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.
Life is hard sometimes. When I entered the world of life in recovery, I thought it was about just not using and redeeming what I thought was my horrible, weak character. Years later, I now know that it is much more. Life, whether through addiction recovery or any other adversity, is about reaching a chapter of spiritual growth. So here’s the hard truth! Spiritual growth does not blossom through the easy, peasy moments. It is birthed through adversity and hardship. And nobody escapes life without adversity and hardship! Here’s the thing…life and people and circumstances are not out to get you, they are out to grow you!
At age 19, I had all the evidence I needed that I was an alcoholic. On one terribly cold, windy, January day, I was kicked out of college. That event made me homeless. I was standing in front of the dormitory that used to be my home, almost broke. I had sixty-nine cents in total assets, all in coins in my pocket. I had nowhere to go. I was drunk, even though it was still morning. I was so drunk that I couldn’t stop peeing my pants, and the frozen pee was sticking to my legs.
I was recently speaking with a very impulsive Retreat guest who had difficulty maintaining a focus on one thing for very long. I was not surprised that his drug of choice was meth, because at the beginning of his meth use it actually calmed him down. At The Retreat we do Big Book studies that are two hours long at a time, and this was tough for him. He told me “I need something short and simple, that can work for me.”
On a recent trip home I got to join my family for their weekly breakfast. The waitress took everyone’s order, and then looked to me for mine. I had no idea what my order would be, as I didn’t have a menu. Everyone else knew everything on the menu! So, when I asked her for one, and she brought it back, I jokingly apologized for being the “problem child” this morning. This was immediately met with another family member stating “I hate to tell you, dear, but you always have been.” Of course, I said I already knew this.
I grew up in Mtn. View, California and at the age of 17, I found myself at a crossroads. Once my addiction had reached the point of requiring professional help, my Mom and I went to see a doctor that specialized in chemical dependency. When the doctor came to greet us, he was not what I expected. He was an older gentleman that appeared as if he only knew medicine rather than being able to possibly comprehend what I was going through. He sat us down and said to my Mom…”You are basically putting Band-Aids on the problem…if your son does not stop what he’s doing…he’s going to die.” I could tell my Mom was fighting back the tears and doing her best to remain strong. The doctor went on to tell us about a treatment center in Minnesota that could help.
There is a Woody Allen saying that is often misquoted as “90 percent of life is just showing up.” What he actually said was "Showing up is 80 percent of life. Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.” (New York Times, August 21, 1977). I find that showing up is terribly important, because for me it has been difficult.
Currently there is a situation in my life that doesn’t have any direct impact on me, and yet it’s been on my mind and on my heart. Someone I love is struggling. It’s deep and painful, and it’s difficult to watch. I’ve often thought that if I had to choose between my own heartbreak, and the heartbreak of someone I love, I would choose my own time and time again.
This weekend, I will be an A.A. Speaker at the “Rogue Roundup” in Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Although I have spoken at a number of A.A. roundups, this will be the first one on the west coast. I’m the last of nine speakers, most from California, and I follow the famous Clancy I. One difference between the Los Angeles speakers and myself is that I don’t have a dramatic drinking story. I drank quietly, and I never got arrested. Because I don’t have a “war story” to present, I’m going with four important things I’ve learned in A.A. so far.
Most people ask this at some point in their lives. I started out confused. I came from a crazy, violent alcoholic family in the 1950’s that also had upper middle class Republican Party professional values. I was expected to do well in school, go to college and graduate school, have a profession and be a success. I was also torn to shreds, physically and emotionally for any real or imaginary flaw. I drank and drugged every hour of every day from age 10 to age 40. Thirty years of struggle to be somebody. I collected an education and a profession, one confused academic credit at a time. Then I got sober and suddenly, I was fully conscious. Now, what?