Saturday, July 5, 2014

YES, YOU CAN PROMISE US, ROB FORD

Photo posted on 92.3 The Dock
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he wants us to trust him.  Really!  Trust him with or about what? Trust him that he will not relapse, BUT, he is not willing to promise us that he will not drink or use again!  Wow!  Politician par excellence.  But not really.

That “interesting” statement (trust me) is what self-centered and narcissistic addicts proclaim when they have yet to hit bottom and are not willing to take responsibility or be accountable for their recovery.  Rob throws in there a tad bit of truth, that he can’t make promises over something he has “no control.”  Absolutely correct.  As addicts, we are control freaks, and our addiction slaps us right smack in the face because as much as we try to convince ourselves to the contrary, we have no control over our addiction.  BUT, we are still “required” by our own integrity if we have any, to be accountable and responsible for what we are going to do about something we have no control over.

What Rob DOES HAVE CONTROL over is how he is going to address his addiction and what steps is he going to take to live a lifestyle that runs counter to his addiction and a life style over which he has ABSOLUTE CONTROL.  

Rob CAN PROMISE US 
*that he is going to attend a twelve step meeting every day.
*He can promise us that he is going to practice living other-centered rather than self-centered.
*He can promise us that he is going to search out a God of his understanding rather than the god of his addiction.
*He can promise us that he is going to hang out with folks who will support him living clean and sober.
*He can promise us that he is going to have a “sponsor” who will personally walk his walk with him each day and hold him accountable and responsible for keeping his walk in line with his talk.
*He can promise us that he is starting and leading a support meeting each day for all the other folks in his administration who are addicted to one thing or another.

OH YES, ROB FORD, there are LOTS AND LOTS OF PROMISES YOU CAN MAKE US.  So we are waiting.

 

Friday, June 20, 2014

END OF LIFE CARE

This is an article I wrote for the St. Frances X. Cabrini grief ministry's newsletter, Good Grief.


I hear so many people today say, “I never want to be a burden to my kids....I am glad that I took care of Mom/Dad, but I wouldn’t want my kids to have to take care of me that way....If I get Alzheimers, just shoot me....I don’t see the point of suffering through the agonizing last stages of cancer let alone someone having to take care of me....I’d rather just die than to go through chemo and radiation....When there is no quality of life, what is the point?”

These statements and questions reflect our fear and our dreaded powerlessness when it comes to end-of-life issues.  And they also reflect a growing trend in our society to deny those who love us the opportunity to take good care of us when we need good caring. They reflect our inability to “surrender” to being loved. Some of us can’t even imagine that someone wants to love us by taking good care of us.  We are becoming more and more like Peter who was adamant that Jesus was NOT going to wash his feet.  Unfortunately, our stubborn and ironically selfish mind set feeds a growing interest in assisted suicide as an option to end-of-life “care.”  And we are also teaching the next generation that it really is preferable not to take care of our aging loved ones, but to farm them out to the growing business of “retired” and “memory care living.”

We have bought into the “company line” when it comes to illness and treatment.  Our very language limits our response to serious illnesses and allows only one choice: die a dreadful death.  For example, we talk about “terminal illness.”  Or we might even go so far as to tell someone, “you’re terminal.”  So what chance of life do they have, now that we have defined their life as terminal?  The language indicates that the only option is to patiently or inpatiently wait for the death train to pull into the station to take them away.
The fact of the matter is that every person on the face of the earth has only THIS MOMENT.  We are all terminal.

And when we talk about either ourselves or someone else no longer having quality of life, what exactly do we mean?  How is it that we do not experience being exquisitely cared for at the end of our life by the people who love us as QUALITY OF LIFE.  What better way to leave this earth than to be loved to the nth degree?  Or what if receiving that quality-of-life care, perhaps for the first time in either our adult life or our life period, becomes the catalyst to our healing and recovery from our illness?

And if you don’t see chemo or radiation as a quality of life option for yourself, there are other options, and there are many many people in the medical field who are now investigating the divine power that each of us is given to self heal.  Wishes Fulfilled, Wayne Dyer.  The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton.  You Are The Placebo, Joe Dispenza, M. D.  Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You can Heal Yourself, Lissa Rankin, M. D.  There are folks like Pamela MacDonald a nurse practitioner in Northern California who uses integrative medicine to support people healing from illnesses that typically leave one doomed for certain death.  And folks like Larry Dossy, M. D. who integrates spirituality and medicine in his practice and believes in miracles.

I’m not suggesting quackery, but simply informing you of the options being offerred to us by sound and scientific people who have come to believe that when we are ill, we are more than our diseased body.

And when it comes to pain in general, the business of medicine, consciously or unconsciously, wants us in the dark about pain management that does not require drugs.  So that leaves us with a reasonable enough question.  If there is not a drug to remedy our pain, especially at the end of life, why stick around?  What’s the point of suffering? 

There is so much that no one teaches us about pain management.  For example, I can have pain, but I can choose whether or not to suffer.  Whoa!  Am I for reals?  Yes, in fact, a new pain management program at the Betty Ford Center, Palm Springs teaches folks, who live with chronic pain, how to take control of the pain without medication.  Really?  Yes, Really!

David Kessler, who has been working with dying people for twenty five years, says this about assisted suicide.   “I don't believe that if you're getting poor pain management or inadequate end-of-life care, in a civilized society, suicide should be your best option for a good death.”  You can read the entire article online.

What if we talked about end of life issues differently?  What if we looked at being taken care of at the end of our life as a divine gift?  What if we looked at the experience of having our diapers changed as a tender moment rather than something burdensome and disgusting?   What if we changed our entire vocabulary to describe the end of life as a time of healing, of caring, of loving, of preparing for the journey, a journey we invite all of our loved ones to be intimately involved in, with us, right there with us?  What if we, as a faith community, committed x number of hours each week or each month to be a part of one of our fellow parishioner’s end of life journey? 

