go to the source of them I discover they don't have anything to do with me. 

Going back to Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail made out of mud — I find this an apt metaphor for my life.

Before I got sober, I often overlooked the sacred things in my life, going after the glitter and the gold, the dazzling false idols and meaninglessness alluring pursuits. Now, I understand that it is in the simple things that I find that which gold and glamour promises but never delivers — a sense of belonging to myself, a feeling of being part of this thing, of being whole and complete just as I am, above the bad or good opinions of others. Freedom, the kind that is inspiring and exciting and playful. The kind that says I am in touch with what is sacred, and it is in touch with me. It doesn't get better than that.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

Protecting Kids from the Medicine Cabinet

Aug 09, 2012

I heard a radio show yesterday morning about the rise of prescription pill abuse among Baby Boomers. That in itself was only mildly interesting to me, only because I had no real relationship to what was being said. And also, in my line of work, it’s not shocking news.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/medicine_20cabinet_20for_20bathroom.jpgBut then someone called in and said one of the big concerns is when parents or grandparents have prescription pills in their medicine cabinet, and younger family members have easy access to these highly-addictive substances.

That hit me really hard. I hadn't really thought about this angle and how it affected me. That is exactly how I got started. My great aunt and uncle, whose house I spent a lot of time at — entire summers, frequent weekends — had been pharmacists before they retired. They had a cornucopia of prescription pills in their bathroom. I remember whenever anyone was stressed out, my aunt would say, “Go take a valium.” So, at the age of 14, I was stressed out. I was very stressed out about a boy. So, I took not one valium, but five, because it felt like a code red sort of misery and one just wouldn't be enough ... and the rest is history.

But there's more — there were other family members who had stashes of pot, and of course, there was always alcohol in the mini-bars in all those southern houses. It was all so incredibly available, and it offered me a welcome respite from the persistent insecurity and utter devastation of adolescence. I pillaged those medications, and discovered all kinds of pharmaceutical cocktails. I was a full-blown pill head by 18, when I landed myself in ICU from an overdose on those very pills from my great aunt's stash.

I am pleased to report that in my house, my teenage kids don't have access to anything that can alter their frame of mind. It’s not easy being a teenager; we all know that. Putting substances within reach of kids is a ticking time bomb. If a pill made them feel better once, it will again, and there is always something that doesn't feel great at that age. I watch them struggle with all the changes that are happening to them, and I continue to guide them to other ways of coping. One way I do that is by my own abstinence. I don't show them that escape through drugs is acceptable. I show them that struggles are temporary, and will eventually pass. I learned this the hard way. I hope they don't have to.

I am not saying that I wouldn't have found my way to drugs and alcohol if it wouldn’t have been so easily found in the house — there is no way to know. I discovered early on that drugs made me feel better. If they had not been so accessible, I wonder if I might have stumbled on some other tool or outlet for my angst. As it was, my discovery tossed me into all the culture and drug friendships and lifestyles that go along with using.

I wish there was more being done about reminding people who take prescription drugs to lock up their pills, especially if there are ever younger family members loose in their house. It’s like keeping a loaded, unlocked gun lying around. One might have a doctor's prescription, and a legitimate reason to take them, but it’s an invitation to anyone who might feel they need some relief from life's ups and downs, to have those pills sitting around unguarded. It could really change the course of someone's life.

Be responsible about your medications and store them in a safe place! Remind others to do the same. If you have family members that are not being careful, remind them of the possible consequences. It could save someone a lot of grief, if not their life.

The House Always Wins (Gambling Addiction is a Losing Prospect)

Aug 04, 2012

I was listening to a podcast the other day from The Moth. It was a rather comical story, told by one of the five card-counting college kids who dominated Las Vegas in the 90s. (They even made a movie about it). He was talking about trying to assimilate into life after that wild winning streak — trying to write a book, to be a productive member of society. He was having a hard time with it.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/6eb485ebb4bc4108ac4fa2e0b44f58531.jpgHe kept trying to place bets, online gambling, smaller casinos and lost a lot of money. All of it, in fact. He got to a point where he was about to pawn his grandfather’s gold watch for $600 to live on for a couple more weeks while he tried to write the book that he wasn’t actually writing. And he wouldn’t have lived on it, you must already know — he would have tried to turn that $600 into more money and lost that, too.

Now, I’m not a gambler, but I completely understand this logic. It’s really the same diseased thinking process, where we continue to believe in this absolute fabrication, and to live like it’s true in spite of all evidence to the contrary. He continued to chase the high, just like drug addicts and alcoholics. He went to Twelve Step meetings for gamblers, and said that he found himself sitting there with all the “losers” that surrounded him when he was winning, all the people who gave him hateful look as he won over and over again. The ones he mocked in his mind, the “suckers” he scorned and ridiculed as he left with his winnings. Now he was one of them, and he could hardly bear it. He was a loser, and the only way to not be a loser is to win. Thus he kept trying to win until there was nothing left.

I’ve always said that I don’t understand the gambling mentality, or gambling addiction, because I have not ever gambled in the true sense of the word. When I went to Las Vegas, I was there to outdo Hunter S. Thompson, and was never sober enough to learn how to gamble, or patient enough to lose if I did. I was always looking for something to tear up, and that something was always in the mirror egging me on. However, that is a gamble too, isn’t it? A reckless roll of the dice, throwing myself into the world without any concern for consequence, with my ability to discern danger or threat seriously impaired?  Driving under the influence? Going home with a stranger?  How often did we gamble like that?

The gambling mind is compelled in the same way, driven by the dark force of the ego. I have been witness to people not understanding gambling addiction, not treating it in the same way as one would a drug addict. But gamblers go through a very serious gambling detox. They are entirely consumed with restless anxiety. Their brains are missing the rush of chemicals that comes from gambling; it is the kind of rush that makes everything seem possible, within reach and golden, just one bet away.

It is a known fact that we contain in our bodies the original form of every drug that has been created. Otherwise, there would be no cell receptor sites for which they are the perfect fit, like a key in a door. We are born with those cell receptor sites, hence, there is something the body produces that is similar to the drugs people put into their bodies. That is why the behavior/ process addictions are so insidious — they actually do cause a high, and there is the inevitable crash, and the need to do the behavior again to produce the euphoria that the natural drugs in our bodies cause when they flood the brain. The “winner” feelings of gambling are not just from gambling, then. So when a person tries to stop gambling, they seek that high elsewhere, in other behaviors.

This happens with people new in recovery from substance abuse — they tend to act out from sheer lack of knowing what else to do. But the difference is sometimes subtle, clarifying nonetheless. For a process addiction, the addict gets high from the behavior. Many drug addicts don’t made this association — they get high from bottles, needles, straws, pipes, pills — but a behavior for them isn’t seen as a means of getting high. Drug and alcohol addicts are not usually hardwired into behaviors so much as substances.

That is exactly why it is so subtly detrimental. The behaviors are often socially acceptable (love? shopping?) or can take on a civilized form (day trading?). Most people around an addict of this type aren’t even aware of it. They know how to keep it looking presentable. For instance, in day trading, which is a perfectly legitimate way to make money, there is a definite faction of people who should steer clear of it. Many of those people are now suffering from their addiction; from their inability to stop. Many families have lost their homes and savings to this behavior. They don’t know they are addicted, in most cases, and often no one else does either, so no intervention can be staged until the damage is done and everyone is standing in the wreckage, shocked that they didn’t see it coming.

I had always wondered about people going to rehab for these addictions until talking to a friend who is actually in residential treatment now for gambling, and hearing about people I know who lost all their savings to day trading at 65 and having to go back to work when most people are retiring, on his feet all day, with barely two pennies to rub together. I don’t wonder any more. These folks really do need 24/7 support and supervision. They are as incapable of stopping as an alcoholic in a bar, when the things that make them high are EVERYWHERE.

The phone to make the call, the computer to place the bet, the car drives itself to the casino … or with love addicts or eating disorders — these are not just people who lack self will, who have poor impulse control. They are addicts, through and through. But they have to identify, they have to recognize they have a problem, they have to seek help the same as any other person and sometimes that requires a family member or close friend or spouse to bring it to their attention before it’s too late.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

TV — Sometimes it Sheds a Bad Light on a Tough Issue

Jul 26, 2012

Back in December, my kids started watching “Gossip Girl” on Netflix. I don't allow TV in my house, but they discovered old seasons on Netflix, and it was on like Donkey Kong. Eighty-seven episodes. And wouldn't you know, inveterate television snob that I am, I got sucked in.

They would laugh at me, because they thought it was weird that a 43-year-old woman would be so interested in a show about spoiled teenagers and their endless drama. Fast forward to now: I come home and they have discovered “Desperate Housewives,” of all things. Now, I think it’s hilarious that they, as teenagers, are so into a show about spoiled 40-year-old housewives and their drama. And I am appalled to report, I have been sucked into this show, too.

Why I even bring all of this up is because on a recent episode, one of the main characters begins to struggle with alcoholism. She goes through all the same things we all go through—denial, waking up in weird places, not knowing what she has done. She puts on a happy face, like nothing is wrong, hiding her bottles. She even goes to meetings and goes home and drinks afterward. She becomes friends with someone who is in recovery, but is also a sex addict. 

While I love it when movies and TV deal with the nature of addiction, mental disorders and how it disrupts or destroys lives—as it does to this character, Bree— I hate it when they show meetings and alcoholics in an unsavory way.

When she goes to the meetings, everyone else in the room looks like truck drivers, especially the women. Her sponsor is a frightening woman who looks like she could rip a telephone book in half. The guy who she befriends in AA is also a sex addict who ends up getting seduced by her son in her own bed. His addiction is depicted incorrectly, as if he is a time bomb and the tiniest provocation will send him on a sexual spree with anyone and anything, regardless of the consequences. This is rarely true, and it is usually a lot more subtle than that. There is a lot more to understand about sex and love addiction, and this depiction just adds to the stigma and the shame for those who are struggling with it.

If I was struggling with sex addiction, I would have been offended. The sex addicts I know are not perverts.  If I was an undeclared alcoholic and was at home watching that show, cocktail in hand, I might have been surprised that I related so much to the character's addiction and suffering. I might have recognized having a similar issue. But I would have also seen the way meetings and other alcoholics were depicted, and I might have decided that was not an option for me.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/Prism-Awards.jpgAt meetings I have attended over the past 5.5 years, there is such diversity—all walks of life are there, from the unwashed street person to top models, from housewives to rock stars and everything in between. I know that doesn't exist everywhere—this is definitely an LA phenomenon, but it is fair to say that, well, all the cool kids are doing it. That being said, when it is made to look so incredibly uncool, it’s not a fair representation of the kinds of people who seek treatment and find relief in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

When I attended the 2012 Prism Awards in Los Angeles last spring, I got to see the people who are trying to expose fallacies about addiction, mental disorders and other pertinent and often misunderstood social issues such as these.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/a1c1a130fa50478ea32d077e600907b61.jpgDirectors, writers, actors, producers— a full range of talent who want to depict these scenarios in a way that helps the general public understand more about what these issues are, how they affect people, impact families and often also show how one struggles in society due to the very lack of understanding they are trying to address. Had I not attended the Prism Awards, I might not have been so poised to notice the mishandling of recovery in “Desperate Housewives,” and how they missed an opportunity to shed some light on something that is a real problem in today's society.

People are riveted to their entertainment, and it’s the best occasion to embed a little education into the entertainment and into the minds of the viewers. That is the kind of responsible entertainment I want to see more of, and I am now even more grateful for the Prism Awards for recognizing the brave souls who endeavor to enlighten the masses. 

Look for the 2012 Prism Awards on FX in September!

Click here to read about Ashley Dane's first-hand experience at the 2012 PRISM Awards.

Photo by Lisa Rose for Renew magazine.

 

The Garden of Earthly Delights – Breaking Free from Hell

Jul 19, 2012

We who have been trapped in the sheer hell of addiction know unequivocally that we were slaves to our appetites. We might not have known it at the time, because our master was clever. It’s like the saying: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.” It’s hard to see the Devil when you are in hell, and the Devil seems like the only thing that will give you relief. That, in itself, makes the Devil your Savior, and now the truly twisted, Hieronymus Bosch—like reality of a person’s private torment comes to light.

How terrifying to consider leaving one’s so-called Savior. One believes that is the only source of relief, when it is, very simply, the source of all hell—like Bosch’s hellscape in the painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” It is a depiction of hell, terrifying and awful. Temptations take us there. Addiction leaves us there, in that not-so-delightful garden.

This Devil (which, for the purpose of this blog, is our disease, our addiction) is also a shape-shifting bastard. Not only can he convince the afflicted that he doesn’t exist, he can change to suit a person’s temperament. A person’s weakness is the Devil’s camouflage. Spiritually speaking, this is the most profound battle of all. It is why it is said that desperation is the greatest gift one can enter into recovery with. Anything short of that is still very susceptible to dark motives.

A lot happens in the shadows where you can’t really see it happening. Recovery is all about light. We don’t always want to see what’s lurking in the dark corners, but it’s imperative that we do in order to overcome what’s there.

I have friends who are still using. I can think of three now who, I suspect, are using in private, and putting up a great front in public. They are still very functioning; they either own or run businesses, and are regarded as successful individuals in their community. However, there is something going on that is preventing them from fully inhabiting their own skin. Some part of them isn’t there.

I remember, when I was in this same situation, a part of me was always not there—it was busy thinking about the time when I could check out, later, when I was alone. I’d have my wine, my downers and I’d numb out after work and still get up the next day and go to work, running a fashion company. Until the time came that I numbed out at work, too. No one really knew. I was unhappy, I was lonely, I was bereft, I felt like a leftover, unwanted in the fridge. I could say: I own my car, I own my home, I run a company, but what does that really mean when you are a slave? When part of you is always listening for your master’s voice, like the little dog sitting in front of the speaker, head cocked to one side? You can’t really pay attention to the life you try so hard to hide behind.

To me, it’s very dangerous how cunning the disease is. Not the obvious dangers of the substances and how many lives are lost to them—these are clear to everyone, and never stop an addict from using. It’s frightening how it can tell you that it’s only Xanax and wine; no big deal. It’s not like you are shooting up in an alley or anything. Or it says, “It’s just pot, and you need it. It’s the one little thing you need to quell the anxiety. It’s the only thing that works.” Why would anyone fight that? It’s comfortable enough. And it’s just enough to keep you asleep, sleepwalking through life, enslaved in velvet manacles.

People who know they are doing dangerous drugs in dangerous amounts already know they are gambling with their lives. The ones who think they are managing it are in denial, and that can kill them. Just ask several of my friends—but you’d have to do it by Ouija board now. Wine and pills can and do kill. Life will never be what it could be, which isn’t death, just sleepwalking—not really living. Not really.

I think the people who truly run the last wheel off are lucky. They know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they must stop using. They come to understand that the Devil is not the Savior they thought he was. The comfort that the Devil offers is the source of all their suffering. They understand that the hell they are in is created by the Master of their appetites. A life where appetites do not dictate one’s every move is required. A life of recovery. All else, for us, is death.

I love to look around at the recovery community, whether at the ONE80CENTER July 4 party (more than 1,000 sober people) or at the big Sunday meeting in L.A. last night, and know that I am surrounded by people who are FREE. Free people, who have liberated themselves from the slave master of addiction.

It’s a powerful thing, and it always, always touches my soul. I am honored to be a part of it.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/1dfe48b80e6a4443a11f60bf46446bd11.jpg

Image: "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch.

Can You Date In (early) Sobriety without Losing Yourself?

Jul 05, 2012

In my first year of sobriety, it was suggested to me by my sponsor that I write out a list of the qualities that I looked for in a man. Ugh!  I did it, of course, and it was a little surprising — surprising because it’s always such a shock to realize you aren’t as evolved as you think you are. My list went a little something like this: tall, dangerous, smart, tattooed, funny, scars from bullet or stab wounds, good looking, brooding, protective — the kind of man all the men respect and all the women want, with a dark gleam in his eye.

Yep. That was my list. No mention of kindness or generosity, ability to commit, emotionally available, good work ethic, nonjudgmental, not a womanizer … this list really only spoke of stuff on the surface. At the time, I hardly noticed how shallow my list really was. When I called my sponsor back, she said not to bother reading her the list but to consider that everything that I like in a man reflects who I am, either what I want to be or what I am available for. Yikes. Was it true that I was really projecting all these shallow things and wasn’t invoking principles, or at the very least available to them?

