Every morning at The Retreat I look at the in-house email. It tells me who has the day off, the lunch menu for the day, and any special events. It tells the number of admissions and discharges at The Retreat, and how many guests we have. It also lists the number of openings in the six sober houses that The Retreat owns and operates in Saint Paul. Usually the number of openings is “0”.
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.
The expectation of the holiday season can be stressful for everyone. For reasons that might be obvious, that stress seems to be even greater in families dealing with recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction.
There is a simple practice that can reduce that stress and offer us the opportunity for a meaningful holiday experience; that is a mindfulness practice. It allows us to stop our racing thoughts, which are usually produced by some form of fear. It allows us to make choices that support our well-being. It allows us to be present.
Back in the early 1970’s, I had the opportunity to be summer pastor at a small church in Struble, Iowa, just north of LeMars. There was little to no night life and I quickly became the gathering place for the adolescents of the town. Night after night, as July gave way to August, they would appear, telling their tales of “walking the beans” or “walking the corn” that day. As a city boy, I had no idea what they were talking about until they actually took me out to a field and invited me to “walk the beans’ with them. I was amazed at the number and variety of weeds that were growing up with the crops. I was also surprised at how quickly the work became tedious and taxing, necessary as it was.
There has been an important change in the way that many people define relapse and recovery. Twenty years ago, when I started working in treatment, relapse was a sign of failure, a failure with a shared responsibility. It was the alcoholic’s responsibility, in that they had picked up another drink, but it was also a time for the staff to question, “What did we miss? Is there anything we could have done, or done better that could have helped this alcoholic avoid relapse?”
Community involvement has been a cornerstone in many human developments from building a strong educational environment to creating a network of expanding business opportunities. Like the development seen in local communities for prosperity and future growth, creating a strong community atmosphere is an essential part of early sobriety.