Archive for category The Life of Brian

An Old Man’s Mistakes

“Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young…”

- Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As they say, we don’t get to recovery on a winning streak. In the first step I admitted my problem: I was powerless over alcohol; my life had become unmanageable. The solution to my problem was a power greater than myself. I cleared away the defects of character which blocked me from accessing this power. Today my life has meaning and purpose. I have faith that I don’t face my troubles alone.

While I’ve found myself quite accepting of the fact that my life is unmanageable, as a parent of teenage children I haven’t been so willing to accept that I can’t control my children’s lives. I can ensure they have food, shelter and video games ( aren’t those Maslov’s most fundamental needs?) but I can’t direct their decisions or mold their attitudes to match mine. From the heart of a parent’s love I want to protect them from all the mistakes I made. I try to loan them my experience but they want their own and this brings me to Dumbledore’s quote.

I must remember that my experiences have meaning to me only because they are mine. I can’t forget that I also rejected my parent’s advice. Only knew what was best for me. Only I could see the truth that others couldn’t. I’m learning that I can’t make my children know how age thinks or feels. They must learn in their own way and that is often painful for me and for them. I would do anything to save them the pain and anguish of adolescence but I can’t.

All I can give my children is unconditional love. As painful as it is to watch them mature what they need most from me isn’t my experience or lectures. It is my acceptance of them as individuals of value. It is the love that only a parent feels; the love that can soothe their mistakes without judgement and encourages them to keep growing.

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Did you see that?

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

- Anais Nin

 When I am spiritually sick and self-centered it is no surprise that I feel life doesn’t treat me well. Even if I stop drinking I still see life through alcoholic eyes unless I treat the spiritual malady at the heart of my alcoholism. Only then, with the humility and gratitude that comes from the reduction of my self-centeredness. am I able to find freedom and serenity. When I accept myself as I am, I am able to accept life as it is.

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Get a life…

Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk 1915 - 1968The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.

- Thomas Merton

Sure, I had heard about spirituality and living a spiritual life but I paid little attention to it. What could it possibly have to do with me? What could it do for me that I couldn’t do for myself? As the consequences of my addictive behaviors grew and swept away everything I thought I had accomplished I felt a deep hopelessness and despair. I truly understood the phrase ‘incomprehensible demoralization’, used in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous provided me with the tools to begin living this spiritual life which is the solution to my problem.

The 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual program of action, not a program of study or discussion. Going to meetings and talking about recovery is not sufficient. The spiritual principles I experience when working Steps 1 – 9 must continue to be put into action in Steps 10 – 12. This is a daily process of being present in each moment in a spiritual way. My humility, gratitude, tolerance and love exist only in this moment, not yesterday and not tomorrow but right here, right now. Contrary to a sometimes misunderstood term used in AA these are not spiritual tools laid at my feet to be used when times are tough. They become part of me, of who I am, to be used in every and all aspects of my life. They are my life; my spiritual life.

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That’s What I Thought…

All that we are is the result of what we have thought.

- Buddha

On page 23 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous it states, “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.”  Later on page 64 it states, ” When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” Our faulty, self-centered thinking, the unmanageable emotions that drive our hurtful behaviors and the damning self-talk that keeps us in shame and despair are spiritual problems needing a spiritual solution. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual plan of action that will result in an awakened, growing spirit and a design for living that really works. 

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“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

 - John Lennon

I  have always been driven to take charge and take action by situations that didn’t satisfy me or weren’t part of my ‘other plans’. What drove me were the hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity mentioned in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. My plans invariably used self-delusion and self-seeking to protect me from the fear and self-pity caused by my demands that life meet my terms. All they accomplished instead was an isolation from the moment, an insulation from reality.

What I’ve learned by working the steps with my sponsor and practicing the principles is that I’m not in charge and every uncomfortable feeling doesn’t need to be fixed because it isn’t broken. I can make my plans and isolate myself from the world around me or I can open my eyes, see life before it passes me by and accept my feelings as part of my humanness. Once I start relying on a Power greater than myself, trusting that I’m safe and protected, I can experience the fullness of a life lived awake.

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“I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother and I found all three …”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The results of a scientific, 10 year study recently published in a special issue of the journal ‘Substance Abuse’ finds that recovering alcoholics who help others in 12-Step programs furthers their own time sober, consideration for others, step-work and long term meeting attendance. Wow! No sh*t? More than 10 years ago an AA speaker named Don P., from Denver, CO said that if you wanted to get closer to God, get closer to his children. This idea is well known to any newcomer with a sponsor. It is the foundation for the AA program of recovery. Throughout the book it is suggested that the reason we work the steps is to have a spiritual experience which allows for an entire psychic change. Being spiritually fit we are able to help others. By helping others we enlarge our spiritual life. This is a design for living that works.

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“Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear.”

- Alcoholics Anonymous, page 84.

