Sunday, October 29, 2023

One car at a Time

A friend who's moved to another state tells me during a phone call about his anger with the drivers in the metro area where he now lives.

"These people here don't know how to drive," he tells me, anger and frustration in his voice,  Since he spends a lot of time on freeways I'm sure he's not too happy during his commutes.

So I share with him something my sponsor said a long time ago.  I'd arrived a few minutes late to a meeting and when it was my turn to share I expressed my anger at the traffic that had made me late.  My sponsor could see I was upset and when it was his turn to share he said something that I know was directed at me. 

"I learned a long time ago that I could only drive one car at a time," he said.  And with that simple statement he influenced my driving behavior from then on.  While he passed on around 20 years ago I no longer drive any cars on the highway other than my own.  Oh yes, once in a while someone's driving behavior will scare me and I'll react for a second.  But, as a rule, I drive my own vehicle as safely as I can and don't cuss at other drivers or flip them off like I once did.  And my life is much more peaceful with just that one small piece of wisdom from my sponsor.

I shared this information with my friend but I doubt if it'll  work.  Because when he used  to live in Arizona he used to say that the driver's here also didn't know how to drive. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Living in the Moment

 "You don’t stop having fun because you get old, you get old because you stop having fun." Unknown

I think more people die of boredom that of any other cause.  In other words we need a reason for living or we're going to slow down.

Years ago, when people first started opening doors for me to let me go ahead of them I'd get irritated. When they started calling me "sir" it would bother me.  Anything that would indicate that time was catching up with me could be irritating.

Then one day I changed my perspective. After all, if we're lucky we'll all get old some day.  So we might as well learn to live in the moment and learn to enjoy wherever we're at in life.

Studies have shown that the happiest years of a person's life are when they're 60 and above.  While study results vary, none find that youth is the happiest time of life.

After all, when we reach midlife we've gotten into a lot of acceptance about who we are and where we're going.  We begin to see the beauty in the wrinkles on our face.  Our careers are on track.  We start liking our gray hair.  And we're happy to live a life where we know that there are few very big deals.

In other words we learn about acceptance. Which for good reason is the mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Monday, October 23, 2023

We Ceased Fighting...

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol."  From the Big Book 

We find this line on page 84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.   And, as we accrue time in the  program, reading the literature, going to meetings, and talking to our sponsors, we come to understand on a deep level what the book conveys about ceasing fighting.

In my opinion there's nothing gained when we're fighting.  But when I was out drinking and doing whatever else I ingested, it seemed as if I were fighting the entire world.  Even though they existed mostly in my distorted mind I could always come up with an adversary.

I had many.  My wife.  My employer.  My parole officer. The man. The system. I could always conjure up someone or something to fight with.  Now, mind you, many of my adversaries didn't even know I was upset at them.  And most - had they known - wouldn't have cared anyway.

However, in my alcoholic brain I was the center of the universe and didn't these assholes know who I was?  See, this is the dilemma for us alcoholics.  Our ego says we're real important.  We think everyone's against us.  We think they hate us.  But it's kind of like looking in a mirror; because we see the reflection of the one we're really angry at - the one responsible for all our problems.  Our disease, though, has us in its grip and likes that we're so very angry that we fight everything.  Our disease provides us with  the rationale to keep destroying ourselves with the poisons we use.  

Yet in the sunlight of recovery we find that our anger begins to dissolve, to melt away.  We may not know why, but bit-by-bit we begin to feel better about ourselves and the new friends we meet who are on the same journey.  

And we eventually discover that our life flows more smoothly because we no longer fight anything or anybody.

Click here to email John

Friday, October 20, 2023

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful

 In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous we see the phrase "... Cunning, baffling, powerful..."  But why is it in the book?   And what does it mean?

My opinion is that the founders put it in the book because they knew the dangers that existed for those of us who are alcoholics and addicts.  They understood that a logical person doesn't make a decision to destroy his or her life with substances just because they are facing a myriad of problems.

But a vulnerable alcoholic or addict – particularly one in new recovery – is subject to succumb to his or her disease when things get tough.  I mean all of us humans look for an easier softer way to resolve our problems.

An easier, softer way for us is to either open a bottle of our favorite beverage or find some other substance that will relieve what we perceive to be intolerable pain.