Why would we walk away from such beautiful people when the end comes?












  
In 1977, We sent Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 on a journey deep into space to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto and Uranus.  In 2011 and 2012, these spacecrafts each plummeted BEYOND our solar system.  To this day, they continue to send back information about their voyages.  It takes 17 hours for the radio signals to travel from the probes to earth, and 17 hours for earth to send command signals back.  These radio signals travel at the speed of light, so you do the math.  186,000 times 3600 times 17.  That’s how “far out” these probes are.

If we can go that distance, we must have the God-given intelligence to go the distance in caring for our loved ones and go the distance in allowing our children and loved ones to care for us in our common end-of-life journeys which will take us far beyond the universe as we know it.  It’s not a “far-out” idea, but one that ancient and native societies practice as a way of living.  Perhaps we need to return to those ancient and native values of family and community and hold precious those at the end of their life, revere them, wave good bye to them knowing assuredly that we walked with them to the finish line.   And allow ourselves the same honor and privilege.
      
In the next article, we will explore the spirituality of end of life care.



Sunday, April 20, 2014

HE WASHED OUR FEET

  So you attend some kind of religious service on Easter Sunday.  What is that about?  No, seriously, I want to know.  Love to hear your answer to the question.





  More of us, at least in this country, attend some kind of religious service on Easter than on any other day of the year, including Christmas. There is standing room only.  Overflow crowds gather in buildings adjacent to the main building of worship and watch the services on closed circuit big screen television.  I don’t know if the collections reflect the over flowing attendance, but I would imagine they do.  So not only do we attend, but we feel generous to give to an institution about which at other times we have nothing good to say.

  Hey, I am not knocking it.  Just curious to know why we attend and why we give?

  So you attend a lengthy vigil service on Holy Saturday evening.  Or you attend a rousing service on Easter morning.  Yes, rousing. Usually the music is extremely celebratory and often extra instrumentation is added to highlight the feast.  Maybe even a liturgical dance is performed.  There is often a renewal of some sort, in many churches a renewal of Baptismal vows. Oh, and we dress up.  We really dress up.  Even the guy who never dresses up, dawns a white dress shirt even if he does leave the tails out.

  So what is it all about?  

  As I reflect on the way Jesus was born and died and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the way he walked the earth and served people, it seems pretty simple, pretty uncomplicated, pretty non liturgical, pretty non-organizational in nature, and overall, non-descript.

  Well think about it.  Non-descript compared to our current religious rituals and liturgies, our lavish buildings, our marketing, our collection of goods and property, and our exclusivity.  Yes, exclusivity.  We have rules about who is in good standing and who is not, who can attend and who cannot.  We have an absolutely awful evil trail of cruelty and wickedness toward people and cultures we judge not to be in either God or the church’s good graces.

  For whatever reason, during this Paschal time, we focus our attention on the crucifixion, and what little we know of the events of Easter Morning.  We don’t know much about those events because we were off hiding.  Remember that part?  Somehow we equate the crucifixion and the resurrection with our salvation. But if we stop and think about it, the outstanding event of Holy Week is Jesus washing our feet and inviting us to do likewise.  Maybe there is our salvation.  Allowing Jesus to wash our feet and then doing likewise.

  So who was the last person whose feet you washed? Hey, I can’t tell you either.  So I’m in the same boat. I’m just asking the questions. I’m not pretending I’m any better than the rest of us.



  For whatever reason, we could not let this gesture, the washing of our feet, sink into our hearts.  We could not go with Jesus after he washed our feet and pray with him.  We fell asleep!  We did not get it that our Faith is not about slaying “bad guys” with our swords, but about washing feet, even the feet of our perceived enemies.
  
  Even though Jesus washed our feet, we could not stand by Him when the soldiers came to arrest him and go with him after they arrested him.   We ran and hid.  We denied we knew anything about him.  One of us betrayed him outright.

  Jesus also invited us to heal others, not with a big show, but quietly moving about the world, laying our hands on those who are wounded, letting them be healed by what Jesus placed in our hearts when he washed our feet, just as he did for Malchus after Peter cut off his ear.
    
  If Jesus were to show up today, He would again wash our feet.  Unfortunately, shortly after washing our feet, we would have Him arrested and taken away again.  We have yet to take in what it means for Jesus to wash our feet and his invitation for us to do likewise.

  Jesus absolutely does not fit into any of our church settings or worship ceremonies.  It is beyond me that we don’t get that, or if we do, we ignore it.  Jesus would once again decry us for our dens of thievery, our philacteries and long tassels, and for our complete lack of service.

  So, we went to a service either Saturday or Sunday morning.  What are we taking away from our attendance?  Perhaps, there’s not much there to take away.  So go back, all of us, go back, go back to that evening when Jesus washed our feet.  Let us look at the simplicity of his life and his absolute commitment to serve and heal us.

  Just think about it.  Let it sink in.  Let it sink in. He washed our feet.  Told us to do likewise and to heal. 

  Is that something we can take away and put into practice in our own simple, non-descript way?  In other words, no one has to know when we heal someone.  No one has to know when we wash someone’s feet.  



  What do you think?

Friday, March 21, 2014

THE MOVIE: GOD'S NOT DEAD


I saw the movie, God's Not Dead  this evening, and even though I disagree with many elements in the movie, it is a good film, perhaps even an excellent film.  I also like the fact that the screenplay and production of the movie were purportedly motivated by the “persecution” of Christian-oriented student groups on college campuses.  It seems like every other belief system is tolerated in the secular scene but Christianity.