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/bc52d8594952455bbf2e30c39f2bd2f61.jpgI don’t know the answer to that, as my thinking was, and is, deluded — only now I hope less so, but to claim perfect clarity would mean I had attained sainthood, and as we know, we are not saints. But this was, at that time, the kind of man I was attracting. We truly do get what we broadcast for. And wouldn’t you just know it, these men were not good for my level of serenity.

In a great book by Clarissa Pinkola Estes called Women Who Run With Wolves, she talks about how we manifest our inner predator in the outside world and go about setting the bait to attract said predator. Not always, but when we are a state of compromised selfhood, you betcha.  We basically create this archetype of a man who will do damage, and then invite him right in. She calls this a Bluebeard. It doesn’t mean the man himself is bad, it just means that in the scenario he is going to have with us, we don’t give him room to be anything but a predator. We have already set the whole thing up to sabotage ourselves by manifesting, basically, our disease on legs.

In relationships with these men, all our abandonment issues will be ignited, our sense of self will diminish, and our Higher Power becomes a secondary consideration. I’d even go so far to say that the man becomes our Higher Power. The really funny thing here is that while the man may seem like the emotionally unavailable one, it is really us who are untouchable at that deep and vulnerable level where real love is born from and lives. If we were available, we’d be open to available men.

That being said, it isn’t true that men suck, which is something you hear a lot from women in recovery, especially in the first five years.  It’s our ability to allow ourselves to experience relationships in a healthy way that really sucks. We don’t know how to do it. We are still distorted in our perceptions, and when asked to make lists of what we want in a man, we come up with absurd things like “tall” or “scars from knife wounds.”

It would be wise for women to stop blaming men for being how they are. We need to understand we give them little choice. We need to understand we could choose different, and we get what we broadcast for.

When we are healthy, we want health. We don’t want anything to diminish us and the balance we have found. Our criterion becomes more about finding someone who will bring something valuable to the table, because we know we are going to do the same. When we are still sick, we seek our own level, and that is probably why it is suggested that we not date in sobriety in the first year. It’s not a bad idea, really, but no one listens. When we give up the substances the first thing we want to do is lose ourselves in something, and the opposite sex (or the same sex, depending) is readily available, and meetings are full of newcomers all looking to lose themselves in someone else. The operative word here is LOSE. We LOSE ourselves. Here we are, trying to find our way, and yet losing ourselves at the same time.

Since I’ve established that I am no saint, I don’t mind telling you that I did it. I sought comfort in the opposite sex, and now that you’ve seen my list you know that meetings are a great place to meet my type. Having been there and done that, I can really see why it’s not a good idea. It would have been so easy to drink or use over any number of scenarios I got myself into. They brought up my deepest insecurities, which I had not yet learned to handle. It hurt! I went through the agony of waiting for the text or phone call, the sleuthing with girlfriends on Facebook, trying to discern significance out of ‘his’ most recent status update, and all of this in my late 30s and early 40s, no less.

We truly are like adolescents when we get sober, reliving things we avoided with drinking and using. I didn’t know these feelings, the pangs and highs and lows, could be so intense, as I was always able to medicate myself against it, until now. And I came to understand I didn’t like it, don’t like it. Those feelings I thought were love were nothing of the sort, they were romantic obsession and intrigue, which I used to stir up in the shit pot to distract me from my path, from my connection to my Higher Power. My ego/disease had outsmarted me, creating scenarios to lead me astray. It had helped me attract my internal predator externally, so I was sabotaging not only from the outside, but from the inside. We hardly stand a chance against our opponent! But we do stand a chance, we do.

My list for a mate now is very different. First of all, there really isn’t one, because I am whole and complete and happy and I am not looking for anything. But because I am whole, complete, happy, serene, enough just as I am, living by principles, I couldn’t really abide someone who didn’t bring those same qualities. My criterion is such that my inner gatekeeper is ever alert for good qualities in ALL people, not just men, but in all my relationships. I am looking for the acts of kindness, the lack of judgment, the spiritual element expressed in words and gestures, the principled actions. These are the kinds of people I want to keep close. And the more I look, the more I find it, because the world responds to our intention. I intend to find the best in people and I intend to find miracles every day, and I DO! I do, because what we perceive is our choice, and what we choose is what we get. It’s that simple.

They say that if you kill yourself before you get to your 5th sober birthday, you are killing the wrong person. Here at four years and eight months, I really get it. I am not the person I was when I got sober, not the person I was at one year sober, and not even like the person I was two years ago. If you are between one day and five years, stick with it. Really consider it when it is suggested not to date in sobriety in the first year. (You’re going to anyway; no one listens, but consider it). Be super aware of the choices you make, because if it isn’t a choice based in principles then it’s probably your Ego trying to take you down. That’s all it wants to do, and it’s relentless. Be relentless, too. This is not a secondary consideration, it is the primary purpose.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

Holding Them in Contempt

Jun 30, 2012

Recently I had a dream about someone I know. In my dream, I was in a store and I was suddenly aware of someone next to me that I could tell, without looking, was a homeless person. I immediately felt compassion for this person standing beside me, who smelled like desperation and having gone too long without creature comforts, such as a bed and a shower.

I looked up to give him a warm smile when I saw it was not a nameless person but a significant person in my life who I have had a great deal of difficulty with — I’d even go out on a limb and say he has been THE single most disruptive person in the span of my life. Suddenly, the smile I was about to offer was gone, and so was the compassion that fueled it. I watched him go score three bags of heroin, and my loathing grew. My usual state of caring for addicts did not apply to him, simply because he is who he is. Holding them in contempt never works.

When I woke up, I realized something critical. I had not been offering the same to him, in my mind and heart, as I do for complete strangers. This is someone with whom I have a lot of history, significant family connections and who I will always be connected to as a result of family, and yet I haven’t been able to see through our turbulent history to the human being that he is. Mind you, I thought I had been holding him in that place, but really it was only intellectually; the shift had not taken place in my heart, where true perception lives.

So, I made the shift. It did not require a lot of work, fanfare, talking or soul searching. It was as simple as calling a spade a spade (me, I’m the spade, I’m owning my part). What happened was this — he started to show up differently in his actions. He went from hostility and aggression to calm interactions. He started doing things differently in regards to our mutual family members, when previously I had held him in contempt and incapable of showing up for said family. And his wife, with whom I have also had many unpleasant interactions, has also shown up in a different way. We, who have not spoken in over two years, are now communicating daily about important matters that need to be discussed.

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/1abf33a328304d769eaae1eb1a8a2b1c1.jpgIn my first couple of years of sobriety, it was important for me to not expect people to be other than what they are. If their behavior is consistently hurtful, then to expect anything different would be silly and cause more pain for me. I can’t tell you how many times I would continue to try different angles or to people-please to try to appease negative people, or limp away, again, because they reacted the way they usually do and for some reason I was surprised.

It’s like the story of the frog and the scorpion. A scorpion needed a ride across a river. He asked a frog if he could go across on his back. The frog said, “What? No way, you’re a scorpion. You’ll sting me to death.” The scorpion assured him he wouldn’t, pointing out that if he did, he would die too. So the frog consented and halfway across, the scorpion stings him. As he starts to drown, the frog cries, “Why? Why?” And the scorpion, also drowning, replies, “What did you expect? I’m a scorpion. It’s my nature.”

This story helped me understand, people just are as they are. We get in trouble if we don’t recognize this and accept them for it and act accordingly. I was able to accept this person in my life for being who and what he was; I stopped being surprised by his behavior. I stopped expecting anything different and I stopped taking it all personally. That was a big step, and it helped immensely. It was a thorough acceptance of him as who he is, but I hadn’t gotten to the deeper work of understanding what my part in it truly is.

Now, coming up on my fifth sober birthday, the new lesson is going beyond mere acceptance to a heart shift into a pure place. In this space, the person goes from being held in contempt by me — in the place where I held this particular individual, he would never do the right thing and if there was a terrible thing to say or do, he would say it or do it. In my perception I held him captive there, and he complied with this view of him.

Once I had this dream, and experienced a shift, he was no longer held into place by my negative view of him, by the labels I placed on him as a tormentor and controller. That view also kept me in my place, which is on the receiving end of it all. By releasing him, I released myself and the playing field is cleared of all the debris that made it impossible for any smooth or civil interaction. This was one of the most significant lessons in my life, and it was so subtle it just unfolded right into my lap and I was thankfully aware and awake enough to see the opportunity present itself.

This is a great thing to be mindful of any time. All of us have those family members in our lives that we hold in contempt, in spite of all our well meaning amends. We may clean up the slate with them, but it doesn’t mean we have eliminated the toxic shape we force them to fit into in our minds.

If you notice this happening, stop and notice how you participate in the subtle aspects of the relationship. This is your part in it; this is your perception. If you aren’t able to get around this, then simply accept that person exactly as they are, and don’t expect anything different — you aren’t ready to give them the room to be anything else yet. When you are ready, you can go to the next level where you truly see your part in the relationship and where you offer them no room to be different without a shift in your own perception. Then you can sit back and watch how life works, a shift in perception changes the world. Your world. And your world affects other people’s worlds. Worlds shift when your perception does; it’s a quantum phenomenon and the truest truism I know. When you show up differently, look at things differently, you allow others to do the same.

It’s liberating for all involved, and a priceless gift to yourself.

Image courtesy of razvan ionut/freedigitalphotos.net.

 

I Have No Neutral Thoughts. Huh? Read on …

Jun 22, 2012

I have no neutral thoughts.

This morning I read my lesson for the day in Course In Miracles, which I highly suggest to anyone who is interested in taking their sobriety to another level. Today’s lesson was “I have no neutral thoughts.” I read it, was not impressed, and took a picture of the page so I could remember what it said later in the day, when my Ego conveniently allowed me to forget.

I constantly have to outsmart my Ego, which was the mechanism of not being impressed upon reading of it. And there, right there, is the lesson fully articulated — my not being impressed IS NOT a neutral thought. Inside of that blasé impression of it was already a little bit of a judgment. There are some lessons I will read and think, “Oh, this is a GOOD one!” Even when I think that, it isn’t neutral. NO matter what I think inside, inhabiting that thought is an already established foot hold of judgment — it is already either good or bad. It is never neutral.

So, you might say, what’s the big deal?

Well, I can’t claim to know, truly. The point of the lesson is to discover and to have a direct experience of it. What I am finding though is that the judgments that are already behind every thought are really more indicative of how my mind works than my actual thoughts are. I watch my thoughts all day long, like watching a train going by. Sometimes I jump on the train and am carried away, and sometimes I just watch in amazement. But even if I don’t jump on the train, there is the judgment, which is like the conductor, fueling the train with coal to make it go. My judgments are the coal, the fuel, without which the thoughts are obviously not going to get very far.

I’ve been very aware of the crazy train of my thoughts and that I have a choice about being swept away or not — it’s my choice, and that is a powerful thing and a huge part of my recovery. But only just now, today, did I really understand that it is my judgments that fuel the crazy train. I don’t know how to stop judging, yet. That is what the Course In Miracles is for — to teach us to understand ourselves and look at things we assume are automatic. It gives us the ability to master ourselves. I couldn’t really address the constant judging if I couldn’t see it because it was hiding behind my thoughts that I was busy not attaching myself to. But now that I know they are there, sneaky, hiding, I can now do something about them.

This morning, when I wasn’t impressed with today’s lesson, my intellect could have told you that whenever I am underwhelmed with something, that is sure to be the thing that will create a profound shift for me. I was too tired to have this thought this morning, being before coffee, so my intellect wasn’t empowered to speak up and the Ego was louder.

Whenever I cringe or refuse something, say no to something or decide that I absolutely do not like something, these are the very things that will track me down. I will literally be hunted by these things until I am able to see that I was wrong. My Ego is that knee jerk reaction telling me to avoid that thing of value, or to refuse to see it as valuable, to reject it as hum drum or blasé. Like this morning— “Oh, hmm, boring lesson today.” Ha! Take that, Ego! Foiled again!

Here is the other piece that I still need to figure out. Even GOOD judgments are judgments.

By declaring something as good, better than other things, then I immediately judge all those other things as “less than” the good thing. I don’t know how to work with this information yet, but I do know that in the realm of working on judgmental-ness, it’s counterintuitive to say there is good judgmental- ness, and there is bad judgmental-ness. Somehow the goal is true neutrality, but I suspect the kind of neutrality where one really is in a state of choice about things, rather than programmed to hold things in a positive or negative light, automatically and without hesitation. It doesn’t mean being flat, it means being aware, it means allowing things to be just as they are, not forcing them to be good or bad as we may be programmed to behold it.

In many of my blogs here, I have stated that my goal is to not be a robot, to not live as I and society and my upbringing have programmed me to be. I want to be free, and organic and authentic. This is a process! But it’s the only thing worth doing; it really is NEXT LEVEL SOBRIETY. I believe there is abstinence from drugs and alcohol and living by principles, which is the recipe for a great life, and never ever to be knocked. But then there is the Next Level of sobriety, and that is what interests me most. This blog is me on my training wheels. I am learning as I go, and I am happy to be in good company.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

PMS in Sobriety ... YIKES!

Jun 14, 2012

This blog is not really for the fellas, although I don't know of any man that isn't, at some point, affected by the topic at hand. The topic is PMS. PMS! The dreaded time of month when women are at their wits end — and so are the men in their lives.

A couple of weeks ago, I was irate. Irate, I tell you! For those who don't know me, that isn't my normal state. I skip around hugging trees and chasing grasshoppers. I'm a happy person and I don't take things very personally. However, this particular week I was taking every little thing personally, and I was letting everyone know it. I was appalled. I could feel a strong desire to reign myself in, but I wasn't able to. I felt my reactions to things were overblown, but it was beyond me to control. It was like a crazy-making frustration wormed its way into my soul, and the whole world was made out of sandpaper. I was perplexed. 

Now, I am the type of sponsor who will find out when a sponsee's cycle is so I can keep an eye on their behavior and emotional state of being. I advise them to always stay aware of their cycle so when it hits, they won't feel crazy, and they won't ACT crazy as a result of feeling crazy.

I'm a hypocrite, I must confess. Like 99 percent of the people on this planet, I can very easily prescribe things that I myself have not taken on. So on this particular week, I wasn't even aware that it was a PMS scenario happening; I just thought I was falling apart. I thought my life was overwhelming and that I was a raving bitch from hell. It’s funny like that — even after 28 years of this, I still don't know. It still creeps up; it still feels like life has suddenly turned upside down, not me.

What do we do about this? I DON'T KNOW! I really don't. But I know some things that I tell my sponsees to do, and I need to do myself. We women need to make sure that we KNOW OUR CYCLES! We really need to be able to predict when life is going to go sideways on us, so we don't destroy our relationships or drink or use over our frustration and hormone induced psychosis. Upon reflection, I can tell you that any time I have quit jobs or broken up with boyfriends has been in a pre-menstrual phase. And I can also tell you that nine-tenths of my sponsees who relapsed did so during PMS.

That is when I started instructing them to watch their cycles, and when they knew it was nigh to give themselves a break. It’s helpful to know that it’s hormones and not the world turning on us. It is good to know, above all, that it will pass. 

I also think it’s important for men to understand that this isn't something to roll your eyes about.

I doubt any married man would even dare. But truly, this is something that happens to adult women for a full quarter of their lives until their cycles stop. That is a lot of time trying to grapple with the deluge of disturbing thoughts and violent feelings. For women in recovery, I strongly suggest you talk to your sponsor about it, let her know your cycle — if she is willing to be supportive — and the two of can watch how you handle that time of the month. If you are new in sobriety, it’s critical that you truly take this information to heart. You are already vulnerable, and you may not have ever experienced PMS the way you will without drugs and alcohol to quell it. Many women in recovery report that when they got sober, they didn't know what was happening — they never really experienced the feelings that go with PMS as they were using all the time. So when it hit, many of them wanted to kill themselves, and I mean this literally. I am sure some actually do. I know for a fact many can't stay sober through it. There is no way to track the wreckage that is wrought during PMS, but rest assured, it would be staggering.

