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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Armed and Dangerous

My continued journey through the 12 Steps and into deeper realms of recovery have spawned some further observations of late and I thought I'd share a few nuggets.

I occasionally here someone introduce themselves in an AA meeting as, "My name is ______ and I'm a recovered alcoholic". This has proven to be a point of contention for some time among members of the fellowship and one that spawned questions to myself, such as, "Am I truly recovered?".

In the Big Book of AA, there lies a statement which reads, "Having recovered from a hopeless state of body and mind". Not being an encyclopedia of the Big Book, I cannot accurately state how many times the word "Recovered" appears there, but I know its there in several chapters.

So, what does the term "recovered" actually mean in this case? I would venture several guesses, but I have learned that the dictionary often provides insight on words (Who knew?)
Here's one; "To regain strength, balance, composure, or the like".

-The only problem with this definition is that in the framework of my recovery, it is fairly clear that I didn't have those things to begin with; but that's not true of all recovering folk, so it will due.

Alas I digress. So, to the point of being "recovered" I found what I believe to be a really good litmus test right out of the Big Book (again, who knew?). They are called "The Bedevilments"; which describe fairly accurately the wretched state of affairs of the active alcoholic.

Here they are from page fifty two:
1. We were having trouble with personal relationships,
2. We couldn't control our emotional natures,
3. We were a prey to misery and depression,
4. We couldn't make a living,
5. We had a feeling of uselessness,
6. We were full of fear,
7. We were unhappy,
8. We couldn't seem to be of real help to other people

"Check!", yep... They pretty much all applied to my life; both before and during the early days of "just" attending AA meetings daily. It wasn't until I began to follow the prescription; if you will, to meaningful recovery and happiness by actively working the 12 Steps that this began to change.

It serves as a good gut-check for me...a clearly defined spreadsheet for plumbing out where I really am as I "Trudge the road of Happy Destiny".

So, am I "recovered"??? I hesitantly say yes I am... Today I have real and meaningful relationships, I have regained a sufficient amount of emotional control, I am scratching out a living (and its both challenging and rewarding), I am useful (and am endeavoring to increase my effectiveness), I am not wracked by , "A thousand forms of self-centered fear", I have a generous degree of happiness, and I am available to help.

Let me ad a little salt to that statement... I still possess a degree of what I lovingly refer to as "retardation".

-Allow me at this point me to address those that are of a politically correct bent... I only refer to myself in this way and COMPLETELY get how that term can be offensive to those who either are; or love someone that is challenged by either a physical or mental handicap.

So, I still possess a bounty of "character defects" or liabilities...hence my continued and for the most part focused endeavors to overcome them. My trials with these may make for some good future posts (look for one called, "Rogering" soon).

And the truth will set you free...

To again plagiarize someone I sincerely respect...


Sunday, November 4, 2012


Listening to someone sharing at a meeting recently I was reminded of the teachers I've had in my life and about having possibly learned the most from the ones that were let's say, less than amiable.

The 1st instance I thought of was a customer I was waiting on as a server in a was my 1st "early recovery job" and I was fresh out of treatment.

He looked to be in his sixties, had a stern sort of demeanor to him and was an African American (I mention that as I feel it gives some context to the lesson I learned here). He sat by himself at one of my tables and ordered a salad and a water.

If I'm totally honest here I have to admit that I did have the standard waiters predetermination of such a person at my table. He ended up being at my table for over an hour and a half... I would make my standard passes to check and see if he was okay, etc.

At one point I made the mistake of calling him boss as I passed by. He looked up from his tablet and said, " My name isn't boss". I cringed inside, apologized and asked what his name was (again restating mine) to which he replied, "my name is SIR".

Ouch. Ok, so whatever chances I had of a good tip now disintegrated, I eventually dropped his check on which I had written, "Thank you sir". I don't remember how much of a tip he left me, but he did leave one and that exchange really stuck with me.

I had another such interchange with a housemate recently where I was asked very pointedly not to call him "Dude". At the time I thought it petty, but I acknowledged him and have endeavored to respect him by calling by his name. The occasional "bro" or "dude" slips out, but I am quick to repent when it happens.

These instances have caused me pause and have challenged me to improve my vernacular; to attempt to step away from the lazy and long formed habits of my elocution.

These may seem insignificant things to those that are not endeavoring to better themselves, to leave behind the "hurt child" of their youth and who are not reaching for a higher plain in their spiritual life, but I have learned to recognize within myself that when I hear a bell, I should investigate where it's coming from and perhaps more importantly find out who has rung it.

So, if anyone witnesses an errant "Dude" coming from me, please ring a bell... You might just be saving my life.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Success?, I was recently talking with my sponsor and I asked him if it were possible to be successful and spiritual at the same time. he very prudently asked me what my definition of success was. Sensing the game was afoot, I hesitated in answering.

Just to give some background... At one point I had over 5 years of sobriety and in that time rose to a position in life that I had previously never attained. I was given a management and eventually a director level position in my field, had been named employee of the year, had a condo on the golf course, a nice car, etc... you get the picture.

Problem was that I really didn't know how to handle I stated, I never been on that level in the game of life before. More importantly, I forgot what got me there in the 1st place. A wise man once said to me, "The answer to your problem then becomes your next problem". I think he was on to something there.