Unfortunately, the film seems to polarize any and everyone who is not a Born Again Christian and that was distressing, very distressing to me.  Any other religious sect or belief system was either discredited directly or by innuendo. Born again Christians are good guys and saved, and the rest of us are selfish, narcissistic, atheists and bordering on being outright evil and slaves of Satan.  The dubbing (as in knighting) of the Duck Dynasty folks as spokespeople for Christianity really through me for a credibility loop.

The story line, a debate between a philosophy professor and a student over the existence of God would have been equally powerful without polarizing ALL of God’s people into two  groups. The film not only seemed to discount any other religion or faith but seemed to imply that people who do not believe in Jesus will face a certain bad fate.  They took the typical theme of most stories, good versus evil, and boxed it into Born Again Christians versus the rest of the world.

As a philosophy major in the mid to late 60's at a Catholic seminary, I am very familiar with the God is dead THEOLOGICAL movement of that era, and the film never informed the viewing audience what that phrase really meant probably because the film makers do not know themselves.  The God is dead movement of the 60's actually decried the loss of the sacred in our society.  “...modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, lacking any sacramental meaning, no transcendental purpose, or sense of providence.” (Gabriel Vahanian, God Is Dead )

Sadly, the phrase “God is dead” was portrayed erroneously in the movie, which for someone like myself tends to tarnish the film and makes me question what the real intent of the film is.

The debate between the freshman college student and the Philosophy professor is absolutely brilliant.  Although, I was surprised that the script writers did not reference Einstein who has a lot to say about the existence of God.

The scene when the mother with Alzheimers has a moment of clarity and shares a Scripture passage with her angry and disillusioned adult son and then reverts back to not knowing who he is, is very poignant.  And the reoccurring theme of synchronicity, God acting in our lives in unsuspecting and mysterious ways, is exquisite and funny. Unfortunately, the scene depicting the middle Eastern father, who loves his daughter dearly but physically abuses and throws her out of the house for her conversion to Christianity, although well-done from a dramatic perspective, was a tad scary to me, and, as real as that religious-cultural clash is, and as real as that scene is, it made me question the overall agenda of the film.  We do not need to become Crusaders.    

Despite my criticisms, it is a movie well-worth watching and will stir inside you some discomfort and self examination about how far you are willing to go to not only live your faith, but be willing to tell folks, who do not believe in God, that you do.  And if you have somehow been wounded in your relationship with God, it may provide an impetus for healing. Unfortunately, the polarization may also only deapen the wound.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

SPREAD THEM OUT....PENETRATE....SCORE!

THE LIGHTS ARE ON BUT THEIR BRAINS ARE DARK!




Well, first, we had to decide if we were going to let Jackie Robinson in the locker room let alone in the showers.  Well, through some miracle of the universe, we got passed that (at least I think we did!), and then we had to decide whether or not to allow women reporters into the locker room.  Now that is kind of weird to me especially for guys that wear cups that make them look like ballet dancers.  Who really had a problem with women in the locker room?  I can imagine any number of players with that “secret” dream to be a porn star screaming to let them in and thinking to themselves, "I can fulfill all my dreams and make my honey jealous all at the same time!"  And I guess we solved that huge problem with a towel!


Now, we have our next challenge.  Apparently, some NFL executives and coaches FEEL uncomfortable about having a gay player in the locker room.  WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Isn’t this the game where a man is required to penetrate eleven other men, through the red zone no less, to score?  Isn’t this the game we see a coach putting his arm around a player, pulling in him really close, whispering something in his ear, and then slapping him on the butt to send him back into the game?  Isn’t this the game where one guys walks up to another guy who is bent over, bends down a tad and places his hands right smack in between his crack and the family jewels?  I think that spot is called the perineum.  So here’s one guy hunched over another guy who is bent over, and placing the upper side of his hand hard into his pereneum and then he barks like a dog.  That is ALL perfectly okay!  Really?  Okay, NFL folks, what is your problem?  You’re cracking me up.  Sorry!  It’s a pretty silly time in history to try to bring up the rear.  I mean one of the guys on your team has been playing with another guys perineum for how many years, and now you’re going to get excited about a very talented gay professional football player in the locker room?  Uh?  



I'll only make one more comment about butts. It seems that the first picture that comes up on everybody’s mental screen when they hear the word gay, is a man having anal sex with another man.  Gay men are no more interested in butts than heterosexual homophobic men are interested in butts.  So it is a level playing field after all!



I have one last comment.  NFL executives and coaches, shame on you! (See Sports Illustrated Atrticle.)  You don’t deserve anonymity.  Quit being ignorant dicks and treat all your players and potential players with respect.  After all, they put a ton of money in your rear pocket!

Monday, February 10, 2014

SPIRITUALITY AT ITS BEST



I know I talk about humility in this blog, BUT! This is going to be the best article you have ever read on spirituality!

And hopefully after reading this, you too will want to at least consider surrendering to Life rather than trying to control Life.

Hopefully you will begin thinking about surrendering to heaven instead of forcing your way there.  Hopefully you will realize you can stop running from hell and surrender to whatever Life has to offer you at any given moment.

Hopefully you just might surrender to the gnawing urge to give up trying to be better than everyone else.

Hopefully you will consider surrendering to this very moment with the faith that there is a More, both inside of us and surrounding and sustaining us if we only let it.
  
And like the baseball player, hopefully, you will decide to stop judging your success by how many times you strike out, and you will see for the first time in your life that being successful thirty percent of the time is a DAMNED GOOD BATTING AVERAGE, A HELLUVA BATTING AVERAGE.

MORE OF MY STORY
Anonymity is an important spiritual principle in twelve step work, so I have consciously made sure that nothing I share in my story jeopardizes anyone’s anonymity except my own, and I have chosen to be seen rather than remain anonymous with careful forethought. 