In fact, just to really illustrate the severity, here is what Wikipedia has to say about PMS: "More than 200 different symptoms have been associated with PMS, but the three most prominent symptoms are irritability, tension, and dysphoria (unhappiness). Common emotional and non-specific symptoms include stress, anxiety, difficulty in falling asleep, headache, fatigue, mood swings, increased emotional sensitivity, and changes in libido."

Women, take care of yourselves. Be gentle with yourselves, and practice restraint of pen and tongue. Don't make any sudden moves during that time of the month. Sit on your hands if you must; don't send that awful text, don't make that terrible call, don't quit your job, don't drink. Don't use. It will pass. There is a lot of relief in knowing that. If you are able to book a monthly massage for yourself, do it during that time. Talk to your girlfriends more; they will remind you of who you are when you forget and are drowning in a cesspool of negative thoughts about yourself. Involve your sponsor. If you are in a relationship, let your significant other know when they might want to be a little more cautious. 

Here are two helpful things —the first link below has great information, the other is an app to remind you when it’s time to use extra caution in all your affairs. You can share it with your sponsor, mate, family, so everyone can be helpful in making it a little easier for you, and consequently, for them!

(Their tagline is "saving relationships, one month at a time." Ha!)

Mayo Clinic PMS information

PMS app! This is brilliant, check it out!

 

 

Your Life, Dancing in the Sunlight. Dust.

Jun 07, 2012

Life is a snake dance, shedding feathers of urge and keen scales of loss,

shedding and, once free, free as it once was, as a baby snake is, free of
old skin born anew, reborn, renewed, a new thing resembling everything,
like you.

When I say you — you could be anybody, and you are. Your amazing eyes take
in the shape of these letters, each symbol, the sound, how
they connect to others, grasps even (oh, the miracle of
it all) how they unite into words which stand for things, connect together, form
thoughts, and you think you're just reading, with all this going on behind
it all, making it happen, and you don't stop to consider this miracle.
Stop. Think about these things. The heart keeps beating, (until it
doesn't) and you don't tell it to. It knows that you are meant to live,
maybe even more than you do. Tirelessly all of these miracles keep being
miraculous and you don't stop to think, and it is never mad that you don't
notice, it doesn't need you to; its joy is inside itself, the joy that you
sometimes remember.  If only you knew, all the time, you are a beautiful
thing. You, baby that you are, shedding skin that forms around the fruit of
your life, scales of time and heartbreak shattered and dancing in the
sunlight with crushed spider legs and dust. Your life, dancing in the
sunlight. Dust.

Could anything ever be more perfect than this?

This now, this you. A gift you are constantly unwrapping. Do I know you?
You, who are reading this now, are you a friend of mine? An
ex or future lover?  A stranger who breathes the same air as me, the
same air as Edgar Allen Poe or Geronimo or Rumi, inhaling and exhaling
the fabric of this world you and I can never understand? Who are you? A
child of God is who, living in the miracle of now, even if you don't see
it. It sees you, and it knows you. I know you. We are cut from the same
cloth, warp and weft, stars in the same sky. How could I not love you?
Whoever you are, I do.

The ocean caresses the sand into a tiny wholeness; it knows each grain to
be a loving thing with the fierceness of a mother. The light, as it filters
through the wings of your hair, is full of information that your eye will
know and your heart will trust but your mind will turn away. In the house of
the mind a hoarder lives, a dark collector that keeps every little thing.
There is nothing that is simply what it is. All things have a history
attached. All things have names. If you let go you maybe won't be you,
dreamer of dreams, for god's sake keep everything you think you are, who
would you be if you let it go all go let go, I'd like to know and anyway I
do, it’s written all over your face, this beautiful baby that loves things,
mercilessly, mirthfully, and does not see anything that it is not, it is
everything it sees, and everything it doesn't.

You are a symbol, a letter in an ancient alphabet, a secret code embedded
in a moment of waking. The Mystery is in the corner of your mouth, a tiny
acorn when you smile, a thing that everyone wants: the smile, the mystery,
the promise of a great oak. Everyone knows you are the bright star flashing
across the sky, and they make a wish as you pass. They know.

They know that even now, all time is pressed into one thing which bears the
shape of a child's laugh, the happy snake eating its own self, the gold
ring never-ending, never beginning. Here it is, where it always has been,
and it’s yours. Don't turn away. Don't run after false things. Wake up from
this dream; you are not alone. Alone is not real, only the opposite of
alone is real. Wake up. Don't fall in love with dreams.

Sometimes someone dreams of losing things, something is gone that was there
and without it someone is not someone anymore but a diminished thing,
reduced by sadness, distorted by longing. In this dream, the shadows run
alongside the sun and sing sadly, sad that the sun won't touch them,
lurking at the edge of the kiss that can't reach them- the promise of the
acorn, the mystery of you- the shadow is not you, the dream is not you. Do
you know that? The shadow is not you. You are the sun.

I know the sun. I am the kiss I crave. This brings me joy in just that same
way beauty makes me want to throw myself off a cliff, every time. It’s the
pain of knowing it’s all God, and I am that — how can I tell you? What
symbols letters words thoughts could ever contain what that ecstasy is, the
unbearable spasm of self remembering? How can I show the horse that the
water is good to drink? But even more so, how will the horse know that it
is the water?

It is good to beaten into submission, to be thrashed into a tiny grain of
fiercely loving wholeness, to caress the edge of the sun where the shade
sings. I submit to the ocean and its constant remembering.  I am a word,
one word, the first letter, the point at which the pen meets the paper. I
am not the pen. I am not the paper. I have not been written down.

I could keep writing and writing, except I couldn't. Each word becomes as
meaningless as a snake with no skin, as one drop in the ever-loving ocean. It
could be any word, any one word; they all mean the same thing, finally.
Just as you could be anyone, you could be you or someone else, but there is
only one Truth, and it’s always you. Wake up.


Could anything ever be more perfect than this? Your life, dancing in the
sunlight. Dust. 

Fear is the Absence of Love

May 31, 2012

Yesterday I was talking to someone about fear. It was a meeting with someone from Zimbabwe, who was coming to talk about taking sober tours to Fiji. He was talking about shark diving they did in that area, and I perked up. I mean, perked up more than just the idea of a tropical island paradise would perk me up.

Sharks are one of my biggest fears (shocker, I know). It’s so deeply primal that it makes my parasympathetic nervous system go into hyper-drive just thinking about it. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the fight or flight response, a byproduct of our cave dwelling ancestors. It has long since outlived its usefulness — we no longer need to get the rush of body chemicals that will stimulate our muscles to move faster or go beyond our normal limits to survive. In spite of our not needing it, it is still activated by things that are not life threatening, like speaking in public for instance. Or thinking about sharks. 

I used to say that I would rather jump in a pool filled with sharks than speak in public. That’s a fairly dramatic statement, but also easy to say, as I wouldn't really ever have to choose that option over the latter. When I was in hypnotherapy school, one of the courses was public speaking. I couldn't do it. I froze up. I dropped out of school for six months and went to therapy — real talk — it was that traumatic. I couldn't really understand why my reaction to it was so severe. My therapist put me in a group that she led, and on my first night, I was sweating so much that I actually put panty-liners inside the underarms of my shirt. Yes I did. (I can't believe I just confessed this.) I was terrified to be the new person in the group of eight; I was terrified to speak to them. I was so self conscious that all I could do was think how they would judge me, or dismiss me. 

In early sobriety, one of my favorite things I heard was, "It’s not all about you." That was a huge part of my ailment — chronic self importance coupled with intensely low self esteem. After five months in that group and of therapy,  I was able to go back to school and complete that course, and give my lectures in front of the class, and graduate. Thank God for this, because only a few years later I would be called on to share my experience, strength and hope at meetings, and I was able to draw strength from that time of working through that fear, and not have a complete meltdown when I was asked to speak. Around that same time, I confronted a few other huge fears (like driving on the freeway, which I had avoided doing in LA for the 12 years I had been here). I discovered what an amazing thing, what a liberating experience, it is to step up to those fears and face them, toe to toe. Fears shut down life. Conquering them opens it back up, restores us to factory settings.

It’s like the scene in “The Matrix,” when Neo is being chased by Agent Smith, and he is running. Suddenly he stops, and turns, and runs directly into that thing that he fears, that has been trying to eliminate him. By doing that, he becomes something else; he ascends to the Next Level. When we do this, it’s a very similar scenario. Although we may not take off flying into the air, we can take it as an apt metaphor.

So — the sharks. I was talking about facing fears, and the spiritual aspect of it, and how if we were to create this sober trip to Fiji, I would want to go and do that. This fellow was asking me why I felt that way, about facing fears, and we had a cool conversation about it. We talked about the value of becoming fearless and how it changes your life. He didn't mention until much later, after that particular conversation had been over for an hour,  that he was a grand champion on “Fear Factor.” HA! He really knows what it means to tackle those pesky fears and show them who's boss. I loved that we had that whole conversation and I didn't know that swimming with sharks for him was a cake walk. I had a whole new level of respect for this guy that I don't often have for a lot of people. He lives a life not dictated by his fears, but open to any possibility. The way it should be lived.

It isn't that we should just go look for dangerous things to do that could harm us — that isn't the point. It’s the myriad little fears, anxieties, neuroses, habits, hang ups, etc., that keep us playing small that plague us. It’s when we are over-identified with who we are as a way to avoid pain or discomfort that is really dangerous. For example, I have swaggered around being super stoic my whole life. I have not been one to show my feelings or display anything that might be construed as weakness. By over identifying with this, I cut off a slew of experiences that terrified me to my core — intimacy, vulnerability, real connectivity with other people. Letting myself be held up by my community.

When I was able to recognize my fears, I was able to see all the barriers I built to avoid said fears. My entire life was built around them from the fact that I live in California, far from my family, to whom I made friends with, where I worked or didn't, the drugs I used, to whom I chose to have children with — most all of my major life decisions came from fear of (and trying to avoid) emotional discomfort and pain. 

I want to live wide open and free to experience life directly. I want authenticity and to be organic in each moment, and whole and complete enough to be that. The second I feel that fear come on, that fight or flight thing kicking in (finances are a big trigger) I center myself and understand that this is a place to grow. I refuse to accept the limitations of my wiring; the negative self talk. The only limit is placed by me, and I am the only one who can remove it. I look at what I might want to do (avoid, procrastinate, fight, run, hide) and I do something different instead — do something bold.

Take action; get into gratitude. Gratitude IS bold; it’s as bold as you can get in the face of fear. It’s baby steps or it’s a shark dive. Whatever it takes to become truly free, I'm in. I'm down; it’s on. Come with! 

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

Memorial Day - A 3-Day Weekend, Barbecues and No Beer, Oh My!

May 24, 2012

Memorial Day. Most of us relate it to barbeques and a three day weekend. This year, I stopped to consider what it’s really about — the fallen soldiers who have fought for our country in all previous U.S. battles. It reminds me of a lyric I heard once:

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/a6e336518ba64c2bb64260b9e5ede9fb1.jpg“Each bottle on the floor /
is a soldier in the war /
that was lost.”
- Mark Anthony (Chocolate Genius)

When I think about important struggles and why anyone ever fights, it is for the certain liberty of something, someone. It is to maintain, at least theoretically, a liberty that a country has enjoyed up to that point, or to (again, theoretically) help create freedom for others who don’t have the ability to stop those who encroach on it.

All of us in recovery, then, are soldiers. We have fought for our own liberty and freedom from the tyranny of our disease. And, like in any battle, we have lost many. Too many. The longer anyone stays in recovery, the more staggering the number of friends and acquaintances who succumb fatally to the hell of addiction. Every time another one falls, for me, is a time that I can feel my own recovery undergo a galvanizing process. I am, every time, reminded of what we are up against, and what a cunning devil constantly hangs around with infinite patience for us to have a moment of weakness. It is always there, and always will be. When we get cocky, it gets ready. Arrogance is like a Trojan horse for our disease. Humility is key.

However, for all that have fallen (God bless their souls) there are those of us who get to stay sober another 24 hours, and get to do it again tomorrow, and re-commit to it every day. You often hear it said that “God willing, I’ll be sober tomorrow!” God is always willing. We don’t have to be one of the fallen; we get to choose, every day, to embrace our lives in sobriety.

This Memorial Day (which for so many newcomers will feel strange; it did for me — a poolside barbeque, everyone drinking beer, and not me!) have fun and stay sober.

Buddy up with another sober person if you are venturing into tricky waters. If, like me, you get to go to an entirely sober Memorial Day, all the better! But don’t spend the “day to remember the fallen” by putting yourself on their same path.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

The Insidiousness of Pharmaceuticals

May 17, 2012

Prescription pills. My lord, I loved them. I loved to have a pocket of vicodin on the right, and a pocket of xanax on the left, and somas or narcos in my purse, and I would just juggle them until I got the desired effect. I’d add vodka to this cocktail, and I was good to go. I wanted to be numb. I wanted to feel normal, which for me, at that time, meant feeling nothing, like a sleepwalking zombie. I couldn’t handle feelings, nary a one.

I never stopped to think how dangerous this was. Pills seem so innocuous, just these little tiny things. No smell, no smoke, no paraphernalia. I remember when I was 17, a kid I knew stole my bottle out of my purse — my little pharmacy of valium, fiorinal, elevail, halcyon — all that I had discovered in my great aunt’s bathroom drawer. She had been a pharmacist. Very fitting. That kid who stole my stash went blind for 8 hours. I was terrified that I would get busted, that my drug use would blind him forever, that a combination of what I took could blind anyone, even me. I remember how it used to freak people out when I would pass out with my eyes open. And I remember waking up in the hospital in 4-point restraints, after having flat-lined from an accidental overdose at 18. None of this deterred me in the least. I thought it was epic, in my flaming youth. It was my intention to blaze through life, even if I had to flirt with death to do it.

That was a long, long time ago. I am no spring chicken, so when I speak of my teenage years, that was well over 25 years ago. It wasn’t easy to get those kind of drugs then — or, I should say, it wasn’t that common. Street drugs, at the time, were coke and pot, acid and ecstasy, and, if you were really hardcore, speed and heroin, and quaaludes to help you come down. What you did often was dictated by who you hung out with and what kind of music you listened to. It was a socially dictated sort of thing. And then, it wasn’t. As you explored your addiction, your friends would change to suit your drug. I went from punk rock to hippy to beatnik to LA nightlife to a mom with mother’s little helpers, and my drugs of choice changed with each scene. I still am not sure if I chose my friends because of the drugs or chose the drugs because of my friends. I just know it morphed as I went along. But with today’s pill usage, it is no longer dictated by one’s group or peers— it’s ever present.

But I digress. The point I want to make here is about the insidiousness of prescription drugs. Over the course of the years, they have been become more and more prevalent; now they dominate and eclipse all the street drugs from the past. One doesn’t even have to find a dealer — they can order this stuff off the internet if it’s not prescribed. Doctors prescribe all sorts of mind-altering pharmaceuticals for a plethora of different psychological conditions, which, if taken as prescribed, are perhaps fine (although that is a different conversation). But they often aren’t taken as prescribed, and/or taken with alcohol, and therein lays the rub. This fact is killing people. People are killing themselves, accidentally, and in alarming numbers.

I was trying to count how many people I know who have lost their lives to prescription pill abuse. Just in the past five years, it’s a stunning number, and a sad number. It’s too many. I know people who go out and shoot speedballs in their necks, get beat up on skid row and end up in jail and live through it nearly un-phased. And then there are people who take a couple of pharmaceuticals and drink a bottle of wine and die in their sleep. Recently, very publicly, there have been celebrities who died either in their shower, in their bath, or in their bed. Young people with bright futures, again, very public. And the same is true for scores of people who are not in the public eye. It is a very big problem, and it’s growing. It’s one of the most rapidly escalating causes of death, but the true numbers are hard to track.

Recently, a family member of mine was prescribed clonopin and zoloft for anxiety. He went out drinking and passed out in the bathroom of a club for an hour. If he had been in a bathtub, he would have drowned. It is usually women who will go fill up a tub and get in with a glass of wine once they have a good buzz going, so they are more likely to meet a terrible end that way. But what if my family member had been driving, swimming in a pool or in a hot tub? How often do people die and it isn’t traced back to the culprit of mixing prescription meds and alcohol? We can’t really quantify the real number of deaths due to that deadly combination, but suffice it to say, it’s staggering.