So, about the whole "my definition of success" thing...
When my sponsor asked that deep question, I immediately thought about spiritual success versus monetary gains and professional achievement. I wondered if it were possible to have both at the same time as I had seen colleagues and friends attain.

The Big Book of AA on page 127 is very clear about this. It states, "Although financial recovery is on the way for many of us, we found we could not place money first. For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded".

Well, after some introspection a little research I made an interesting discovery. Here's how one decent dictionary app defines success:
"The favorable or prosperous TERMINATION of attempts or endeavors".

I guess I never really viewed success as an endpoint...a finale. I actually like Michael Jordan's version;
"I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed".

If your waiting for me to drop some bomb; some huge quickening I've been blown away by, well I'm sorry to disappoint. Here's what I know of success today:

So far over the last 24 hours I haven't intentionally hurt anyone, I've given of my time, attention, efforts, and even a little of my meager means to others. I've dressed up and shown up for work and given my best effort. I have told more than one person in my life that I love them. I've prayed and I haven't used any mid altering substances. I've admitted when I was wrong and made amends where appropriate.

As I lay down tonight, I will thank My Creator for another Successful day.

It is my hope and prayer that you will also.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

?Porque? (or Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it)

At this point, I thought it appropriate for a little narcissistic retrospection.

One of the most annoying and important questions I've been asked of late is, "Why???". People important to me and new acquaintances alike want to know how someone who seemingly led such a charmed life in recovery for over 5 years could possibly throw it all away by relapsing. One of the most poignant examples of this was a letter I received while incarcerated in 2004 from a dear niece of mine.

In it she stated that she understood the disease concept and all, but that she wasn't letting me off the hook that easy. She wanted to know "why?"...she also let me know that I was the reason that she would never allow a drug into her body. This is someone I have known since her birth and shared a fondness for beyond words. It hit home hard and clearly illustrated how hard it is to love someone struggling with addiction.

As time goes on and I become spiritually stronger (I use that phrase with no little amount of pause), I am becoming more comfortable in the admission of my small amount of sober time (112 days abstinent at this writing) and with the retelling of how I fell from Grace. Certainly that tale is still taking shape as I grow in understanding, but I believe I have a decent grasp of it now.

For those uninitiated a relapse usually begins far before the physical act of drinking, drugging (insert your particular brand of beast here) actually happens.

In my case, I can offer no excuses...after all, 5 years of active recovery cannot leave one ignorant of the facts. What I can extract from the horror show that I initiated once again last spring is a clear pattern of imagined self-sufficiency, self-obsession, and defiance that perhaps only an addict and their loved ones can know.

It didn't happen "slide " may be traced as far as 18 months or so prior to my 1st drink. Without getting too personal, let me just say that I was fully to blame for all of the decisions I made over that course of time. Those decisions eventually led me to a place of loneliness and shame that; when the chips were finally down led me to believe only a drink could extinguish them...I had placed myself beyond human aid.

My largest failure as I see it today was not availing myself to the power and love of my Creator when I needed Him the most. The Big Book of AA talks about "strange mental blank spots" experienced by the alcoholic, which prevent him/her from recalling the acute pain beset upon them by the last drink of even a few weeks or months (in my case years) ago.

It's actually a form of insanity (no, I'm not trying the insanity plea here)... The notion that one can "repeat the same mistakes over and over again and expect different results" as many define it. But alas, I digress.

Bottom line...I drank to quell the pain with absolutely no thought to the consequences to myself or anyone else and I was lucky indeed to have survived.

For those that care about an addicted person in their lives there can be perhaps no greater mystery to this cycle and few events can more traumatize or hurt them than witnessing it.

The long nights wondering if the loved one is dead or alive and in some cases sadly changing the locks for fear of what that person might do out of desperation are but a few examples of the trauma inflicted upon the family and caring friends of the addicted person.

So, it is with the sobering (pardon the pun) notion of taking personal responsibility; whilst giving the disease its due that I make a humble beginning on the journey to a contented and well amended life (please God).

It's humbling indeed to know deep in one's heart that it will take a lifetime to even begin the amending of one bad decision, but lucky are they that get to begin that work...lucky indeed am I.

The Warrior and his wife

Mom and dad on his 87th birthday

So, I suppose it's only right to begin this "blog journey" by mentioning my parents.

My father passed in November of 2010 after 87 years of a life that included service in the Pacific Theater of WWII as a Marine Aviator, 60 years of marriage, and (questionably most difficult of all) raising me.

Dad was several men to me over the years...disciplinarian, provider, coach, banker, driver, visitor (through several incarcerations and substance abuse treatments), and eventually hero and friend. He was raised in The Great Depression by a stern Italian that managed to keep food on the table through what have been some incredibly lean years. From him I learned honor and service. The 2 sentences I will never forget from him are, "I don't even know you anymore" and "I'm proud of you".

I was over 5 years sober (and still married...another story) when he passed. I got to stroke his head every day of his last week and was present at his funeral and Marine Corps burial. He is with me every day and miss him deeply. There are days when I can feel him talking through me to a newcomer at an AA meeting and I can see why he loves mom so much.

Now in my 40s, I have begun to realize how much of him I carry within me:
A warrior spirit, a heart for service, a significant and deep seated patriotism, and a knowledge (although not always acted upon) of honor and justice.

Since mom is still with us, I should probably ask her permission before writing anything about matter how amazing she is.

Next time...maybe.