I am very fortunate that I started attending Al Anon meetings before I got honest with myself and recognized I was at the “wrong” meeting! (Check out my previous blog).  You see, I am as judgmental as they come, and I think, had I not developed a connection with and a liking for the folks in the Al Anon group, I might have judged my way out of any AA meeting.  I would have picked a part every person there and quickly came to the conclusion that everyone was way nuttier than I, and that AA could or would not do diddly for me let alone diddly squat!

There were many miracles happening to get me to an AA meeting.  First, it was a miracle I even went to the Al Anon meetings.  It was even a bigger miracle that I got to that first Al Anon meeting alive, as the person driving was blinded by the setting sun at one point, and while I was literally screaming, “Stop,” she crashed into a cement island and then laughed hysterically!  I laughed too because I had crapped my pants!  No, just kidding.

So when I finally get the obvious, that it could be even more helpful to me to go to AA (although many folks participate in both, Al Anon and AA), I discover there’s an AA meeting right around the corner from my house.   In fact, it’s the same morning meeting I have been recommending to my clients for the past twenty five years!  No, I never went myself!  How funny is that?  (Or is that sad?)

The meeting was also held in a building that was once a small church.  It was the same little church where I had stopped several times a week in the afternoon to sit and talk to God until it was decommissioned!  I was furious that they had desecrated MY sacred spot by turning it into some kind of multi-purpose hall, and I was preparing to write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper with my complaint.  You know, how does the House of God become decommissioned?  Is that some new brand of real estate theology?


So it was becoming a tad difficult to turn a blind eye to a God at work here, and a God with a weird and great sense of humor.  I mean what do you think?  Gets me to an Al Anon meeting when I really need to be going to AA, gets me damned near killed on the way to the Al Anon meeting, softens me up for a few weeks listening and relating to some powerful personal sharings at the Al Anon meeting, and then directs me to the very same little church where, for the last thirty years, I had been stopping several afternoons a week to sit and talk to God?  Is that total coincidence?  Or is that the kind of “proof” we all look for to know that there may not be a lot of strings, but obviously some, and God does yank them around when He or She wants.

So I walked into my first AA meeting, naturally a little nervous, a tad protective and defensive, but also open, very open, and to my surprise there were folks there that I already knew. Wow!

One of the first things I heard shared or proclaimed was, “God did not get sober.  I did.” At first, I wasn’t sure just what the person was trying to convey, but I just about fell out of my chair laughing, but I contained myself.  I wanted so badly to say, “Hey, thanks for that information.  Now I get it.  God is drunk and you’re running the show.”

I heard another person share, “I come here each morning to have fun, and if you’re not having fun, I don’t know what in the hell you’re here for!”  What a wild ass thing to say?  I was sold.  I hadn’t laughed that hard in weeks or perhaps months or perhaps years.  So AA is not a punishment for me.  It’s not something I have to attend.  Never even thought of it in those terms.  I go to AA to have fun, and I do. 

But here was the biggest kicker of all for me. That first AA meeting was the most powerful spiritual experience I had ever had in my entire life, and each meeting continues to live up to that standard for me.  Yes, spiritual experience.

So how is it spiritual, you ask.  Well, first of all, it was and continues to be a very humbling experience.  Not humbling in terms of shame or feeling lowly.  Humbling in the sense of sitting in a room with other people who are just like me:  ordinary, flawed, searching, wanting more, sometimes weak-willed, sometimes proudful, sometimes irresponsible, and they make no bones about it.  They put up no defense to disguise themselves.  You never hear folks groveling about any part of their lives even though some of them have lost a great deal because of their alcoholism, a great great deal. Yes, those are the rightful consequences, and yes, these men and women are willing to take complete responsibility for their entire life.  Yes entire life, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

And whenever anyone shares, they include something about their relationship with, well, some refer to their higher power, some, to the God of their understanding, and some just refer to simply God.  Everyone acknowledges that they really don’t understand who God is or what God’s make up is, but they experience God’s presence and working in his or her life, and some of these same folks admit they aren’t really sure there even is a God, but they cannot deny their experiences of God.  The most common experience shared is God removing the obsession to drink.

And they don’t talk about this relationship in theological or dogmatic terms or in pretty terms.  They are just plain ol’ down and dirty in sharing their relationship with God.   They talk about God as if God is their best friend or a partner or a mentor or a guide.  God is never described as punishing or angry or mean or cruel or tricky or dishonest or withholding.  No one seems to have a fear of God.  They talk about how this relationship moves them to grow and continue to grow a selfless caring for the people in their lives, particularly the people they love and have hurt including those who no longer want anything to do with them.  They talk openly about ALL the ways they have hurt other people and continue to hurt people (that’s one of the things we do as human being, right?), and the ways they go about making amends.  They talk about their daily prayer life not in some task-oriented way, not in terms of some religious practice where you better pray or else.  But praying has become an important part of everyone’s day.

You know, the stereotypic Mafia hit man, big bruiser, with the Italian accent?  Well, imagine that guy sharing that he gets on his hands and knees to pray every morning and every night. And when he doesn’t, his wife reminds him to. That brings a big laugh.  You don’t think I felt humble listening to him?  Of course, I don’t get on my hands and knees.  That’s for little kids or is it?  Or is that who we are?  Grown-up little kids?  And you know what?  During the last almost four years, I have heard that same sharing from different people, over and over again to the point I have begun trying it on for size for myself.

People share things like, “Yeah, I got pulled over for drunk driving several times, but they always let me go and well, the last time, they didn’t let me go.  And I knew almost instantly, that this was the best thing that ever happened to me."

What?  The best thing that ever happened to you?  God was somehow having this deputy arrest you?

“Yeah,” he would say, “the best thing that ever happened to me.  It woke me up and made me realize what I was doing to my wife and to my kids and to all of you by being a drunk.”