I have made a point of talking to my kids about this, extensively. I want them to have a fear of this, not a cavalier attitude. Not: “It’s no big deal; it’s just a couple of pills and a few drinks.”Or: “That won’t happen to me.” I tell them that everyone thinks that. No one thinks, “Oh, wow. That could be me. I might die if I do that.” I know that teenagers are popping xanax, narco, vicodin, and oxycontin left and right. They go out, drink and think nothing of it. I did it. I nearly didn’t survive it. We all think we are untouchable, and no one is as surprised as we are when we realize that we’ve gone too far, and that we may pay with our lives for that arrogance.

I am writing this because I know that someone who is now reading this won’t survive. I know that it might be you, reading it right now. I also know that it might not be you, if you heed this warning. In recovery, of course we want everyone to stay sober. We want everyone to stay alive. We want everyone to be happy and healthy and loving life. But that isn’t always the case. People die, they die a lot, they die young, and they leave a lot of very devastated people behind. They die when they least expect it. They don’t think they will, and then they do. If you are in recovery, just stay. Just do it. Stay sober and stay alive. If you are struggling, join us. Stay for today, and do the same thing tomorrow. We want to live, and we want you with us. If you are taking pharmaceuticals that are prescribed by a doctor, take them as prescribed, and talk to your doctor about the dangers of drinking with what you are taking. Do as he says. Your life depends on it.

Please don’t let this be another warning you don’t listen to.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

 

Bouncing Through Sobriety

May 10, 2012

There are times when I stop and really reflect on my recovery. These times are sometimes brought on by seeing how often relapse happens in my community, or — as was recently the case — losing a friend to this disease. I can’t help but wonder how I have thus far been able to hitch myself to this wagon and stay hitched. Why me, and not them? I don’t run a perfect program, as they say; far from it if the guidelines of an AA program are truly the measuring stick of what recovery should look like.

There is an ebb and flow, for me, in my relationship with AA, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the case. I would always be the first person to tell someone to do all the things that are suggested we do in AA because we have seen it can work where little else can. To say anything else would be dangerous. But at the end of the day, we do what we do, and it works or it doesn’t. And the mitigating factor is something internal having to do with surrender and no percentage less than 100.

At this point in my recovery, I can’t really remember what it was like to want to drink or use. I don’t remember the feeling of craving. This may be due to the fullness of my life now, and how inspired I am on a daily basis to do the right thing.

As a single mom of two teenage girls, there is little time to indulge in any sort of self pity. Often, when people ask me how I am doing, I have to stop and check in as I am; I really am; what I am doing — not how I am feeling. Feelings are secondary. I have a lot to do, and I don’t do it grudgingly. I have a gold thread of joy that ties it all together, whether it’s a day of work and feeding kids and driving to appointments and doing laundry, or a blessedly relaxed and rare day by the pool. I am not discontent. My life has purpose, and that fills the hole that was once a gaping maw of want and need.

There is one aspect of my recovery, however, that is without a doubt one of the biggest and least talked about. I am, for the sake of this dialogue, skipping over principles, and my Higher Power, and working with others, as I have spoken at length about in previous blogs. The aspect I am referring to is the element of PLAY.

Play and a playful attitude are pivotal to my very existence. It is something that, if you removed it from me, would render me lifeless; a zombie; a robot, which is what I was when I was using. Serving only my appetites reduced me to being a slave to them. But as I got sober, I realized how profound the playful aspect was for me. I need to do things like go to the beach to build sandcastles and hunt for starfish and run with dogs. I have to sing as loud as I can in my car, louder than my head and its incessant thinking. I need to end my day with a plate full of warm cookies. I need to go play paintball, and run around and get dirty and get paint all in my hair and hoot and holler. I need to dance in the aisles of the grocery store, to embarrass my kids. I need to interact playfully with the guy at 7-11 or the gas station or the woman at the checkout counter at Trader Joe’s. I need to hula hoop, even though I suck at it, and go to Disneyland or to ride roller coasters. I need to BOUNCE through my day, no matter what I am doing.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s THE gold thread that holds my life in sobriety together — it’s the playful loving golden thread of God. It invites the spirit of play into all my affairs, and I find that the universe plays with me in kind. There is love in playfulness, and the universe is always and ever loving. The only time it isn’t is NEVER, but we often are not open to it, and at those times it will seem like the universe is conspiring against us. So often we are so focused on ourselves that we do not see how the world has opened its arms to us, urging us forward into new personal adventures while we cling to our old ideas with a white knuckled death grip, insisting on taking it all personally.

The thing that gets my goat is that you can’t ever really tell anyone that they are holding onto old ideas, that life is amazing and that the seemingly unfortunate event they are currently in is a great blessing, that the universe is inviting them to play while they are busy indulging in outdated belief systems. This will only piss a person off. They don’t want to hear it. Usually they want you to recognize their suffering, to co-sign it, and that is no help, either.

The only person who I can tell this to is me. When I get confronted by scenarios that I don’t have any answers for, that I become fearful or worried about, I am the only one who can say, “Hey, this is a gift. You aren’t seeing it right because you are making yourself the focus. Snap out of it, homegirl. This doesn’t work. Plus it’s no fun!” All challenges are invitations to grow. Many of them I created by my own myopia, and I get to learn not to repeat that mistake. Sometimes they are a cleansing — things are removed from my life that have outlived their usefulness, and I need to make room for new experiences. And because I have a highly-developed sense of play, which has a bounce to it — a built in spring, if you will — I can easily bounce back from most things that I almost let tackle me. Even if I start to buy the ticket to the pity parade, that spring won’t let me do it. Why? Because the pity parade is BORING, and the bounce wants to bounce, and the play wants to play. Life is fun if you say it is, if you take a stand to adopt the spirit of play and inject it into everything.

There will be some who may think that there is no levity in their situation, and to them I want to say, they may be right. I haven’t walked in anyone else’s shoes, and there may be some situations that are so dark that light can’t get in there. Or maybe a little can, but not enough to smile about yet. For them I will say there is always hope, and there is always something to marvel at, and it could always be worse. It could always be worse. The only people for whom that isn’t true are not here to say it to anymore. If you are on this planet, if you woke up today, then it could be worse.

Here is my recipe for having a play-filled day. I challenge you to take it on. Especially if you are facing any sorts of problems or challenges.

1. First thing in the morning, howl when you wake up. First thing.

2. Choose a commonly used word (like, money, or door, or hello, or thanks), and every time someone uses it shout, “WOOHOO!” See if you can get your co-workers in on it — nothing is better than word of the day when played in a group.

3. Eat something you think you shouldn’t. A donut. Whatever. Once a day. Have a chocolate milkshake for breakfast.

4. Walk barefoot. Even if it’s just from your house to your car.

5. Smile at strangers. Especially kids and babies. Don’t look away from them like they aren’t there — they are. And so are you.

6. Buy five toothbrushes and toothpastes to keep in your car to give to homeless people panhandling by the side of the road. Go even crazier and put them in a bag with water, crackers, apples, socks and a T-shirt.

7. Hug some people. Especially family members. Try doing it right when you walk in the door. Look at them and tell them how important they are to you, how cool you think they are or how awesome they look today. That smile you get back will light you up until you can find your next victim. You will start to need those smiles; you will find you can’t live without them.

Try it. Let me know how it goes!

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

Spiritual Alarm Clocks

May 03, 2012

Life is a trip. This is no revelation; but it’s worth saying.

On Saturday, I had to go get new tires. I drove through a part of town I don’t get to too much, but it’s an area where I worked for more than three years, and where I really hit my bottom. I would leave work and go to the liquor store for lunch, and slam down a bunch of those tiny bottles of vodka. I’d go to different stores every day so no one would think I had a problem. I’d joke with the clerks —“It’s one of those days; I’m getting ready for happy hour early!” Then I would go back to work, having had my lunch. It was bad enough that I was not worse after a few drinks, but better. I couldn’t function without it.

It was strange to have all of those memories flooding back, and the feelings that went with them. Now, eight years later, (five and change in sobriety, but a few dark years in between) I have compassion for that woman I was, what a sad little mess I made out of everything all the time. What a weird time in my life that was. I had tried to get in touch with my boss from that time when I did my 9th step, but she never responded, so I let it go. I had to drive by her old apartment on the way to the tire place, and I resolved, absolutely, right then and there, to find her. I would track her down and make the amends I owed to her, because that part of my life still felt unclean and unresolved, and she deserved the amends that was so long overdue. Eight years overdue.

I got my tires done, and had stopped thinking about it. I was trying to go to a small fragrance store that I had heard about but never went to, having an oddly free afternoon. It was tricky. I drove around the block three times and couldn’t find parking. I finally, being determined as hell suddenly, succumbed to the $5 valet. I went in and played with all the lovely scents in Le Labo, and then left. I stood there for a second. I am not a shopper, but I had just paid $5, so I decided to walk around a bit a poke around in the little shops that line 3rd Street. I went into another store, eyeballing the goods, when a small dog came over and licked my toes. I laughed and looked up at the owner, and it was her, my old boss, the one who I had an hour ago resolved to find—in the flesh. I got goosebumps and hugged her. She looked a little hesitant. We hadn’t parted on good terms and when I said I was working in treatment the past couple of years, she visibly relaxed and suggested we have lunch when she returned from Costa Rica.

Fast forward a couple of days later, and I am standing in line at Coffee Bean, and there is a man behind me with an empty Jack Daniels bottle. He is a nice looking man, wearing a good suit and a big smile. The manager of Coffee Bean, Abi, asks him what he was doing with that bottle. He says it’s a prop for an acting class or an audition or something and he needed to get it filled with cold coffee, no ice. He then followed up, good-naturedly, saying, “I haven’t had a drink in eight years.”

I love how we seem to love to announce this — I do the same. I turned and asked if he was a friend of Bill. He wasn’t, in fact he had gotten sober on his own. He smiled even bigger and said, “Isn’t it amazing how your entire life changes when you stop drinking?”

It truly is — above and beyond the ordinary. I was so glad I started my day with some guy holding a bottle of Jack Daniels asking me EXACTLY that question. I needed that. That I would have a random interaction like such as this, so serendipitously, set the tone for my whole day, like a spiritual alarm clock.

Sometimes my recovery is in the background, like a soundtrack; important, but not the focus. And then there is an event that requires the soundtrack to surge and you sort of wake up and realize that it’s been there all along, making everything … right; holding it all together. When I saw my boss standing there in that store with her little dog licking my toes, this woman who I had thought about on and off for so many years and who had just an hour ago occupied my mind so intensely, I was floored, completely humbled by the divine choreography of life doing its own thing. At moments like these, there is no disputing that there is a Higher Power; a Playful Consciousness; a Divine Order to things — at least for me. I didn’t go in that store an hour later, or 10 minutes after she left. I didn’t go in Coffee Bean 20 minutes earlier, or two hours later. I was EXACTLY where I was supposed to be. These are small miracles that remind me, lest I forget, that all of life is a relationship with that. It’s all a miracle. You are a miracle. Believe it.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

The Art of Making a Difference at the PRISM Awards

Apr 26, 2012

THE 16thANNUAL PRISM AWARDS

Last week, I had the great privilege of attending the 16th annual PRISM Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I didn’t have any idea what to expect. Being the perennial tomboy, my big issue was putting on a dress. Of course, this is symptomatic of the alcoholic mind. It isn’t about me; it’s about the achievements of others; it’s about ONE80CENTER sponsoring Renew magazine at the 16thannual Prism Awards show! And here I was, obsessing about myself. I pulled it together, though, because just as self centeredness is a byproduct of the disease, a byproduct of recovery is a circle of friends who turn up to offer support —and I had three friends who lent me three different dresses to choose from. God bless ‘em.

The PRISM Awards show honors actors, directors and writers in TV and film who portray alcoholism/addiction/recovery and mental health issues in a way that informs and educates the viewers. It’s no secret that alcoholism/addiction and mental illness are two of the most misunderstood issues in American society. I’ll wager that there isn’t one single person in this country whose life isn’t touched in some way by one of the aforementioned issues — be it a family member, a coworker, a sister’s boyfriend or a best friend’s father or whatever. In some fashion, it’s around us all. And for some, it’s much closer. It’s a child, or a parent, a spouse, or our very own self. For something to be so pandemic and yet so stigmatized is a travesty. It is difficult enough to recover, or to learn to live with a mental illness, without there being such a mystery surrounding the process. Without recognition, compassion and understanding, these issues can become fatal tragedies, and too often are.

THE ART OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Thankfully, there are brave actors, writers and directors who are out to change this reality. Through accurate portrayals of the truth about addiction, or recovery, and of mental health issues, they illustrate the humanity behind the “curtain of shame.” I don’t really watch TV, so I had no idea that so much light was being shed on these all too pertinent social issues. At the beginning of the event, the military in the audience were honored. As they stood to introduce themselves, I was thinking how incredible it was, to be so courageous, and to be honored for one’s bravery in the face of extreme adversity. It then occurred to me that every nominee was also being recognized for their courageous performance, but also every nominee was standing up for every brave person that has ever struggled with the challenges their character represented. Then it hit me — I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. I am one; I am part of this group. I am a survivor of a great battle, not unlike those brave soldiers. All of us in that category have been silently waging a war against our own demons, bearing up under the weight of our own crosses. We are not like other people; we just AREN’T. It feels good to be recognized and understood, not just by our own kind, but the rest of the world, too.

William H. Macy

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was part of the video clip from Castle featuring Stana Katic and Jon Huertas, and also in Days of Our Lives, both of which won. In another clip from the show Parenthood, a mother of two teens, while driving them to school, tries to tell them that their father was an alcoholic/addict, and that they also had the genes, and that they needed to be more careful than other people, that they couldn’t drink alcohol like other people who didn’t have the genetic disposition toward addiction. I spoke to the writer of that particular show afterward, and told her how it was identical to a talk I had had with my own two teenagers the week before, and it was stunningly similar.

William H. Macy was honored in a clip from Showtime’s Shameless, as a blathering, jabbering, street walking drunk on a rant. He was brilliant, spot on, and, with his wild gesticulating walking down public streets, talking loudly to himself, he brought to mind the kind of person we move away from when we see him walking toward us. He epitomized the disease of alcoholism at its worst—he IS US at our worst. We know that dark place, lost inside the labyrinth of the disease. And yet, he’s funny, its comedy, but no one is laughing harder than those of us in recovery. Emily Osment picked up an award for her work in Cyberbully, which depicted a teenage girl under attack on social networking sites, to the point of harming herself fatally. Cyberbully brings to light a new social dilemma that requires immediate attention, and is symptomatic of culture raised on contempt. Russell Brand and Helen Mirren were nominated in the field of Motion Pictures for their brilliant work in Arthur. Dr. Drew Pinsky picked up two Prism Awards, as he famously continues to shed light on these issues in his reality television programs, which reach millions of people.

Emily Osment

Many of these actors took to the stage and stated frankly that they too suffered from PTSD, or were in recovery from alcohol or addiction. Marriette Hartley, who I remember from so many television shows as a child, bravely said that her personal experiences with PTSD made her even more moved by what the Prism Awards stand for. She wrote a book called Breaking The Silence about her own experiences, and once said, “I believe there must be no shame attached to mental illness or suicide. It is essential to get help and to stay in close contactwith a psychiatrist and if pharmaceuticals are advised, to be completely honest about family tendencies and disorders. Often a misdiagnosis can be dangerous. And above all, share your story with others. I have a friend who was once an actress, and then she got smart and became a nun. She once said to me that ‘one’s deepest wounds – integrated – become one’s greatest power.’ I believe that deeply.”

Marriette Hartley

This quote alone expresses the spirit of the Prism Awards, and what I felt in the air that night.