But after the "... cunning, baffling, powerful..." phrase there are some other words that give us direction. And they are "... without help, it is too much for us..." But some might ask what is this help and where can I find it?   And of course that's where the beauty of the Alcoholics Anonymous program comes in.  It was designed by people like us for people like us.

So when we run into a situation that is overwhelming and our disease is about sneak up on us, what do we do?  The best idea is to do what the program suggests.  We talk to our sponsor.  We go to meetings. We read the literature that is provided for us at the meetings, usually free of cost.  We gather phone numbers from people we meet at the meetings.  We call them when we have a problem.  There's a reason that people call Alcoholics Anonymous a fellowship.  And that's because we have the opportunity to be around people just like us. People who understand our issues and problems and are willing to give of their time and effort to keep us from relapsing and getting back into the messes that brought us to the program in the first place.

There is a solution as we face our cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.  We just need to open our hands and hearts to receive it.

Click here to email John

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Being here Now

 Because I was born way in last century I've seen a lot of changes.

Today we have luxuries, gadgets, toys, and prosperity that people would have only dreamed of in the forties and fifties. And today we take those things for granted.

In the midst of last century a typical home was around 1200 square feet. About half of what most of us live in today.

Almost everyone today has a cell phone - even the homeless.  And our phones today, with their internet connections, give us access to more data than Bill Clinton had when he was president.

Families usually have more than one television, a magical device that didn't show up until the early fifties.

I lead with this stuff to make a point about something that hasn't changed. And what hasn't changed is that we humans have the idea that we'll be happier with more of something.  A better car.  Job.  House. Clothing.  Education.

And that's the way it was back then also.  And I was one of the guilty ones who thought life would be better if I just had more stuff.  Money.  Girlfriend.  Freedom. Etc.  I was no different than anyone else.

But today, being over 32 years in recovery, I have a different outlook.  At least most of the time.

Today I realize that this moment is where I can be happy.  Not tomorrow.  Not in the good old days.  But right now.

I decided a few years ago that I was going to enjoy the journey and stop thinking of the destination.

Does that mean we shouldn't strive to better ourselves?  No.  Does that mean we shouldn't anticipate our next vacation?   Of course not,  that's half the pleasure in life: anticipation.

But when these thoughts keep me from enjoying this slice of time God has given me, that's not okay.

It's fun to not hurry and enjoy the scenery along the way.  And I don't want to miss any of it.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Remaining Calm

Sometimes it's difficult for us addicts to remain calm and peaceful when it seems the world is on a path to self-destruction and collapsing around us.  

Fighting in Ukraine and Israel.  Inflation raising the cost of everything.  Homeless people proliferating in our biggest cities.  An abundance of negative drama in the media.  And it might seem hard to stay serene because we don't do what we used to - which was to medicate ourselves.

Drugs.  Alcohol.  Whatever it took to numb our brains and desensitize us.  When I was high nothing mattered.  Not wars.  Not $5.00 a gallon gas.  High interest rates and food costs.  My attitude was "So what?"  When my brain was numb none of it mattered.

However, today we can't use substances to stay calm.  All that happens if we use is that we further destroy our lives and things get more complicated.  But there are healthy things we can do.

For openers, we can start by talking to our sponsor.  After all, most of the issues and drama that we encounter in our recovery is something our sponsor has already dealt with.  A sponsor with any kind of time has answers and suggestions to help keep us on track.

And something that works for me personally is a workout.  A good run on the elliptical or 45 minutes with the weights can pump calming endorphins into my system - and endorphins are more powerful than opiates without the dangers of overdosing.

Another personal favorite is meditation.  I do 30 minutes each morning when I first awake. A recent study at Oxford University in England showed that 15 minutes of daily Mindfulness meditation is 20 percent more effective than depression medications.  And with no side effects.

So there are safe places to turn when things get tough.  We just need to be willing to use them.

Click here to email John

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Finding Gratitude

Imagine you wake up in the morning and find that armed terrorists are smashing in your front door with rifle butts.

The next thing you know, you and your family are pushed to the floor, and your hands are secured behind your back with plastic ties.  You are frozen in terror as your family is brutalized and screamed at before being executed before your eyes one by one.  Maybe you are the only one to survive, because you are being taken hostage into unknown territory to be held for ransom by savage animals.

While this may be something extreme for you to imagine, it was the unspeakable horror for many families in southern Israel this past weekend.