And people share how God has lead them back to a life that includes a job, having enough money to pay the bills, being able to once again be a contributor, being able to hold their head up high, being proud to be out in public with their loved ones and family, knowing that no matter how challenging starting over is, God keeps giving them a sense of hope and confidence like they have never experienced before.

Oh, here’s another kicker.  You’re not going to believe this one either.  Every person shares how SERVICE to others is the final piece in the puzzle.  Without service, sobriety remains incomplete.  Service?  Yes, service.  If I want to remain sober, I better be doing something for my fellow human beings, something that benefits me nothing, except ironically, the final piece to my sobriety.   And one better!  Don’t tell anyone when you do something to serve others. Keep it to yourself!

I knew that what I was hearing here on that first morning, and continue to hear, was and is real and coming from down deep inside each person’s soul.  God was in this room in a way that I had never experienced in any church or any church service.

Now you got to understand, these folks are not what we think of when we think alcoholic. This AA fellowship represents the entire gamot of our little town including those alcoholic stereotypes.  But everyone in this fellowship is seen and respected as an equal human being no matter their wealth or their poverty, no matter their formal education.  Everyone is considered wise and having much to offer spiritually.  And we listen intently to each person for what they give us.  There are no priests or reverends in this spiritual gathering.  There are no chosen authorities to whom we better listen.  We are all a part of this gathering and simultaneously a part of something bigger than any of us individually.

So it is no longer MY sobriety, MY journey.  The same way that we all get it that Love is not a singular journey.  Love exists in a relationship, obviously.  So too, sobriety is not a singular journey.  When you make it a singular journey, you are indeed sober, but walking around with hairs up your ass and you drive everyone absolutely insane, and you can never figure out why because after all, you’re sober just like everyone wants you to be.  But you’re resentful about your sobriety.  You’re proudful about your sobriety as if you did it all by yourself.

I know all about sobriety ALL BY MYSELF (See the previous blog).  This time around I decided not to go it alone. I have come to realize that sobriety is a connection to my highest self, so to speak, and that connection demands yet another connection to other human beings.  My sobriety has also become my connection to God even if I don’t believe in God.  That’s perfectly okay because I am still connected and I get it. I’m connected to “something” I’m not sure I even believe in, but somewhere in my soul, which I might not believe in either, I know there is an indisputable connection that has allowed me to accomplish what I never thought achievable before.

Even though at this moment in my life, I have no doubts about God’s existence and presence, I wrote the above paragraph the way I did because I know most of us have those questions and doubts.  And they may come and go. Sometimes they are like fuzzy shadows and sometimes they are like absolute darkness.  But that’s what is so profound about the spirituality of twelve steps.  You do not have to be certain about God in order to connect to God.  How is that for one big paradox or oxymoron?  But that, my reader, is spirituality at its best!

Thanks again, to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for giving his life so I might be inspired to write about sobriety.  There will be more.

THANK YOU FOR READING AND THANK YOU for looking at where you are spiritually.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

A TRIBUTE TO PHILLIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN

Picture taken from DAILY NEWS ARTICLE 


     We like to convince ourselves that our sons and daughters die on the battle field for good reason.  Those of you who know me know how much I think that is bunk, and that we should be on our hands and knees to our sons and daughters seeking their forgiveness for offering them up just because we, as a nation, still do not know how to resolve conflict.

     But for today, I am going to run with that notion that sometimes people die for good reason, and I am going to say that Phillip Seymour Hoffman died on the battle field of addiction so you and I might be SOBER at least for today.  Maybe it is through his death that we find the courage to get off the battlefield and come home.  And I don't mean that cynically, sarcastically, tongue in cheek, ironically, paradoxically.  I mean it sincerely.

MY STORY
     In June, 1987, I attended a workshop presented by Claudia Black.  At the time, I was forty-two years old and had been drinking daily since age twenty three and frequently drinking to the point of getting sick.  I left that workshop knowing that I would never drink again.

     I began to literally enjoy being sober and feeling sober.  I never wanted to experience that “buzz” again. Looking at the buzz from my sober memory, I realized that the buzz left me feeling off-balanced and disconnected from important parts of myself, my brain for one, and my mind and soul for two and three.  I began to experience a sense of wholeness about myself that I had never experienced before.

     This journey into sobriety was not a self-righteous journey.  I did not look down my nose on my friends and family who continued to drink, some quite heavily.  I was simply clear about what I truly wanted for my life.  I changed the way I ate.  I began exercising and lost considerable weight.  I thought I was beginning to look like the man I wanted to be. And I did it all BY MYSELF. No program, no meetings, no outside help, no rehab, just ME walking MY journey.  

     Seven years into MY sobriety, I decided to have A glass of wine.  And I did, ONE SMALL glass of wine.  That was it.  In the days that followed my one glass of wine, I thought to myself, “I can do this.  I can have one glass of wine.  I am not an alcoholic after all.”  I’m not sure what the “this” was when I said to myself “I can do this.”

     Sixteen years later, my liver was screaming. I was waking up in the morning wondering who drank with me the night before because I would find a wine glass, half-full, patiently resting right next to where I had fallen asleep (or blacked out) on the couch.  Secretly, I knew the glass could not possibly be mine because I would never leave a half-glass of wine!  And secretly, I knew I could not drink A glass of wine.

     I looked in the mirror each morning secretly wondering if I looked like an alcoholic.  I did not bother to look into the night before where I poured myself two scotches on the rocks prior to guzzling enough wine straight from the bottle to leave approximately two glasses plus a splash for the bottom.  You see, I knew that a normal person could drink about two glasses of wine over the course of the evening and not be in trouble.  So I drank my two glasses and left that splash sloshing around the very bottom of the bottle, proof positive I did not drink an entire bottle of wine by myself.  I don’t know why I thought the scotch somehow didn’t count! I guess a good alcoholic always has any number of invisible or stealth drinks.  You know, like a thirty pack is just a couple of beers!