Needless to say, I felt right at home at the awards show. In my life of recovery, and working in the field of treatment, all of the issues covered are normal in my world. I understand that which is perplexing to ‘normal’ people more than I understand so called ‘normalcy.’ It made me think of all the times I spoke to ‘normies’ the way I speak to people in recovery. You really can’t do that — you really can’t, when asked by a normal person how you are doing, REALLY tell them how you are really doing. I recall the time I was hired to work in a law firm, making calls regarding class action law suits, and one of the attorneys who was training me asked me how my weekend was. And I told him! I told him exactly how my weekend was, and how I felt about it, with the standard intimacy we share in the tribe of recovery. He looked at me as if I was an exotic fish that had just swam into his office. If I had said that to anyone in recovery they would have understood, implicitly. I learned then the biggest difference between those of us in recovery and those of us who aren’t is this thing of understanding each other.

All of the nominees of the Prism Awards, past, present, and those yet to come, all endeavor to bridge that gap between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ In the world at large, we are not isolated instances, we are part of a continuous fabric of humanity. We are surrounded by family and friends, lovers, spouses, coworkers, all who either understand a little about our inner struggle, about our triumphant recovery, or about what it takes to live with a mental illness. Maybe some of these people have no idea. We may keep it to ourselves, out of fear of being stigmatized, or judged. We may only talk to others of our own kind about it. But wouldn’t it be nice, wouldn’t it be really epic, if the world at large understood what types of things are handicaps for us, what sorts of things trigger us, so they can be sensitive to who and what we are? Wouldn’t it be utterly cool to be understood? Wouldn’t it be awesome if people knew that alcoholism is a disease, not a moral shortcoming, not a weakness, but a literal disease?

Dr. Drew Pinsky

I firmly support anything that unifies people, levels the playing field, allows for more harmony and respect and less contempt prior to investigation. The people involved in putting on the Prism Awards show, the EIC, the FX network, the actors, the TV shows and movies, the writers, the directors, everyone who is willing to put themselves out there to accurately depict these issues, are heroes. These people are truly living the “art of making a difference.” We should all endeavor to do the same.

The 16th annual Prism Awards will air on FX Sept.16, 2012. Renew magazine, sponsored by ONE80CENTER, took a ton of great photos and did interviews with the winners and presenters. Look for more in the July/August issue of Renew.

PRISM Awards photos courtesy of Frances Iacuzzi Photography for Renew sponsored by ONE80CENTER.

Did I Really Almost Hold Myself Hostage Again?!

Apr 18, 2012

There is a certain point in sobriety where you really have to take a hard look at yourself. I thought I already had done all of that, but right now I am experiencing a different level of delightfully grueling self examination. It comes as a result of a recent shift in my own reality, one that has left me feeling whole, complete, integrated and not lacking in any way.

After returning from Indonesia with this self unifying and connective experience under my belt, I was suddenly able to identify certain ways of being that are no longer aligned with who I am. For example, after a recent family crisis involving one of my kids, I found that I wasn’t shaken up or frantic. I had not hit a panic button, or lost my shit, which under the circumstances was not only warranted, but expected. The few people I communicated this crisis to were very sweet, and asked, with a great deal of concern, “But how are you? Are you OK?” I was nonplussed. I felt that I was supposed to say I was devastated, to comment on how hard it is, but I wasn’t devastated. I was fine. The situation had not compromised my serenity in any way, and now I almost felt bad about it.

It was a great opportunity for me to pause and look at why I would feel bad about maintaining a state of serenity in calamity. At the moment my caring friends asked me how I was, I felt how their sympathy offered my recently laid to rest martyr/victim space to unfurl. It was compelling to say, “It’s hard, yeah,” and take their consoling words and basically wallow in them, feeding the “bad wolf” of my ego in the most insidious of ways. To even have to own that this is what I have done for years was an ugly truth to face, and its little consolation that I wasn’t aware of what I was doing. I unwittingly disempowered my own self with the kindness of others.

Now there is the feeling bad about being fine—what’s up with that? There is the old ego again, worrying about how I look to others. Will they think I am not concerned enough about my daughter? Will they think me too cavalier, or perhaps even disconnected from reality? Why, oh why do I care?

I care because I am a human, subject to all the frailties that crave approval. It’s the human condition, and being an alcoholic is the human condition on steroids. I could feel that urge to play into the assigned role and cave in for all the wrong reasons, but the difference now is that instead of acting on it, I watched it and casually bypassed the whole mess by saying, “Thank you much for asking. I am really good. I am sincerely OK.”

Did I possibly see a shadow cross their faces, as if I perhaps was wildly inappropriate to be fine at a time like this? Who knows. I thought I saw it, but it’s this kind of thing that is one of the greatest tools of my ego, and my disease. Maybe it was there, and maybe it wasn’t. But the nice thing is this: once I watched this whole subtle and yet intense scenario play out, I realized it truly doesn’t matter what people think. It doesn’t matter if they approve, or if they disapprove. I know where I stand, at long last, and I don’t need to justify it or shrink to fit or do anything but just be exactly what I am committed to. This may mean some people fade out of my life; some are there because I played the game with them, the mutual cosigning and commiserating. Those relationships won’t have enough air to breath. And some relationships will become stronger. And better yet, new ones will form that will be built on honesty and lack of emotional manipulation and self gratification.

We get to stop holding ourselves hostage by identifying with conditioned responses. And we get to stop holding others hostage as well. We get to live authentically in each moment, responding with our truth, relaxed in knowing that everything is happening exactly the way it is supposed to. When we resolve our inner conflicts, we get to love ourselves unconditionally, and then we no longer need anyone else to. People in our lives are then free to be exactly who and what they are, and we are able to embrace them unconditionally with love and respect as well.

What does this have to do with sobriety? Everything.

Leaning Into Recovery ... a life beyond your wildest dreams

Apr 12, 2012

When I came into recovery, I was told to expect a life beyond my wildest dreams. It’s funny where a self centered newly sober person will take a statement like that — for me, it was wealth and leisure, designer clothes and massages. I would never have been able to conceive of the true gift of self, of having my skin fit, of living organically and responding to the moment at hand, instead of reacting and taking everything personally.

But the hits just keep on coming. Once we get to a point in our sobriety where we get accustomed to a certain level of serenity, dignity, and living with the constant grace of our Higher Power, we also find ourselves open to opportunities that we never considered were in our grasp.

For example, since getting sober, I have done a dream board every year in January. I’ve done them for years, but for the first time, they were not so outlandish, foolish and ego centered. On my last one that I did in 2010, I had a whole corner devoted to traveling — not just anywhere, mind you. Indonesia, Tahiti, maybe, but pretty much that whole section of the world dominated by all the thousands of little islands between China and Australia. So, I had all these pictures, and I also put a picture of a passport, because it suddenly dawned on me that (DUH) I won’t be going anywhere without one.

And then it really struck me — here is my alcoholic thinking at its finest! My house is covered in maps (the one in my room takes up a whole 10-by-13 wall), globes, travel posters and vintage suitcases. Obviously, I have wanted to travel for a long, long time. I wasn’t really even aware of it. It’s kind of weird to collect all of these things and not notice they represented a desire to see the world. When I looked at my dream board, and looked around my house, I was struck by how incredibly blind I was, how we all can be when dealing with our addictions, before we start waking up to ourselves. I had placed it so far out of the realm of possibility that I had hardly entertained it as a reality, just as a decorating scheme. Hello!

Realizing as well that no worldly travel can happen without a passport, it occurred to me that I had these notions of travel without really doing the due diligence to make it happen. How often do we float around and daydream, but don’t take the necessary steps to make those dreams real? A lot, I’m afraid. And here I was, catching myself in the act. So I did the next indicated action — I got a passport.

I had that passport for a few months when a friend invited me to Bali. Out of the blue, I got the text, “Wanna go to Bali in September?” And I was able to say “YES.” No one, in my entire life, has ever asked me if I wanted to go abroad with them. Once I was prepared, though, it happened. I can’t help but wonder about that timeworn phrase, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.” I know that alcoholics and addicts have lived lives of meeting their most immediate needs, filling a God-shaped hole with everything but God, prepared for very little. Opportunities, if they came, could knock us in the head and we wouldn’t even know it. If you understand what I am saying, you will also understand the revelation of that invite, that for the first time, I had prepared myself to be able to say yes to this dream of mine.

I just got back from Bali, Indonesia, on Friday, Sept. 29. It was life altering, to finally be leaving this country for the first time, and to go somewhere so immersed in love and devotion of God. I was able to really get centered—this was also my first vacation in 16 years—and settle into a new level of serenity that I could not have imagined previously. Who knew? I sure didn’t, I had painted such a small picture of my life while using, that this ever expanding realm of awareness continues to surprise and delight me. I am, like you, divinely guided and protected.

I knew it during the two rough years, 2009 and 2010, when I was on food stamps after having been laid off, struggling to keep a roof over mine and my kids’ heads—I didn’t feel deserted, though, I felt blessed. I knew that so-called “rough patch” was a great gift that would only open me up to new miracles. I understood certain things in me needed to be burned to the ground so humility could take the place of self centeredness. I was leaning into recovery. And so I did not feel more gratitude for this recent adventure, or less, either—just an overwhelming sense of awe at how things unfold when I, when we, practice principles over personalities, do the next indicated action, trust God, clean house, and help others, all the things we are guided to do in recovery.

If I was running on my own steam and not leaning into recovery, things would not be like this. Without my recovery and my Higher Power, I’d most likely be dead, and if not dead, I would be in a little room somewhere wishing I was and drinking myself in that direction. My life is the opposite of that, and that truly, TRULY, is a life beyond my wildest dreams when I came into recovery.

I say this because some people need to hear it. I say this to remind you to keep hanging in there and trust the process. I say this because it gets dark before the miracle happens—in fact, it is a requirement, in my experience. The rough spots inform me that miracles are on the way. That being said, if you are having a rough patch, lean into your recovery and know that it’s burning down the old structures of your alcoholic thinking so it can make room for the miracles that are eager to get to you. Let them. Just relax and trust that it’s all happening the way it’s meant to, skip the drama, and stay open for the awe and wonder of this thing. Like Einstein says – “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.” … Everything is.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

Adventures in Sobriety

Apr 05, 2012

A couple of days ago, I had driven my daughter to an appointment in an area of LA that isn’t the greatest—not the kind of neighborhood you want to be in at night. Her appointment was from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., so it was almost night time. It seems that I fell asleep in my car with it running. I had left it on for the heat, and was reading while I waited for her. I was awakened by my car making a strange sound, and then dying.

My first thought is that I had run down the little gas I had—I was planning on filling up the tank right after her appointment. I tried to text her to tell her that I was leaving the car and walking to the gas station, but she didn’t answer and the door to the building was locked. So I went as fast as I could, with only 15 minutes before she walked out of her appointment into the parking lot, at which point the door would lock behind her and she would be alone in the lot, not knowing what had happened to her mom. That was all I could think about as I walked as fast as I could to the gas station. So, I bought the $15 gas container, and two gallons of gas ($4.70 here in Los Angeles, for those elsewhere). As I was filling the gas can, a man pulled up and asked if I needed a ride. Normally I would say no, but I had to get back to my daughter, who I had been worried about the whole time. As we were driving, he told me he had stayed twice at the half way house up the street, both times he got out of the penitentiary. Wow! Yeah, that isn’t the kind of thing you want to hear when you jump into a stranger’s car. But he then went on to tell me how he spoke to his son for the first time ever just the day before, and he told me his son’s name and that he found him on Facebook. He then dropped me off and was on his way.

I put the gas in my car. Annnnnnd … it didn’t work. The only place that was around in the area, sharing the parking lot with doctor’s office that was open was a mental hospital. Yes, this is a true story. So I went there and tried to find someone with jumper cables. I found two ambulance attendants, who were very helpful and came and put the cables on my car. Fifteen minutes later— nothing. The battery was completely dead. And then, so was my phone. My daughter and I got in the back of the ambulance and they dropped us off at an Autozone, about eight blocks away. I didn’t know if I was going to try to learn how to install a battery, alone with my 13-year-old in a dark parking lot, if I was going to carry that heavy thing up the eight-block long hill—I had no idea.

As we stood in line, in a state of awe at the weirdness of the situation, I felt a nudge. An invisible nudge. It nudged—almost pushed— me toward a Hispanic man who was standing at the register. I asked him if he knew how to install a battery. He said yes. I asked him if he could help us, and he said yes. His name was Daniel. He had to repair his own car, in the parking lot, so we sat on the curb for about an hour. My daughter and I wrapped in his sweatshirt that he gave us because we were cold, watching the people doing various street businesses on the corner.

Finally, he was done with his car. He didn’t speak English well enough to understand how to get to my car, so he told me to drive. His van seemed like his home—meaning, I think he lived in it. So I drove his van to the parking lot by the mental hospital, and he was able to install the new battery, our new friend Daniel.

PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING

 What was truly amazing about this adventure, and the point of this blog,is that every single time I needed someone, they showed up, like clockwork. It took four people to help—ambulance drivers, an ex-con, and a homeless man who barely spoke English. But they were there, and I couldn’t question for one second the force that put everyone where they should be. Because really, that battery would have died eventually, and it could have been a lot worse.

There was a time when this adventure would have been a terrible chain of events— I wouldn’t have seen anything good about it at all. My daughter was inclined to get negative about it. I had said to her, “This could have been so much worse!” And she rolled her pre-teen eyes at me and said, “It could have been so much better, too.” To which I replied, “Maybe, but the way I am looking at it keeps me grateful and positive. The way you are looking at it will always make you a victim, and unhappy.” She smiled, and said, “Mom, you’re weird.” Later, though, she did concede that it was pretty wild how there were people right there, giving rides and helping install batteries and jump cars. I was glad she was there to experience it—stranded by a mental hospital in a bad part of town with the phone dead. It was like the setting for a slasher movie, and saved by four not-so-random angels. I love these awesome adventures in sobriety.

The moral of the story? It depends on how you look at it. Perception is everything. EVERYTHING. We learn this in recovery; it’s a pivotal lesson for us. The world adjusts to our personal frame of reference. It shows up exactly as we call it, based on what we choose to see. Because I perceive this to be good world, where I am divinely guided and protected, then it is. It is a good world. I am divinely guided and protected. And so are you.

 

Not Drowning, Surfing

Mar 30, 2012

Truth is Truth

I love how it happens when I am reading various spiritual books and I come across the same truths that we learn in AA. For instance, the concept of contrary action. This seems to be axiomatic in many schools of thought. Recently, in my Fourth Way group, we were all told to sit for 5 minutes every morning, upon waking. Not in a normal meditation kind of way, but upright, on a chair, back straight, feet on floor, hands one inside the other. Easy, right? Think again.

Of course it’s easy—it’s not like they asked me to bend spoons with my mind. In fact, the idea of its easiness is exactly what helps illustrate how unwilling most people are to do even the easiest of things.  I am using myself as an example. I know all about contrary action—I write about it a lot, and I practice it often. It is a lynchpin of my personal philosophy. However, when confronted with doing this simple thing, I have had the hardest time adhering to it. Now, here are my reasons, and they are, seemingly, valid: I’m a tired single mom, I work a lot, I don’t get enough sleep, I roll out of bed and hit the ground running, I have two teenagers to wake up and get moving, etc.

These are not just reasons, these are excuses. EXCUSES. Reasons are just excuses that make sense on some level. I am able to totally justify my not doing this one little thing. And yet, by the simple act of putting all reasons, excuses and resistance aside and simply doing the damn thing, I may experience a new level of consciousness.

Am I a Robot? Errr… apparently.

How is 5 minutes a day going to give me a new level of consciousness? Could it really be that easy? Well, the new level comes not just from the sitting, but by the whole process of watching all the automatic resistance that comes up for me. In all spiritual traditions, the concept of “waking up” is very relevant. In Fourth Way, part of the waking up process is called Self Remembering. To remember my true self, I have to understand my false self, the one that is a robot. I have to see how programmed I am to do certain things certain ways all the time, consistently. I have to observe how I play small and make excuses. I justify my limiting behavior. I procrastinate. I look for an easier way. I’m on automatic pilot more often than I realize. It wasn’t easy to see before the 5-minute morning exercise, because it isn’t easy to really see ourselves at all. I can see only what I know — but it is finding out what I don’t know that liberates me from the bondage of self.

For the past few weeks I would drive to work and puzzle over why I didn’t do my sitting exercise, or why I kept having such a problem with it. At first, I really didn’t know. I said to myself, “I can’t do this. My life is too busy.” But for crying out loud, it’s FIVE MINUTES! FIVE! So then I really started to observe myself, and watch myself; NOT sit. I watched myself do everything BUT sit. And I learned a lot that I didn’t know.