With that simple sentence, the book Alcoholics Anonymous begins our instructions for Step 10. This is the ‘design for living’ that allows us to find contentment in our life without drinking. Nearly 2,000 years ago early Christians living in the deserts of Egypt, the Desert Fathers, discovered the same thing. “Pay attention to yourself!” Having faced our reality honestly in Step 1, we admitted our problem (lack of power). In Step 2 we came to believe there was a solution (more power). In Step 3 we made a commitment to give this solution a chance by making a decision to live a spiritual life. These last two steps arise from the desperation of finally realizing just how dire our situation is. Without help we are lost. In Steps 4 – 9 we learn the skills necessary to practice our ‘design for living’: With the help of our sponsor and our faith in a Higher Power we fearlessly make an inventory of character defects and the faulty attitudes and beliefs that have driven our actions for a lifetime. We become willing to be transformed by asking for help in removing these shortcomings. We humbly go to those we had harmed and do what we can to fix our mistakes.

Having begun the process of removing those things that block us from living in the Spirit we continue to use these tools daily as we walk through life. Not just at night. We need to remain present to our lives and pay attention to our thoughts, our attitudes, our emotions and our actions as we go. It is difficult. The patterns we have developed during our life are often deeply ingrained. So we practice, knowing that we will make mistakes. Eventually, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, things change. These practices become our new way of life. They become part of who we are and intuitive. We discover that living a spiritual life is as simple as paying attention.

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Creating More Space

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocost survivor. He is the author of ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’.

Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

- Viktor Frankl

The response I have to a stimulus is an emotion. Based on this emotion I formulate an action. My emotions cause me to act. If my emotions were painful or shameful I would feel a sense of unease, or, from the book Alcoholics Anonymous ‘…restless, irritable and discontented.’  I would act to avoid them. Eventually, my only solution to avoid these feelings was the use of drugs and alcohol. Once I employed that solution I developed a physical craving which became paramount to all other needs and I lost the ability to control my consumption.

Dr. Frankl’s quote above points to the heart of my recovery. I needed more power. That power could be found deep within myself if I would only remove what obscures it from my life. I view Dr. Frankl’s ‘space’ as my spiritual nature; that place at the center of my being where lies a Divine power. Uncovering the true nature of that space allow’s God’s grace, guidance and strength to become part of my life. I know that if I continue to enlarge my spiritual life, this ‘space’,  I will not return to the old emotions that drove my actions and I will not need my old solution.

The 12 Steps of recovery are a spiritual plan of action. By trying to live the principles of these steps in all areas of my life and by desiring to help others unselfishly, my ‘space’ continues to grow resulting in a spiritual life of meaning, purpose and inner happiness. 

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The Rainmaker


A Chinese village is besieged by drought and unless there is rain quite quickly, the village is going to starve to death. They have tried everything they know. They have tried all their local people so they finally decide to send for the famous rainmaker.  The great rainmaker is summoned from a very great distance; he consents to come. He comes to the village and he asks immediately: Please build me a straw hut outside the village and give me enough food and water for five days … and don’t disturb me! They do this quickly. The little hut is built and he disappears into it and on the fourth day it rains, just in time to save the village.

The villagers went to the hut, they drag the rainmaker out of the hut blinking into the light, give him his fee and pour all of the gifts that they can upon him. An enormous outpouring of gratitude for he has indeed saved the village.

One man came to him and said: How do you do it? What is the ceremony that you do that makes it rain? The rainmaker said: Oh! You must understand … you see when I came to your village, I was so out of sorts inside myself that I had to put things right inside myself and I never got to the rainmaking ceremony.

Alcoholics Anonymous states on page 64 states, “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” My life runs much smoother and events seem to happen as they are supposed to when I am spiritually aligned with my Higher Power, all without any additional effort on  my part. In this story the rainmaker travels to the village and  feels he is not aligned with the Tao. He spends 3 or 4 days in meditation to align himself and events seem to happen as they should…it rains. This occurs without additional effort by the rainmaker as he never gets to the rainmaking ceremony. 

This was a favorite story of Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist. He saw it as an example of his theory of Synchronicity which is the study of meaningful coincidences, or acausal relationships. I have experienced these meaningful coincidences throughout my recovery. Many others have as well. I hear them referred to as “God Shots” in meetings. Amazingly and against all odds the right person seemingly appears out of nowhere to help when no one else can. Or events occur in a highly unlikely pattern to present you with exactly what you need. The person you haven’t thought of in 10 years bumps into you at Walmart with a message of hope only he/she could deliver.

I accept these unlikely occurrences as part of my recovery and a testament to the fact that there is more to life than I understand. I’ll let greater minds than mine, like Dr. Jung’s, to try and figure it out with theories and experiments. I’ll just keep doing the best I can to stay in alignment with my Higher Power’s will and let it rain if it is supposed to.

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The Power of Secrets


Keeping secrets feeds shame into the addictive cycle and maintains the conditions that lead to relapse and acting out. The power of secrets fades when they are shared with trusted others. For me this began with Step 5 in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. It continues with building my trust in others through participation in the lives of those I love and care about. By sharing my experiences, my shaming secrets, with others I was able to turn my shame into an asset and realize one of the most powerful promises in Alcoholics Anonymous:

“No matter how far down the scale we have gone we will see how our experience can benefit others.” – Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84. Read the rest of this entry »

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