I bring up this example because many of us sometimes have trouble finding something to be grateful for – especially in early recovery.  But if we only look at the lives we lead in this state and in our country we can find many things to be grateful for.  In spite of political turmoil in our own country, we have a great deal of security in our lives, compared to the events the Israelis experienced this last Saturday. That alone is something to be grateful for.

This blog is not long enough for me to list the many things that I'm grateful for.  But I can be grateful for such mundane things as having enough to eat, employment, an automobile, and a roof over my head.  Yet at times I hear recovering alcoholics and addicts whine about the most basic things.

And I understand this. Because 32 years ago I was in new recovery myself. And I had this attitude of feeling sorry for myself at times. I would whine about poor me. What did I do to deserve this? Doesn't the world know who I am?

But today, with the perspective of having many years of recovery behind me, I'm grateful when I wake up in the morning and can open my eyes.  I'm grateful for my job.  I'm grateful for my friends.  I'm grateful for the people I love and the people who love me.  I'm grateful that I have my family back in my life – something that wasn't true when I first got sober.

My counsel to anyone reading this is to take an inventory of what you're grateful for.  You'll find many things – some of them minor and seemingly inconsequential – that maybe you haven't noticed before.

But these little things are the grist of our lives, the things that make up our very existence.  The things that make a life in sobriety so beautiful.  

Click here to email John

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Anger punishes Us

"You will not be punished for your anger.  You will be punished by your anger"  -Buddha

Anger's an acceptable emotion for some in early recovery.   It sends a clear message that pushes others away.   At the same time it raises blood pressure, creates stress and turmoil, and halts effective communication.  Carried to an extreme it may result in violence.

In the early days so many TLC clients were angry, that we started an anger management class for newcomers.  Clients don't move to the next level until they complete the class.

The Buddha was correct when he said we're punished not for our anger, but by our anger.  I've seldom seen a good outcome when one becomes angry.  Even though it's a common weapon in the arsenal of those who've been locked up or who've lived in the streets.

A more effective tool in dealing with others is kindness and compassion.  Yes, once in a while someone might think I'm a chump or a pushover because I'm nice.  But who cares?  Never once have I gotten in trouble by being kind or compassionate.

My experience is that kindness and compassion in place of anger results in good karma.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Respecting Everyone

Every so often someone is sent to my office because they can't get along with their co-workers on one of the outside crews.

They argue.  They put one another down.  They talk about the other person's lack of skill.  They don't know how to do the job right.  They have a lot of reasons for not getting along.

When I ask why they have this communication problem they say they don't know.  They can't keep their mouth shut.  They lose patience.  They get frustrated and blow up.  Or they rationalize and blame it on the other person.

Usually I tell them I'm surprised when I hear about their poor communication.  Because when they talk to me they're polite.  They're respectful.  And they're gentlemen.  And when they're around me we always get along.

My point is that they can control how they speak to others.  The same skills that let them get along with one in authority is the same skill that will help them get along with anyone.

If we treat others as if they're the most important person in the world we'll likely never have a communication problem.  That's because most everyone responds to respect and kindness.

If we talk to everyone like we talk to the so-called "important" people we'll be much further along in life.  And we won’t be fighting or arguing with anyone.

Remember, we all like to feel important.  And respect if one way to make others feel that way.

Monday, October 2, 2023

We Quit Fighting

The 12-step programs tell us to cease fighting.  And that means anyone or anything.

I'm reminded of this when a man at a meeting tells of his encounter with a rude driver in a parking lot.

He became angry when the driver beat him to a parking spot.

While he immediately found another space, he had visions of kicking the guy's ass.

But on later reflection he realized his anger served no purpose. It just left him upset.

As we grow in recovery we learn new ways of thinking.  We learn to relate to others without anger.  Without upsetting ourselves because people don't do what we want.

When we first come into the rooms - and I was one of those people - we think everything’s about us.  It's me me me and my my my.  It's all about us and we know everything will be okay if the world would just do what I need it to do.

But after we stick around a while we realize we're just another speck on the planet.  That there are 8 billion or so other people who are as important as we are.

As we move on in recovery we become kinder and more understanding of others. Instead of pushing them aside or getting angry, we show compassion.

As we give them compassion we add to the spiritual dimension to our recovery