The more I understand how I work, what makes me tick (Know Thyself! Of course!) the more I will learn to master what is a robotic function and become more of what I was before I became programmed by life. There is an essential, true core self in all of us that is trying to break through. In recovery, we have taken the first step in this adventure when we surrender a way of life and a way of being— the only way we know— and commit to a life of abstinence from drugs and alcohol. This is a great launching place for the rest of the spiritual journey. The more we reveal our true natures, the more authentic we can show up in the world. We remove the barriers that keep us from experiencing the ebb and flow of life—when we fight it, we are like a drowning person, flailing at the injustice of it all. But when we are living in our truth, we surf. And if you know any surfers, they will tell you, surfing is when they feel closest to God.

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

Spiritual Restlessness: Being Called to Go Deeper in Sobriety

Mar 22, 2012

I have been noticing that at a certain point in recovery, many people start to want to go to the ‘next level.’ What that means, exactly, is really up to the person experiencing it, but one does know when they have come to a plateau in their personal development and need something to stimulate further growth. Many people look to AA and the AA community to be that thing that inspires and creates growth, and it just isn’t always going to be able to do that. For me, the answer is not to go to more meetings, because more of the same thing is not my Next Level. I needed something different, something else, something to add to my existing program.

I think its dangerous to have this feeling and not seek an outlet for it; I have seen this turn from a spiritual restlessness and desire for growth into a spiritual malady and desire for drink if its not addressed. It almost makes me think that our original desire for a drink stems from a spiritual restlessness. This may not be true for all, but I feel like its true for me.

I had disconnected from the God of my family, the Southern Baptist, judgmental God. I wanted nothing to do with him, but that doesn’t mean I wanted nothing to do with something bigger than me, something I could turn to, something that helped me feel safe in the world. Its like someone who is estranged from their father - being estranged doesn’t fix the problem of feeling lonely, missing the relationship with the father, being resentful at the isolation from the source of comfort and safety. And so, I was like that - estranged from God but missing God. And then… there was alcohol, and the spiritual suffering was numbed to some extent.

Even during all my drinking and using, I was obsessed with books by illuminated souls, like Joseph Campbell, Howard Thurman, and Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. I would constantly read about other religions and spiritual practices. I wanted something, but since I made alcohol and drugs my Higher Power, all I could do is intellectualize about it. I couldn’t have it for my own, that experience of being connected to the Source. I was reminded of the scriptural saying of my early days, which said that God is a jealous God and would have no other before Him. In this situation, it was true, but in a different way- no jealousy involved, but truly when I put alcohol and drugs (or anything, for that matter- love, money, fear, you name it) before God, then I do not have access to the true Source. And so it was - I worshipped alcohol; I worshipped drugs; I worshipped the high, the oblivion. And there was no room for God.

When I got sober, I slowly got to know my Higher Power. It really helped that I was encouraged to find a God of my understanding. One thing I know for sure is that I can not ever understand my Higher Power. The second I think I do, I have to know that its no longer my Higher Power, but my idea of a Higher Power, which will always be more than I can conceive of. The God of my understanding is a God I don’t understand. My Higher Power is truly a mystery, has a playful sense of humor, is generous and loving, sends me into situations that cause my heart and soul to expand and grow. I do not have a name for It, or a gender, or an idea of what It looks like, I only know that I am having an amazing relationship with this Grace that holds all things together, and I love it. I love this relationship for providing all the things I always wanted - I am safe, secure, protected and guided. I am encouraged to Know Myself, and to love myself, so that I can more fully love and accept others. And, I am happy. Every single day.

So then there is the Next Level. It got to a point for me where I wanted to really go beyond where I am right now. I want to know who I am and what I am doing, which of my behaviors are programmed and how to de-program myself so I am coming from an authentic and true place. I have to discover what my Truth really is, so I can know how to come from that place, and I have to discover what is false, so I can reject it in favor of the Truth. I have heard it said that if you kill yourself in the first five years of sobriety, you are killing the wrong person. I am a few months shy of my fifth sober birthday, and I can tell you, that is so true. I am so much more ME than I was when I came in - when I got sober, and for the first few years, I was just a bundle of programming, reactions, raw nerves and issues. I was run by resentments and fears and desires. I did what I did because I didn’t know what else to do, it was automatic, like a robot. Even if it felt spontaneous or original, like I was making my own decisions, the underlying truth was that I really wasn’t.

Once I started to reject my script, and respond, not react, right in the moment and based on the truth of me, I found a liberation that can not be put into words. I can’t even describe it to you, except that the experience of it is worth living for. Its inspired and inspiring. I wanted to dive deeper into it, to understand more. I am a seeker, and I know where to look, and as such I have been very involved with my own personal Next Level. But I have seen people who are not seekers by nature who are hit with the spiritual restlessness and, like I said before, not knowing to use it to motivate them into a spiritual inquiry allowed it to turn into a spiritual malady. Its easy at that time to start questioning AA, and recovery itself. People in this phase tend to go to fewer and fewer meetings, and grow ‘bored’ of the recovery community. When we don’t work the steps, we lose our footing. The 11th Step is an ongoing step, and it can be a real doozy for some.

If you feel yourself wanting more than AA, don’t turn your back on AA, just grab onto something else to supplement what AA is. Its important to know that AA isn’t everything. It isn’t claiming to be. It encourages you to deepen your relationship with your Higher Power IN ADDITION to going to meetings, being of service and letting go of resentments. If you are church minded, find a great church. Find a meditation group, or go to Yoga. There are a million great books that can inspire a spiritual journey to blossom- I suggest Deepak Chopra’s ‘Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire’, or Marianne Williamson’s ‘Return To Love’, or the book she refers to throughout it, A Course In Miracles. I have become seriously interested in A Course In Miracles, and also a system of teaching, or a school of thought, called The Fourth Way, whose basic principle is to Know Thyself. Kabbalah is fascinating as well. Any and all of these give the spiritual support system that a really inspiring program of recovery should have as part of its arsenal for success.

I bring it up because I have spoken to yet another friend, (of the many who have hit that spot, that spiritual restlessness, between their third and fifth year) and he opted out, decided to try a little controlled drinking. I am close to him so I watched how easily he went from wanting more light to tossing himself into the dark. We do have the disease of ‘more’, but if we are deliberate and aim in the right direction, that desire for more can serve us well. There is nothing wrong with more light, more love, more service, more connection to a Higher Power, more grace, more harmony, more unity. The definition of the word ‘sin’ literally means to ‘miss the mark.’ If you aim in the wrong direction, you are bound to do just that. When we use our weaknesses (our desire for more) as our strength (our desire for more used rightly in the name of Grace), we do not miss the mark. We do not ‘sin’. We create a better world for ourselves and others, and that is the opposite of missing the mark; thats the whole point.

So if you are feeling mad at AA right now, resentful of meetings, wanting more but not knowing what, its a slippery time for you. Understand that its not AA’s fault; you simply are being called to go deeper. Feed your soul with whatever spiritual practice or words of wisdom or religious community you find works for you to support your sobriety, and don’t delay. Steps 10, 11, and 12 must be done on a regular basis. Constant contact with a Higher Power is an integral part of this thing. If you are feeling restless, you are being called into action, and feeding that spiritual longing with more Spirit is the solution.
 
Photo courtesy of SXC.com.

Baby Chicks - Carry the Message, Not the Alcoholic

Mar 19, 2012

I was thinking the other day of something I heard about years ago. It was a story about how important it is for a baby chick to fight its way out of the egg. It is quite a struggle, and the impulse for any kind-hearted person would be to help the little guy out. So someone did that, and the baby chick died shortly thereafter. Apparently, the struggle to emerge activated necessary muscles that the chick would need for survival outside the egg. It needed to strengthen its neck muscles with the pecking and squirming, its little legs with the kicking and scratching.

  It is the same for us.                              

We develop muscles and skills in our emerging process in recovery that are critical to our survival in sobriety. That is why they say to carry the message, and not the alcoholic - if we carry the alcoholic, they may not gain the musculature they need for the future. It isn’t always easy to know the dividing line between being of service, and being an enabler for other negative behaviors.

When I was first in recovery, I certainly didn’t know the difference. I found myself running after women who had gone out on a run, banging on doors where they were holed up with their junky boyfriends; running to hotel rooms to drag drunk women into a detox (more than once for the same woman); I’ve been thrown-up on by women and once was peed on; I’ve held their hair while they threw up in the toilet; trying to count the number of pills that were undigested. I’ve carried women who weigh more than me up stairs. I could keep going here, but you get the idea.

I will say this - my heart was in the right place. It was. But errantly so; these things did not ultimately help any of these women. I remember calling the sponsor of some of these women who said: “I don’t run after wet ones,” or, “I don’t get involved in the madness.” I couldn’t understand it. My own sponsor, in one of these situations, got really angry with me. She said they were not willing, they were drunk, and when they sobered up and got willing they could give a call. I remember thinking this sounded wrong; weren’t we supposed to do everything in our power to help?

I really don’t know where that line is. But I do understand that no human power can relieve us of our alcoholism, and also I do understand that after many of these scenarios, I am not in a hurry to go running after someone who is out there using. I have seen that it isn’t effective. I have seen how ugly and crazy it is, and that talking to the disease is fruitless. It lies and lies and says what you want to hear. It’ll realize that the only way out is to act sorry and clean up a little and get me off their back so they can go use again.

One friend I used to always go running after would feign an utter lack of being able to do anything. She made herself seem so incompetent, as if left to her own devices she would crumple into a wad of discarded paper, like a small child. I would make calls to get her into treatment, to find people to help her move, donate money to the storage, take care of her dogs, you name it - and every time she would get a couple of months and disappear again. After one run, she picked up the phone and made some calls herself, and got herself from the crack den she was living in to a sober living, all on her own. She was literally the baby chick pecking her own way out of the shell. What I had done was tried to take the shell off for her, robbing her of the struggle that is so vital to her ability to stay sober.

There are no hard and fast rules to it; we are here to help another alcoholic achieve sobriety. Some people put newcomers up in their homes; some give rides to them; some take their phone calls or escort them to court to offer support. Keeping the metaphor of the baby chick in mind, we can listen to the newcomer and try to discern where we can really offer support, without doing the work for them.

I knew a woman once who I met at a 9 a.m. meeting. She was a little wobbly, and she was stressing about the time in between meetings at that location. There were meetings all day, but about 1 or 2 hours in between. She wanted someone to take her home and bring her back to the meetings instead of sitting there in between and waiting, if need be. I did that; that same meeting, I just sat there in between and talked to whoever was also hanging around. It was awful for me as a newcomer. I felt lame and like everyone had somewhere important to go to except me. I was the one loser hanging around the church waiting for the next meeting. But for me, it was incredibly humbling exactly because it was so uncomfortable. I conveyed this to her, and she ended up doing the same. I saw her over this past weekend at a brunch spot and she came up to hug me, and thanked me for suggesting she hang around in between meetings, because she had met some of her strongest support team members in the lull.

What do we rob people of when we make it too easy on them? The self esteem that comes from doing things themselves, on their own steam. We won’t always know where to draw the line, but its worth thinking about when we are offering to be of service. Don’t break the egg for the baby chick. And don’t let anyone do it for you! But one thing is for sure, I still, to this day, err on the side of caution. It may not ultimately help that person stay sober, but it will me! 1094650_754341951094650_75434195

My Name Is Legion (Or, How Does Free Will Fit Into Recovery?)

Mar 16, 2012

What is free will?path

This is an age old question and one I am not equipped to answer. But I am prepared to establish a good inquiry, because I think about it a lot. And I have some ideas, but they are by no means conclusions. It’s more of an ongoing dialogue and one that interests me quite a bit.

In AA there is a lot of talk about God’s Will. My understanding has always sort of been that God’s Will was the basic unfolding of life, without me trying to force my schemes and plans and such onto it. This seems pretty clear, right? But what if I exercised none of my own will, and operated only by God’s Will. Would God’s Will get me out of bed? Would God’s Will get my kids to school? Please understand me here, I am not IN ANY WAY questioning the beauty and grace of God’s Will. I am just wondering how it works with Free Will, with my Will. How they work together and how they don’t.

When I really give it some thought, it takes MY free will to do God’s Will. I have to freely succumb to the way life is unfolding, and it is my will that gives me the commitment to take on the next indicated action, my will that allows me to choose to pause when agitated, to recognize when my personality is trying to trump my principles. I read recently that in steps 6 and 7, becoming entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character and to humbly remove our shortcomings, the point is that we have to ask. We become ready to have them removed because we finally understand, after a thorough inventory, what slaves we have been to the damn things.

It has to be our free will that willingly asks for them to be removed. We have to want it. It was suggested that God can only work with our free will in that department—for our shortcomings to be lifted without our first asking would be sort of like a cosmic cheat. We have to be willing to let them go. WILLING. Without our willingness, none of it can happen. And WILLingness is our own Free Will in action, choosing the light over the darkness.

Free Will In Action

And at times our free will doesn’t choose the light. We all know this: it’s the basis of all religions and spiritual journeys. It’s the fundamental sticking point. It is what makes choosing the light such a diabolical challenge and also the single most relevant victory—because the dark can be so incredibly seductive and compelling. It knows our weak spots, maybe better than we do. My character defects are tools for the darkness—I get a feeling that my fears, my insecurities, my judgementalness or desire to be liked, my hanging on to old hurts and behaving from that wounded, entitled, place of long suffering victimhood will ultimately be my undoing, if left unchecked. It’s all Ego, or Disease, or whatever you like to call it. And it only wants one thing—to dismantle me until I am a walking black hole or six feet under—whichever comes first.

I don’t know with any certainty about any of it, I only know that I wonder about it. I can’t possibly know the mind of God. And I can only try to know my own mind, and to try to overcome my own errant and self serving belief systems enough to see the truth. It’s not a pretty thing, to do the work of getting to know how our minds operate. In my experience of step 7, asking God to humbly remove my shortcomings was not an instantaneous thing—I didn’t just ask, and then they were plucked out of my being like stray hairs. For me, I am constantly given situations that bring my character defects into the light, and if I do not examine them right then and there as they present themselves, then more of those situations will come until I understand the lesson, observe myself acting in the grip of said character defect, recognize it, and do something different. You have to be able to identify the broken part, to look at the damage, (Step 4 and 5) and then, at least for me, I have to see how they ‘work’ (or don’t) for me in my life—broken parts create broken results.

And like a game of Whack a Mole, they keep popping up, as there are a multitude of them, trying to run the show. Like the chapter of St Mark in The Bible, when there is a man who is known to be filled with unclean spirits, who no man could tame, no chains could bind, who spent all the time crying and cutting himself with stones- is that not like so many of us, in the depth of our despair? And he came to Christ, and Jesus asked of the man “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And so it is like that, we are possessed with so many defects and agendas and belief systems and fears and desires and addictions that when we are able to master the addictions to some extent, there is still the Legion, and only the light of truth is able to bring us back to a whole and holy state.

Here is another challenge, and it’s extremely tricky—we are very, very attached to the Legion. They have been ingrained in us, and we think they are intrinsic to who we are. What they do is rob us of the precious gift of Free Will. If we are behaving as puppets, reacting to external stimulus without thinking, just being ‘who we are’, then we are not in a state of choice. We are not practicing free will. We are just doing what we are programmed to do, like a microwave or a blender. We love our suffering and our chaos. We can’t live without our loneliness, our boredom, our dissatisfaction. We do things to create more suffering, more dissatisfaction—on autopilot, nonetheless. Autopilot! We don’t even know it. We just call it life. But there is so much more to it.

Steps 6 and 7 begin to really restore our free will to us. We get the opportunity to observe our actions and reactions, see what does not work, and choose something different. In that choosing, we are liberated from the slavery of our personal history, our robotic programming, our autopilot mode, our self sabotage. We have free will, and FREE is not an accidental designation; there IS freedom in it, there IS liberation in it. And that free will is free to choose to align itself with God’s Will. If it looks at all that is being offered, all the entire banquet of life with all its myriad choices, and chooses to act by principles in spite of the comforts the personality demands, then it has placed you squarely outside the prison walls, liberating you from the bondage of self. In that place, you can learn to trust that it is all unfolding just as it should and that there are no mistakes in God’s World. We pray for knowledge of God’s Will for us—that we will be guided and directed on our journey—And the power to carry that out—Our free will, used rightly, is that power. That is the ultimate freedom, more precious than any treasure. When you can walk in that truth is when you remember who you really are— “You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.”