    During these sixteen years of relapse, I wanted more than anything to feel sober again. I would stop drinking for a day, two days, a week, six weeks, but the obsession for just one glass always took me for that wonderful ride that wiped out every stress, every worry, every drop of sadness, every pound of hurt, disappointment, disillusionment, self doubt, guilt, shame, old anger, old pain, new fear and old fear.  I mean a couple of shots of Glenlivet single malt scotch and a “glass” of Folie a Deux’s Menage a Trois, were better than any pharmaceutical available.

     What happened next is interesting to say the least and probably just downright miraculous.  I was lucky that I did not end up in jail, probably could have benefited from rehab.  Where I did end up was an Al Anon meeting. Now, in case you don’t know, Al Anon is a meeting for folks who have a difficult time living with an alcoholic!  With me!

     I wasn’t drunk when I went to that meeting, but I wasn’t sober either.  I went to that meeting under the guise of supporting a friend who was leading the meeting that night.  Oh how God works!  That Al Anon meeting was exactly the place I needed to be to begin my journey back home to sobriety.  

    I began attending those Al Anon meetings weekly, listening intently to very raw sharings, which unexpectedly triggered incredible sadness and tears for me, and I became starkly aware of the impact of alcohol on my entire life.

     My Uncle was the classic falling down drunk. But I loved him dearly.  He bought me my first lunch pail and my first bicycle.  When he came to visit, he took me with him everywhere he went including every bar along his “itinerary,” and of course, we got thrown out of every bar which initially I found quite exciting.  It was sort of like a cowboy movie!  “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t serve him.”  Uncle Herman would let lose with the expletives.  “God dammit, he doesn’t want a god dammed drink.  He just wants a coke, right Butch?”  I would shake my head yes and hold my breath!

    My Dad, on the other hand, was the classic sophisticated controlled alcoholic.  He carefully measured every shot and counted every drink. First, the scotch and sodas, and then the wine with dinner.  He drank only the best scotch and only premium wine.  Whenever he broke out the champagne, he was a zillion laughs, quite funny.  But day-to-day, he was moody, emotionally distant, and it was my Mom’s job to keep him isolated from us kids when he came home from work, not because he was mean and she was afraid he would hurt us, but because he wanted to be alone.  He wanted peace and quiet, and he found that peace and quiet in alcohol.

    At some point in our growing up years, my sisters and I were all introduced to alcohol. First to wine with dinner and eventually to cocktails (I loved Manhattans!) on special occasions, and champagne, lots of champagne, on even more special occasions.  For better and for worse, through Al Anon, I became aware that alcohol had been a significant part of my every day life for as long as I could remember.

    I actually continued to drink after the first couple of Al Anon meetings.  In fact, I drank quite heavily.  The bubbling pain was too intense, but somehow or another, my addicted brain was able to say out loud, “This is nuts!” So on September 17, 2010, I began my journey home to sobriety once again, and two weeks later, I went to my first AA meeting.

    As I share my story with you, I place no blame on my Uncle or my Dad, nor myself, for that matter.  It’s ALL just part of my story.  Are Uncle Herman and Dad the cause of my alcoholism?  Am I genetically predisposed to alcoholism?  Do I have a disordered addictive brain?  Did I ever have control over my drinking and lost control?  Did I have choices along the way, to drink or not to drink?  At what point did the addiction take over my free will or my ability to make choices?

    These are all interesting, yes interesting questions.  If we are in any way touched by addiction, we are driven to answer these questions.  We want to find the cause, we want to find the thing(s) or person(s) to blame, we want to find the genetic link, we want to find compassion and or excuses for the person trapped in the chains of addiction, or we are just outrageously angry with them and blame them for being so shamefully out of control, so selfishly choosing guaranteed “death” for both themselves and the people who love them.

     And this is the absolute insidiousness and power of addiction.  It MAKES NO SENSE, and there are no answers.  Once an addiction becomes part of the equation, whatever the equation is, your relationships, your dreams, your goals, your life, nothing, NOTHING, absolutely nothing, NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING will ever add up or make sense.

     This is so difficult for us to accept because our brains are driven to make sense out of every and anything we cannot make sense out of.  When we cannot make sense out of something, we are powerless over it.  Ugh!  I know you didn’t want to hear or read that! Sorry!

     When it comes to addiction, it is pointless to blame, it is pointless to search the neuropathways of the brain, the swirling chains and links of genes, it is pointless to beg, plead, threaten, shame, guilt, it is all just plane pointless.  Perhaps addiction, like nothing else in our lives, takes us right up to that edge, right up to that wall where I can go no farther nor further on my own.  It’s me against myself.  It is me against the universe.  As Ziggy once said, “I think we’re gonna get creamed!”  This is the edge, the wall, where I realize I am an important but small piece in the big scheme of things, but I am not it, I am not all powerful. 

   So am I saying that when it comes to addiction, we are all victims?  Did you hear me say that?  Did you read me saying that?  Isn’t it interesting that that is where some of us go? Immediately, no less!

      I AM saying that there are places or times in our life or in our world or in the universe in general where we are powerless and the way through that moment is to embrace the powerlessness.  Embracing the powerlessness is not the same as embracing hopelessness or helplessness.  It is not the same as dismissing all the power I do have.  It is not the same as crying uncle.  It is not the same as defeat.  It is simply recognizing that I have come to an edge or hit a wall in my existence.  It is like the scene in Harry Potter when he must get to Platform 9 3/4 

   Embracing my powerlessness is simply acknowledging that I am not God.  Whether or not God exists, whether or not I even believe in God, I accept, for certain, I am not God.

