It’s Tuesday afternoon at The Retreat, and it’s cold. Right now it is 6 degrees below zero. The forecast for tonight is 26 below. Tomorrow’s forecast is 15 below in the daytime and 29 below at night. The all-time low was 32 below, set on the evening of February 3, 1996.
I recall how years ago I was contacted by the Diocese of St. Cloud. I was shocked that the Bishop's office would reach out to me - but indeed they did. I was asked by the voice on the phone to hold for the Bishop and then to my surprise the Bishop came to the phone.
I just returned from a Christmas cruise with a family group of nine people on Holland America’s new ship, the Niew Statendam. Our group of nine included my wife and myself, our two daughters, two sons-in-law, and three grandchildren. We all get along well.
As we enter into yet another new year, it’s hard not to look back at what has taken place over 2018. But for me, it’s even harder not to look forward with plans and questions of uncertainty for the year to come. I try to live one day at a time as best I can, but reflecting on a new calendar has me “what if”-ing in wonder and veering off the track of living for today. Some of the wonder is exciting. But honestly, some of the wonder is scary. The un-played days of 2019 haven’t even started yet and my mind wants to prepare for them. Truth be told, I tend to lean into fear. Maybe rightly so, I have a past riddled with pain and hurt. Everyone does. It’s not fun. And my ego wants to avoid painful stuff and control its very existence. The problem is…I don’t get to!! But hey, check this out…I also have a past riddled with joy and triumph! Life comes with both! And isn’t this really just a question of practicing the choice to focus on the joy over the pain anyways? Isn’t it just a practice in letting go and acceptance? A practice of choosing faith over fear? I think so! Its 3rd step genius!! “Gods will not mine” is the brilliance of realizing we get to choose faith over fear. I have that choice each and every day in each and every situation.
Staying sober during the holidays can be a challenge. Alcohol permeates so many traditions associated with this time-of-year. From baking recipes that call for alcohol, to festive holiday drinks that are spiked, to toasts at the end of year, all of these traditions seem to revolve around alcohol. However, now that your life no longer revolves around alcohol, perhaps its time to make some new holiday traditions.
This month, there are a lot of “service pieces” in magazines and newspapers with helpful advice about how to not be sad at the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. These well-meaning columns have suggestions on how to change our moods and move away from sadness. However, I have a theory that having feelings that match reality is mental health, not mental illness.
When I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting fourteen years ago, life as I knew it was over. I didn’t understand that at the time, and I continued to fight desperately against that reality for quite some time. But, still, it was over. The gift of the 12 Steps of Al-Anon is that the life I have today is SO much better than the life I had planned, and the life I thought I should and could have, if only I fought a little harder, and a little longer.
I never asked this question when I was getting sober, but I have heard other people ask it. I thought they were raising unreasonable objections to getting sober or expressing resistance to recovery. Over the years, patients at Hazelden and guests at The Retreat have spoken of their reluctance to recover by saying that they are afraid to recover, because they are afraid of who they might be if they stop drinking or drugging. What will happen, they ask, if they get sober and don’t like themselves, or don’t like who they have become?
I received my three-month medallion on October 22, 1978. I was fifteen, sober and I was thrilled. To add to my excitement - weeks earlier I had scored tickets to see Bob Dylan at the St. Paul Civic Center on October 31, 1978. This would be the first time that Bob Dylan would play a concert in Minnesota in 16 years. The concert had sold-out immediately and I had managed to get tickets. I was stoked. I was three-months sober and I was going to see Dylan.