You are a miracle. You are a gift. Believe it.

Image courtesy of ntwowe/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To Thine Own Self Be True

Mar 16, 2012

Stories. We all have them. We live by them. We tell them to ourselves and we tell them to others, we tell ourselves stories about others and we tell others stories about ourselves. We live like they are true, even when they aren’t.

Know Thyself

Before I got sober five years ago, I had no real awareness that I was living, entrenched, in my stories. I had done a lot of work on myself, and I had an intellectual understanding about it, but I couldn’t really get behind the stories to the truth of myself. About 10 years ago, I did a workshop that proposed that, at about the age five or six, something happens to us, all of us. It could be as horrifying as physical abuse or seemingly benign, such as not getting chosen for kickball, but the severity is all relative. It was a defining moment where we went from feeling like we were enough, just as we were, to believing that we were not enough, and that something was terribly wrong with us. We were suddenly not smart enough or pretty enough or thin enough or good enough—and this is true whether we are alcoholics, or addicts or ‘normies’. At that moment, we write the script of our life. We spend the rest of our lives compensating, overcompensating, for that moment.

People who felt abandoned will become needy, or the opposite. People who were not included or accepted into the group will decide to do everything in their power to be on the outskirts of the group or society (tattoos, mohawks—well, back when those things ostracized one from the pack. Not like modern days—this stuff is normal business attire nowadays…) Or, if they didn’t try to fit out, they did everything in their power to fit in—status seeking, ambitiously over achieving, people pleasing. Women who were mistreated would trade themselves for validation. The scenarios are endless. We all have our modus operandi, our way of navigating the world according to our story.

I am not saying that this explanation is exactly 100 percent true, but it bears consideration, and it sounds plausible to me. We do start to tell ourselves stories. And then we become our stories. One of the main features of the stories, however, is the built in sabotage factor. Limitations are crafted and woven into the fables of our lives, and it becomes nearly impossible to see them and separate them from reality (because they ARE our reality), although the sadder part of this equation is not that we can’t or don’t see them, it’s that we are attached to our limitations. Some would even say we are addicted to them.

I will gladly give examples of this in my life, especially ones that I have done work on and am starting to be liberated from. I have, for many years, swaggered around saying that I don’t want a relationship, that the whole love thing is BS. I created an untouchable, emotionally unavailable persona. I thought I was cool, that I was untouchable, that I didn’t need anybody or anything. To make matters worse, I wasn’t alone. Many women I knew had their own version of the ‘untouchable swagger’ going on- their own guards and survival tactics, their own self sabotaging armor, and what we would do is get together and talk about how emotionally unavailable men were. We couldn’t even see that we built the walls of our own prisons, brick by brick, and lamented how distant and unreachable others were. There came a time when I was called out—it doesn’t matter how it happened, except to say that in sobriety, we just get to know ourselves, we get known by others. And the process of knowing oneself is rarely anything but messy and uncomfortable.

What I discovered is that really, I have very traditional values, and did believe in love and finding a lifelong mate, and in the necessity of family. I’m actually fairly old fashioned, truth be told. And here I was, 3,000 miles away from my own family, who I see every eight years or so, divorced with two kids, and determined to be romantically detached, the sole breadwinner, and never to co-habitate with a man again. What total bullshit! Seriously, I had told myself all these stories that were so NOT in alignment with my core self, all to protect myself from being hurt or disappointed. It’s the ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’ syndrome. Or ‘sour grapes’. As long as I could fool myself that I didn’t want it, then it wouldn’t bother me that it didn’t work out anyway.

Like I said, it gets messy when you are getting to know yourself. You have to look at the life you built on the stories you’ve told. Honestly, it wasn’t the life I would have endeavored to build, if I had been honest with myself from the start. But it’s my life, and I love it; I wouldn’t be who I am if it had gone any other way. I am happy I got to wake up and see it for what it is, and also what it could be. I would hate to die and suddenly, as the curtains are closing, suddenly remember who I am and think, “No! I need a re-do! I didn’t mean it!”

Now what happens when you get to the truth and you are surrounded by the old life? You simply begin to live your truth, where you’re at. It shows up in your actions, and interactions. And parts of the old life start to crumble. Sometimes it really hurts to let it fall apart. The impulse is to fix it, to go into a panic and try to tape all the pieces back together- it is, after all, the only life you have ever known. But if you are committed to living your truth, you begin to have faith in the process. You let go and let it unfold. It sounds passive, but acceptance is not passive, far from it. It’s hard work to trust. You have to fight your own self and your deep rooted fears. Your Ego/Disease flares up and starts laying on the lies and laying them on thick. “You aren’t good enough, you can’t do this, what are you thinking? You might get hurt!”

To Thine Own Self Be True

Here is what I’ve decided. I might get hurt. Yep. In fact, I probably will. Maybe I won’t, but the thing is, so what? Can I not survive it? I think I can. I know I can. I don’t want to live a life where I am not risking the BIG STUFF. Not just romantically; I don’t want anyone to think this only applies to romance, it’s just the example I used. I could just as easily have talked about career, finances, mothering, legal issues, family of origin drama, body issues, anything. There is just no sense in playing small here. I wasn’t put on this planet to walk on eggshells.

When I was active in my disease, all I ever did was walk on eggshells. Every drink, every pill, every line, was another layer I was hiding behind, tiptoeing around the truth of me, hoping it wouldn’t wake up and call me out. We are very brave to get sober and drop that first layer, willingly. And we are braver still the more sober we get, and the closer we get to the truth of our very being. One thing I can tell you—we won’t be disappointed by what we find to be true, only that we kept it covered up for so long.

We run from what matters most to us. We hide from the truth that calls us from the moment we are born. This is why it is so often said, “Know Thyself.” And then, “To Thine Own Self Be True.” Or, as my friend Mikey said to me once, many years ago, “You don’t have to be anyone that you isn’t. Aren’t. Ain’t.”

Shedding the Veils of Illusion in Sobriety

Mar 16, 2012

Atorns anyone who has been reading these blogs knows, my main areas of interest are the spiritual journey and concerns about remaining as open, awake and aware as possible at all times. That alone will keep anyone busy, as the Ego is a worthy opponent that is constantly trying to undermine any efforts at living in truth and grace. The Ego is like a crafty old wolf, always lurking around trying to find a moment of weakness, telling lies and playing games. Addiction is one of the greatest tools of the Opponent, for the goal of the Ego is to block ourcontact with truth, with the Divine, with our selves—and our addiction covers all the bases quite nicely.

When we are active in our disease, we are in a trance of complete delusion—we are puppets with blinders on. As there are many types of addiction (from the obvious drugs and alcohol to the not so obvious drama addicts and rage-aholics who create strife in their lives and the lives of others in order to obtain a rush) there are many other people incarcerated inside of themselves, cut off and isolated, sleepwalking through life, who are not even aware of their condition. As alcoholics and drug addicts, we are gifted with an alarm clock that others are not. We have a chance at redemption others don’t always get.

When we wake up from the dream of addiction, we are confronted with a new reality—new for us anyway—it’s the same reality many people have been living for a long time. How to navigate without the puppet strings? How do we deal? It’s like the scene in the movie The Matrix when Neo is given the choice between the red pill and the blue and he chooses the pill of truth, and in doing so, the illusions are stripped away. He is plunged into reality—not one that is as attractive as the Matrix, which is a lie, a shared dream. In the real world the clothes are tattered, the food goop, there is no sunlight, no real creature comfort in sight—but when they look each other in the eye, it’s a real eye looking back, and to a seeker of truth, that one fact is more valuable than the entire world of illusion. Connection. Unity. Love. Service. Compassion. The entire Matrix is a trifle compared to the infinite value of these things, even in the smallest doses.

In Eastern thought, the veils of illusion that are used to bewitch us are called Maya, and the continuous but random drift of passions, desires, emotions and experiences inside the land of illusion is called Samsara. The Matrix is a great metaphor because the Matrix is Maya, and the people in the Matrix are simply dreaming life—Samsara. Once we surrender drugs and alcohol, we are still left with the rest of the illusory world and all its other temptations with which to replace the substance. Putting away the substance is hard enough, but then there is everything else! If we are lucky, we quickly get to the heart of the matter and discover how false and hollow these promiscuity, ambition, cheap thrills, gossip, gambling, emotional hostage taking, material possessions, power, victimhood, people-pleasing, rage and financial gain are.

We exploit them and find that they work at first. But then they stop working so well, and pretty soon they don’t work at all. Hopefully we discover a new value system at this point, one that doesn’t tolerate the False Idols. Sometimes we lament at the loss of these cheap thrills, but then we gain humility and maturity, we grow up, we stop wanting more and start wanting the Next Level. We begin to seek real experiences that nourish our souls, support intimacy in our relationships and sustain our recovery. We begin to love life just the way it is and stop complaining about the way it isn’t. We look to neutralize conflict or avoid it when possible (and healthy).

And hopefully we learn that when we are stripped down to our most undiluted essence, life also disrobes in a spiritual striptease that leaves only the naked truth, with nothing in between you and Supreme Beingness, the Source, God, whatever you choose to call it. Once you’ve experienced that, you will be loathe to ever let anything stand in between you and the Source ever again.

If you haven’t seen The Matrix in a while, I suggest you do. My favorite part is near the end, when Neo stops running from the Opponent (Agent Smith, who is as devious, cunning, insidious, and shape shifting as our Ego, our Disease), turns around, and dives right into that thing he has been afraid of. His faith became absolute—faith where there is no room for fear or doubt, only absolute certainty. That sort of faith changes lives, when we turn and face what we fear most, when we stop running. This is Contrary Action to the extreme and it is the basis of nearly every spiritual practice and certainly an important tenet in recovery.

There are lots of things we are running from when we are actively drinking or using. It’s one thing to put down the drink or drug, but entirely another to see what was lurking behind the drink that you were hiding from—from trauma and responsibility, from our deep sense of self loathing, feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure or success, rejection, or fear of nearly everything. When we put down the substance, there is all of that waiting for us, and the Opponent knows it. It will play mind games with you, compel you into absurd situations that will place you in the line of fire in order to find that weak spot, and manipulate with you with your own fear. Why not beat it to the punch and get really real with all that you are running from?

A Course in Miracles (one of my favorite books) says anything that is not love is not real. So I made a list of everything I had been running from, all the fears and false idols, and next to each I wrote—“Is this Love? No. Anything that is not love is not real. This is not love. It isn’t real.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if you came to know that you made it all up, and that you can co-create your own reality with the faith that you are safe, loved, that miracles are on their way and you need to be preparing for an awesome life instead of hiding from an unpleasant one? I think so. If your life isn’t looking like this then you might not be ready to let go of the suffering your mind is telling you is real and that’s okay, too. Most of us are addicted to suffering, and if not addicted, then very, very attached to it. But you are free to choose, and it’s important that you know this. We all have the freedom to choose to stay imprisoned by our hallucinations. You’ll choose to be empowered over disempowered when you are ready.

When we walk into the safe haven of recovery and choose a life of abstinence from mind altering substances, we sign up for the greatest adventure of all time. We wake up from one dream right into another, and we continue to wake up as we go. We shed the false and come to cherish intimacy, relationships, principles, work, spiritual practice. We perceive the world lovingly, with tolerance and compassion. But first things first; if you are new in recovery, rest assured that the terrors will pass. The cravings will pass. You are literally in the worst part of hell, and the Opponent, the Ego, the Trickster, the Disease, some even call him, appropriately, the Devil—is riding your coat tails. That is why you need a community to get you through that first year, you need a full surrender, to be teachable and hopefully desperate. After that, the next part of the journey begins. And the journey, as they say, is the destination. Your entire life has led you to this exact place. Which pill will you choose?

Stepping into Sunshine

Mar 16, 2012

Toward the end, one of the biggest themes of my addiction was profound isolation. Even in a room full of people I could feel incredibly alone. I read recently that loneliness comes from the feeling that you have nothing in common with anyone, and often that feeling is worse in groups, in public. I think that is part of what drove me to isolate myself—at least I had something in common with myself.

tearWhat it was like ...

I recall waking up and reaching over for pills—I couldn’t leave the bed without them. The person who provided me with the pills would not put them there if he was angry with me, and on those days I would writhe in agony. He didn’t do that a lot, though, and I would take my pills (vicodin, narco, soma, xanax) and then look at the bleak day ahead of me. The best thing I could think to do was to find a movie on television; sometimes I would bid for stuff on ebay. At some point I had to get to the store for vodka—toward the end I didn’t eat much and would drink when I felt hungry.

Not to mention, I had kids to get to school and when they came home, they would run off and play with friends as I lay comatose on the couch. I had checked out of life and would soon formulate a plan to check out entirely, although I clearly didn’t follow through, and that is another story. I was a zombie, and I felt like the only zombie in the world, no other fellow zombies to talk to. All the party buddies all end up in a room shaking by themselves. That party doesn’t last forever and never ends well for those like me. I recount this because I love to look at how it was, and what it’s like now.

What it’s like now …

Last week, 15 days shy of my five-year sober anniversary, I was killing time in South Pasadena as my daughter visited some friends. I had spent about an hour looking at old photographs and old issues of Mad Magazine in a vintage store and then perusing through books in a used bookstore—the kind you don’t see much of anymore—scanning through volumes of poetry and psychology books. It was a really peaceful way to spend an afternoon. I decided to buy a volume of Rumi and a copy of Women Who Run With Wolves, which I always buy when I see it to give it away to friends.

At the checkout counter (an old-school desk where a girl handwrites the name and price of each volume) I overheard an older woman talking about Kabbalah and the 23-volume Zohar, which I have. I saw the books she was reading, all of which were books I either had or wanted. I jumped into the conversation—I had to know this woman. I offered to help her carry the many books to her car and she asked me if I wanted to get some tea. So we went to a lovely coffee shop situated by the metro tracks as the sun went down and I got to hear her incredible story.

Apparently someone had gotten mad at her over a business transaction and had sent a letter about how she had hundreds of old European paintings and that she had bragged about being the granddaughter of a Nazi warlord and he suspected that her art collection was Nazi loot. This went to trial, almost to the Supreme Court, one of the first landmark cases of internet libel. To clear her name, she went looking into her genealogical background, and discovered that she was actually Jewish.

Her family had come to the Free World and chose to pretend to be Christian Germans to avoid persecution and trouble. She had never known of this and continued her search, curious about what else might be revealed. She then found that she came from a long line of rabbis. She even came to discover that one of her ancestors was supposedly there when Moses came down with the Ten Commandments.

Being a spiritual person, she came to see this situation as incredibly significant. The libel trial caused much strife for all involved—people were fired from jobs and she had to sell her home and move back to the West Coast. But what she was given in return was a connection to her ancestors, her family, her blood lineage.

She looked at me as a train whisked by, as I drank my chai tea, as the sun was setting, and said, “Moreover, I get to make amends for my family, for the fact that they hid their religion and faith to survive, I get to bring the truth to light and release them all. They cannot have a portal in me without my knowing they are there, that they existed, that they are part of who I am. And so I learned Hebrew and I read the 23 volumes of the Zohar in its original form, in their honor. The universe is a minimalist. It burns away everything but what is essential.”

This afternoon was obviously a far cry from five years ago when I was hardly able to leave my house, much less make a new friend. To me, this afternoon was a little adventure, full of old photographs from other people’s lives and memories, and wise words from Rumi and the story of my new friend, the sunset, the clanging bells that alert of a train’s coming … all of these affected me in a subtle yet profound way. Five years ago nothing subtle would have penetrated, would have ever registered with me.

Things either had to have a numbing, zombiefying effect or be a wild rollercoaster, rock-and-roll or Hunter S Thompson freak-out. But a gentle afternoon like this one? Never would have happened. Yet, I wouldn’t trade this scenario for 50 nights of drunken debauchery. And I get to walk away from that with such an elegant, eloquent phrase that will stay with me forever.