      It is a moment of faith, faith in the reality that there is something more; faith in the reality that I am something more; faith in the reality that I am not the sum of all of my unmet needs; I am not the sum of all my critics, including the critical voices inside my brain; faith that I am not the sum of all my decisions, right, wrong, and indifferent; faith that I am not the sum of all my accomplishments and failures; faith that I am just plain MORE, and finally, acceptance that my addiction, whatever it is, will never get me to that more.  My addiction will never take me to platform 9 3/4.  My addiction, as high as it might take me, as low as it might take me, will never get me to heaven or hell.  It will always leave me STUCK at the base of that wall.

      It reminds me of yet another movie scene, the end of Episode V of Star Wars, where Luke is battling Darth Vader and has virtually no choice but to hang on and submit to Darth Vader or to let go and tumble into an abyss that seemingly will also bring certain death.  So he lets go, and yes, down into the abyss he goes.  And, of course, he does not die.  In fact he is literally “snatched up” at the bottom of the abyss.

    So hitting the wall is a good thing.  Sometimes folks refer to it as hitting bottom.  It is the place where we are willing, speaking of free will, to at least imagine that there might be a power which I cannot access through any scientific, moral, motivational or religious pathways.  

     So, do I think I finally have it?  Sobriety?  Do I think I finally embraced my powerlessness?  I have for this very moment and it’s not something I am proud of or brag about, but something I am humbly grateful for.

     Am I better than Phillip Seymour Hoffman? Are you kidding me?  So, then, what is the story of folks like Phillip Seymour Hoffman?  Well, we go right back to you and me trying the impossible, to make sense out of addiction.

      What do I think happens to folks like Phillip Seymour Hoffman?  Do they go to hell?  Do they get to come back and give it another try till they get it right?

     You know what?  I do not need to be so smart to have those answers and for me to try to come up with those answers is simply one big act of grandiosity.

     I once told a panhandler sitting outside of Starbucks (a pretty smart place to panhandle by the way), that I was giving him money under one condition.  If I were in his “boat” next week, he had to share that spot with me.  And I was serious.  Life is mysterious and tenuous, you know, and that is what I do know for certain.   

     So is this it?  This is all I have to say on the topic?  No, I am going to continue with several more blogs, sharing with you my moment-to-moment journey of sobriety and what has sustained me.  So be looking for the sequels!

     Thank you for reading and thank you for taking something away for yourself and your own recovery whatever you are recovering from. And thank you, Phillip Seymour Hoffman for giving your life that I might continue to discover the path of sobriety and most importantly discovering that it is not MY sobriety nor MY path.

THANK YOU.



Monday, February 3, 2014

WE ARE ALL SITTING DUCKS







     When it comes to relapse, we are all sitting ducks.  It's like driving on a narrow windy mountain road with no guard rail.  Even the best driver sometimes....  

     So what is relapse?

     I can tell you this, it is NOT about will power!   
     Whatever drives us into addiction in the first place, also drives us into relapse.  And absolutely yes, I can never blame what drives me.  I ultimately take responsibility for my choices even when I have lost the awareness that I have choices.

     What drives every addiction and relapse is PAIN and typically OLD PAIN.  We all walk around with old pain.  It is stored in a part of our brain that we do not have conscious access to.  That place is called the amygdala.

     How does that happen?  Well, when we survive an over-the-top experience, the chemistry necessary to weave the experience (both the emotions and the story line) into our memory is neutralized by all the stress hormones flowing at the time, so the emotions associated with the experience never get processed into our explicit memory, but instead sit in their raw form in our amygdala, just waiting to be fired off in response to anything that even remotely reminds the brain of the original pain.

     When old  pain gets fired off, we have no way of knowing it is old pain because it feels very very present, and the pain is real.  Yes, all pain is in our head.  What else is new?  It still hurts!

     Is there a way to get that old pain out of the amygdala and processed into our explicit memory?  Absolutely.  First of all, I have to begin recognizing it is old pain.  I want to take note of those certain emotions that keep getting triggered over and over again, like anger or feelings of worthlessness or shame or guilt.  I have to begin telling myself, “I am just too reactive here.  This must be old pain.”

     So once I identify old pain, then I create a story line to weave with the pain.  And what if I don’t remember or know the story line?  Well, you can ask relatives and family friends what they know about your “story.”  And if they refuse to tell you, you can pretty much make up a story based upon the nature of the pain.  I mean there are only so many stories that fit particular kinds of pain.  And it doesn’t matter if you are correct.  You don’t have to have all the facts.  We’re not going to court here.  We simply want to weave the pain together with a story line, any story line, so the emotion and the story can be laid to rest in our memory, and we are no longer reactive or vulnerable to being triggered.

     O my God, you are concerned about truth!  Get a grip.  There is only one truth.  You are walking around with old pain which eventually is going to kill you or someone else.  That is the most important truth.  So weave it together however you can.

     You know what is really crazy?  Some of us do remember the painful events.  We remember them quite quite clearly which is a miracle in and of itself because it is more likely that the stress hormones pumping at the time of the event would have neutralized the brain chemistry necessary for memory.  So yes, we remember, and if we could make a story out of what we remember, the weaving process could take place, and again, the painful event could be laid to rest in our memory in a way that it is no longer a trigger.

     But when we try to tell our story, when we try to check out our story, what does everyone tell us?  They tell us we are remembering incorrectly.  We are told that what happened to us happens to everyone, so no big deal.  We are told to stop crying over the past.  We are told that if we had any sense, we would let this painful event make a better man or woman out of us.  When it comes to soldiers and first responders, we tell them NOT TO TALK, but to simply BURY THIS SHIT.  That is what we tell them.  Yes, those are the very words a World War Two Veteran told his son, a Viet Nam Vet, who was literally dying to talk about his experiences in Nam.