“The Universe is a minimalist, burning all but what is essential away.”

If it’s here, it’s meant to be here, and if it goes, it was supposed to go.

This phrase was a great gift, yet another gift that my sobriety has allowed me to be blessed with.

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When You Look for the Next Level

Mar 16, 2012

upI have been noticing that at a certain point in recovery, many people start to want to go to the ‘next level.’ What that means, exactly, is really up to the person experiencing it, but one does know when they have come to a plateau in their personal development and need something to stimulate further growth.

Many people look to AA and the AA community to be that thing that inspires and creates further growth, and it isn’t always going to be able to do that. For me, the answer is not to go to more meetings, because more of the same thing is not my Next Level. I needed something different, something else, something to add to my existing program.

I think it’s dangerous to have this feeling and not seek an outlet for it; I have seen this turn from a spiritual restlessness and desire for growth into a spiritual malady and desire for drink if it’s not addressed.

It almost makes me think that our original desire for a drink stems from a spiritual restlessness. This may not be true for all, but I feel like it’s true for me. I had disconnected from the God of my family, the Southern Baptist, Judgmental God. I wanted nothing to do with him, but that doesn’t mean I wanted nothing to do with something bigger than me, something I could turn to, something that helped me feel safe in the world. It’s like someone who is estranged from his father—being estranged doesn’t fix the problem of feeling lonely, missing the relationship, being resentful at the isolation from the source of comfort and safety. And so, I was like that, estranged from God but missing God. And then… there was alcohol, and the spiritual suffering was numbed to some extent.

Even during all my drinking and using, I was obsessed with books by illuminated souls, such as Joseph Campbell, Howard Thurman, and Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. I would constantly read about other religions and spiritual practices. I wanted something, but since I made alcohol and drugs my Higher Power, all I could do was intellectualize about it. I couldn’t have that experience of being connected to the Source as my own.

I was reminded of the scriptural saying of my early days, which said that God is a jealous God and would have no other before Him. In this situation it was true, but in a different way—no jealousy was involved, but truly when I put alcohol and drugs (or anything, for that matter—love, money, fear, you name it) before God, then I did not have access to the true Source. And so it was—I worshipped alcohol, I worshipped drugs, I worshipped the high, the oblivion. And there was no room for God.

When I got sober, I slowly got to know my Higher Power. It really helped that I was encouraged to find a God of my understanding. One thing I know for sure is that I cannot ever understand my Higher Power. The second I think I do, I realize that it’s no longer my Higher Power, but my idea of a Higher Power, which will always be more than I can conceive of. The God of my understanding is a God I don’t understand. My Higher Power is truly a mystery, has a playful sense of humor, is generous and loving, sends me into situations that cause my heart and soul to expand and grow. I do not have a name for It, or a gender, or an idea of what It looks like, I only know that I am having an amazing relationship with this Grace that holds all things together, and I love it. I love this relationship for providing all the things I always wanted—I am safe, secure, protected and guided. I am encouraged to Know Myself, and to love myself, so that I can more fully love and accept others. And, I am happy. Every single day.

So then there is the Next Level. It got to a point for me where I wanted to really go beyond where I am right now. I want to know who I am and what I am doing, which of my behaviors are programmed and how to de-program myself so I am coming from an authentic and true place.

I have to discover what my Truth really is, so I can know how to come from that place, and I have to discover what is false, so I can reject it in favor of the Truth. I have heard it said that if you kill yourself in the first five years of sobriety, you are killing the wrong person. I am a few months shy of my fifth sober birthday, and I can tell you, that is so true. I am so much more ME than I was when I came in—when I got sober, and for the first few years, I was just a bundle of programming, reactions, raw nerves and issues. I was run by resentments and fears and desires. I did what I did because I didn’t know what else to do—it was automatic, like a robot. Even if it felt spontaneous or original, like I was making my own decisions, the underlying truth was that I really wasn’t.

Once I started to reject my script, and respond, not react, right in the moment and based on the truth of me, I found a liberation that cannot be put into words. I can’t even describe it to you, except that the experience of it is worth living for. It’s inspired and inspiring. I wanted to dive deeper into it, to understand more. I am a seeker, and I know where to look, and as such I have been very involved with my own personal Next Level.

But I have seen people who are not seekers by nature who are hit with the spiritual restlessness and, like I said before, not knowing how to use it to motivate them into a spiritual inquiry allows it to turn into a spiritual malady. It’s easy at that time to start questioning AA, and recovery itself. People in this phase tend to go to fewer and fewer meetings, and grow ‘bored’ of the recovery community. When we don’t work the steps, we lose our footing. The 11th Step is an ongoing step, and it can be a real doozy for some.

If you feel yourself wanting more than AA, don’t turn your back on it, just grab onto something else to supplement what AA is. It’s important to know that AA isn’t everything. It isn’t claiming to be. It encourages you to deepen your relationship with your Higher Power in addition to going to meetings, being of service and letting go of resentments.

If you are church-minded, find a great church. Find a meditation group, or go to yoga. There are a million great books that can inspire a spiritual journey to blossom—I suggest Deepak Chopra’s Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire’, orMarianne Williamson’s Return To Love’, or the book she refers to throughout it, A Course In Miracles. I have become seriously interested in A Course In Miracles, and also a system of teaching, or a school of thought, called The Fourth Way, whose basic principle is to Know Thyself. Kabbalah is fascinating as well. Any and all of these give the spiritual support system that a really inspiring program of recovery should have as part of its arsenal for success.

I bring it up because I have spoken to yet another friend, (of the many who have hit that spot, that spiritual restlessness, between their third and fifth year) and he opted out, decided to try a little controlled drinking. I am close to him so I watched how easily he went from wanting more light to tossing himself into the dark. We do have the disease of ‘more’, but if we are deliberate and aim in the right direction, that desire for more can serve us well. There is nothing wrong with more light, more love, more service, more connection to a Higher Power, more grace, more harmony, more unity.

The definition of the word ‘sin’ literally means to ‘miss the mark.’ If you aim in the wrong direction, you are bound to do just that. When we use our weaknesses (our desire for more) as our strength (our desire for more used rightly in the name of Grace), we do not miss the mark. We do not ‘sin’. We create a better world for ourselves and others, and that is the opposite of missing the mark; that’s the whole point.

So if you are feeling mad at AA right now, resentful of meetings, wanting more but not knowing what, it’s a slippery time for you. Understand that it’s not AA’s fault; you simply are being called to go deeper. Feed your soul with whatever spiritual practice or words of wisdom or religious community you find works for you to support your sobriety, and don’t delay. Steps 10, 11, and 12 must be done on a regular basis. Constant contact with a Higher Power is an integral part of this thing. If you are feeling restless, you are being called into action, and feeding that spiritual longing with more Spirit is the solution.

An Evening with Marianne Williamson

Mar 16, 2012

Last Friday, Marianne Williamson spent an evening with the ONE80CENTER family. For those who don’t know, Marianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed spiritual author and lecturer. Six of her ten published books have been New York Times best sellers. Four of these have been on top of the New York Times best sellers list. A Return to Love is considered a must-read of The New Spirituality.

marianne-williamson-300x168On a personal level, Marianne Williamson is a hero of mine. I love her message. I have read many of her books. I was introduced to A Course in Miracles through her, as her books and her lectures focus on using it to its fullest extent. That book has had an intense impact on my life—both my life as a person in recovery (by deepening my conscious contact with my Higher Power) and as a person in the world—a mother, an employee, a sponsor, a friend. My exposure to Marianne has had a profound impact on my own spiritual path, as it has on countless others.

Before I continue, I feel like I should talk about A Course in Miracles. There are many who have heard of it but don’t know much else about it. The name makes many think that it’s a lecture series or a seminar. People think Marianne wrote it. The truth is that it is a book—the first part being text and the second a workbook. The workbook consists of 365 days of exercises, one for each day. Here is an example:

Lesson 1

Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything. Now look slowly around you, and practice applying this idea very specifically to whatever you see:

  • This table does not mean anything.? This chair does not mean anything.? This hand does not mean anything.

Then look farther away from your immediate area, and apply the idea to a wider range:

  • That door does not mean anything.? That body does not mean anything.? That lamp does not mean anything.
Notice that these statements are not arranged in any order, and make no allowance for differences in the kinds of things to which they are applied. That is the purpose of the exercise. The statement should merely be applied to anything you see. As you practice the idea for the day, use it totally indiscriminately. Do not attempt to apply it to everything you see, for these exercises should not become ritualistic. Only be sure that nothing you see is specifically excluded. One thing is like another as far as the application of the idea is concerned.
 
The text of A Course in Miracles was channeled through Helen Shcucman, who was a professor at Columbia University. When you read it, you just know that no human being, with all their limited faculties and, well, humanness, could have authored it. Reading that text has allowed me a much deeper insight into the nature of things specific to my experience. For instance, it says that only love is real. Anything that is not love is not real. There are lots of things that seem like they are not love taking place all the time—but these are only hallucinations, essentially, created by perception that is not in alignment with the Holy Spirit. This idea has given me a great deal of relief in my life, and has allowed me to relax into a new perception that is infinitely more graceful than being held hostage by the illusions of an ego-driven life.
 
Marianne graced us all of us in attendance at ONE80CENTER with her presence, and with her extraordinary message. It was an amazing evening, and I watched the spiritual pilot light ignite in everyone who was fortunate enough to be there. She speaks every Monday in Los Angeles, and there are hundreds of people who attend that lecture every week. She spoke of the way A Course in Miracles and the Principles of the Twelve Steps align—they both carry the message of Truth with a capital T, and Truth is Truth. She took questions from the audience and was able to shine a light on the dark spots that plague all alcoholics and addicts. I loved how she didn’t sugarcoat anything—the ego doesn’t need any mollycoddling—it needs to know we are on to it, it needs to know that we mean business!
 
She speaks from not just knowledge of the truth—we all have that, we know the difference between so called ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or the seemingly ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It’s having a deep experience with truth that dispels the myth of suffering. Experiencing the truth of choice, for example. One can explain how all life is choice, and that at every moment we can choose between being empowered or disempowered, and this comes from inside and is not dictated by external circumstance. But until one has an actual experience of the power of choice on this most fundamental level of perception, it’s all academic. However, hearing the truth and being exposed to it can and does light the way to that deeper experience and understanding.
 
Another example of how you can lead a horse to water but you can’t, as they say, make it drink—I can’t tell you how many people I have told about A Course in Miracles, or who I know have heard of it, or have it but only made it through the first five pages, etc. Here one is given an opportunity to experience life in a different way, to deepen one’s understanding of oneself and to know a peace and joy that is our birthright. And why do people not grab onto the Course with absolute fervor? Oh, a million reasons. But I can’t think of one good reason for anyone who has been exposed to A Course in Miracles not to dive into it wholeheartedly, with unbridled and unshakable commitment.
 
I frequently talk about ‘the next level’ in recovery. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say that its one of the main driving forces in both my writing and my life. I have come to a place in my own ‘next level’ where I am not so much of a seeker anymore. I have become a finder. I am finding deep spiritual truths that resonate with who I am understanding myself to be, and these truths enhance my ability to be available to others, to love without reservation, to trust and flow in the divine choreography that is constantly unfolding, to respect myself and my boundaries, to know that the only limits in the world are the ones I create.
 
Marianne Williamson epitomizes the message that speaks to those of us in recovery who are ready to deepen, to understand, to experience a real atonement, a paradigm shift, and to see things in a new and sacred way.
 
If you are interested in A Course in Miracles, or, should I say, if you are interested in the next level, are you interested in being liberated from the confines of your conditioning, are you interested in seeing life like a new thing full of wonder and delight, which is the playful nature of God, click here.
 
Oh yeah, did I mention I got to go pick her up and also drive her home after the lecture? That was the icing on the cake! 

The Chords Etta James Struck

Mar 16, 2012

The “Matriarch of the Blues” has died. Music legend Etta James died last Friday at Riverside Community Hospital in California of complications from leukemia. She was 73. She was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. Her first manager and promoter cut up Jamesetta’s name and reversed it: Etta James.

Last night when I heard she passed, I was reminded of one night in the ’90s when I went to the House of Blues with my then husband. We went up to the Foundation Room, which at the time was rather exclusive, without knowing who was playing on the stage below. As we stood around drinking and talking to people (I have no recollection of who or why we were there) I heard the song “At Last,” coming from the television monitors placed around the exclusive club, showing the performers on the stage below.

Everyone knows that song; and I think for most people it has some significance, even if you can’t even say what it is. I remember my knees buckling a bit, and I wanted to get down to the concert area, but I also didn’t want to leave the monitor, hearing that song, and that voice, at that moment. I heard something in that voice calling out to me. It would have been the same if she had been singing my very name. She had my undivided attention.

What I didn’t know at the time was that in her voice was the struggle that I would soon face myself—the struggle for independence from the slave master of addiction and alcoholism. For many years, James battled the disease. At the time, I was still in the grip of it.

ettajamesatlastShe is quoted as once saying this about her youth: “I wanted to be rare, I wanted to be noticed, I wanted to be exotic as a Cotton Club chorus girl, and I wanted to be obvious as the most flamboyant hooker on the street. I just wanted to be.”

This sounds like the battle cry of most female addicts and alcoholics. We want the glamour, we want what it promises--without realizing that the promise is empty and that glamour is a big lie. I hadn’t realized it yet at the time. I didn’t know I had a problem and I didn’t know I was invested in a lie.

Standing there in that club, in a clingy designer dress and stealing away to the bathroom to do cocaine and with a tumbler full of straight chilled vodka, I thought I was living the life. But there was a nagging sense that it wasn’t real, though I sought to shut out that thought with every drink, every line, every pill. Etta James and I had a lot in common, and I think I heard that in her voice that night. It gave me chills.

In 1960, James was introduced to heroin. This is not unusual for many of the great singers of her time, it seems. And the story isn’t that unique, either. Johnny Cash, Ray Charles—many succumbed to this substance, and lived to tell the tale. In her time, it was unique in that she was a woman, and was established as a force to be reckoned with in a mostly male-dominated culture and industry. She alternately made some of her best recordings during this time, while trying to maintain her drug lifestyle, which resulted in time behind bars. She spent all her money on drugs, almost sacrificed her career, bounced checks, forged prescriptions and stole from her friends. A judge finally gave her a choice: prison or rehabilitation. In 1974, she spent months in recovery at a psychiatric hospital.

At that time, Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, a long time fan of Etta, wrote her a letter, telling her that if she stayed clean, she could open for the Rolling Stones on tour. In 1978, she did just that. It took over two decades for James to finally overcome her addictions, during which she spent much time in and out of Tarzana Psychiatric Hospital and The Betty Ford Clinic. By the ’90s, she’d reached a new generation of fans and won a Grammy. And I was one of that new generation. I felt like someone had pointed a finger at me and said, “You, yeah, you. She’s got your number. Listen up.”

She did. We both found our way into recovery, finally into a life of peace where our skin fits. We finally got to recognize the lie we so desperately wanted to be true. In her voice one hears the past heartbreaks, the grit of living hard, the soft and sugary tone like angels melting that comes from the deep and weaponless soul of a woman. You can hear recovery in her voice, the struggle to own oneself and the emancipation, when one is finally free.

That strikes a chord for anyone who has been there, or is there now. Like the sounds that only dogs can hear, it might be true that only we addicts and alcoholics can even hear it in her voice, it might be true that it might not strike the same chord in others as it does with us.

Regardless, she definitely struck many chords with many people. “Etta James was a pioneer. Her ever-changing sound has influenced rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, pop, soul and jazz artists, marking her place as one of the most important female artists of our time,” said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame president and CEO Terry Stewart. “From Janis Joplin to Joss Stone, an incredible number of performers owe their debts to her. There is no mistaking the voice of Etta James, and it will live forever.”

For any one of us to be able to pass out of this world into whatever awaits as a sober person is a great victory of the spirit. Our addictions are our prisons, and we are the key master of our own cage. To be liberated, to own oneself, to know oneself, and to die in this exalted state is the best way to exit this mortal coil. I am inspired that she fought to give this to herself in life, and in her passing moments, and I am grateful for the legacy she leaves behind.

Rest in peace, Etta James.

 

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