     So it is like we have unwritten rules that tell us it is better to walk around with old pain and triggers than it is to find a way to lay the old pain to rest.

     So the flavor of our discussion so far sort of implies that old pain comes from really over-the-top events like childhood abandonment and abuse, lack of early attachment experiences, some kind of terrifying accident or act of Nature, medical procedures, deaths of loved ones, being in the midst of a war, living in poverty, living in subhuman conditions, and so on.  

     But much of our old pain comes from equally disturbing events but of a different kind.  They are wounds that erupt ironically from “stories” that people make up about our character, our heart, our ambitions, and our dreams and unfortunately, we buy into these character assassinations hook, line, and sinker.

     So, like what, you ask?  Well, for example, being told that I do not measure up or that I will never measure up.  Getting the clear message that whatever I accomplish is never good enough or basically that I am not good enough.  Being told directly or indirectly that I will never be as good as my sister or my brother or I will never be the man my father is or the woman my mother is.  Being told either directly or by implication that I am not very pretty or handsome or that I am fat (even when I am not), awkward, stupid, crazy, defiant, mentally ill, selfish, without talent (picked last for everything).  Being told, at a moment I am genuinely apologizing and making amends, that I have never been sorry for anything in my life. Being told, after a large audience congratulates me on an inspiring presentation, that I was inappropriate in my language and delivery by one or two people into whose hands, for whatever reason, I have surrendered my self worth.  These are the events, some of them occurring and reoccurring, that we never diagnose as deep deep wounds.  

     When we hear these death sentences from a very early age and then again and again in our adult life, we walk around with a kind of low grade anxiety that whispers and warns us that we cannot accomplish what we set out to or when we do, this low grade anxiety literally challenges the reality of our accomplishments. Then we slip into an undefinable depression which we nor anyone else can make sense out of.  So we find refuge in concluding that we must have a chemical imbalance.

     So I win an Oscar for my performance, but it’s not enough for the little voice, and so I assume it must not be enough for anyone else, and then that pervasive sense of not being good enough surges like a tidal wave.  



     Unless we can find a way to look these “pains” and these voices in the eye, so to speak, they will haunt us for the rest of our lives and always beckon us toward addiction and relapse.

     There is something else, perhaps even more insidious, that invites relapse.  When we are successful, that same little voice taunts us that the success will not last.  The little voice drives us to find a way to make the accomplished feeling last, so we turn to our addiction to keep the high of the accomplishment going.  It is a devastating way to celebrate our accomplish-ment.

     It is amazing when old pain gets triggered. I, for one, cannot believe that pain, that is so old, and that I thought I had already woven into the fabric of my being, can still get triggered and leave me feeling sad, I mean SAD, depressed, like a complete failure, like I am worthless, unlovable, unlikable, ugly, fat, and every other negative descriptor in the Thesaurus. 

So there is one more critical piece for recovery and avoiding relapse that is important for us to look at and explore.  Just like I was willing to venture into the bottle (of pills or booze), into the syringe, into the smoke, into the food, into the craps table, into compulsive sex, into religion even, I must be willing to venture forth into the realm of the spiritual.

     So here’s what I am talking about.  When I write a short story or professional book, a poem, when I compose a song, I am more and more amazed at what comes out onto the page or onto the staff.  It becomes clearer and clearer that I am not the author or the composer.  I know there is an Author or Composer much greater than me that is sending the inspiration through my brain, through my musical ear, through my fingers on to the computer screen.  Yes, I am a small part of life (with a small “l”), and there is a Life out there with a capital “L.”  For me, I call that Life, God or sometimes my Senior Partner or sometimes, Love.  When I journal in the morning, for example, I begin with “Dear Love.”

     So almost every day, I come to places in my life where I hit the wall.  When I hit that wall, old pain is immediately triggered, triggered in relationships, triggered in both business successes and failures, triggered dealing with my aging body, triggered in my fears, my disappointments, my dreams that seem dashed or far away.  I consider everything I know to do myself.  Blow up the wall, walk away from the relationships, push through, envision a miracle happening in my body but I do the envisioning with so much stress that I undermine my own miracle.  If I am lucky, I tap myself on the shoulder.  If I am really lucky, a friend or loved one taps me on the shoulder.  If I am really aware, I stop.  I stop trying to get passed that wall.  I stop trying to get over it.  I stop trying to go through it.  I literally surrender to my own efforts and reach, reach, reach to Life, to God, to my Senior Partner, to Love, to what some folks refer to as their Higher Power or to God as they understand God.  And I let myself have faith that my Senior Partner will reach back. And my Senior Partner always does.

     When I lose that connection with my Senior Partner in my daily life, in my daily recovery, I am a sitting duck for relapse.  And I have to humbly tell you, and I hope you can humbly acknowledge for yourself, I am and we are all sitting ducks.  Just like any relationship, staying connected spiritually takes daily commitment and work.

     So embrace your old pain.  Create a story about it.  Don’t let anyone critique your story. It is your story.  And reach out to Life, to God.  Let your Senior Partner take your hand and walk with you and carry you just like in the poem Footprints.

     This surrendering costs you nothing.  You lose nothing, not your personal power, not your will, not your ambition, not your dreams, not your abilities or talents.  You lose nothing. Ironically, you gain it all including a Senior Partner.  How cool is that?

     And you know how I get passed that part of myself that refuses to surrender?  It is not in solitude or meditation.  It isn’t something I learned on my own.  I learned and relearn to surrender by humbly sitting in a gathering of other sitting ducks, humbly listening, humbly sharing, and becoming aware that I truly am not alone on my journey.  My Senior Partner has a billion hands.

THANK YOU FOR READING.