In Recovery I Have Learned That My Life Has Value

For many years my life in addiction was surreal. It was dreamlike—and a very bad one at times. As I look back at those days I realize that a fundamental part of the problem was that I didn’t take my life very seriously. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time but the fact remains that my behavior demonstrated clearly that I wasn’t taking seriously the valuable gift of life I had been given.

I took extraordinary risks that put me and others in jeopardy.

And yet, amongst the chaos and insanity of my addiction I still had an expectation that the world should take me seriously—as though I had some unique and special insight about life. I was delusional. At the center of this delusion was the loss of any connection to a greater purpose within the world around me. I had become an outsider to the world, beastly in my primary concern for meeting my own hedonistic desires and needs. Addiction had taken over my sensibility, the understanding and acceptance of my validity and place in relation to others that allowed me to remain connected to life. In the midst of the confusion resided the fateful knowledge of the unspoken truth of my loss of personhood and its ultimate undercurrent of death. An implicit yet unstated awareness of the direction I was headed and its inevitable end result.

Despite all my claims of “living large” or enjoying the “high life” I knew that in fact I was dying.

The dualism of this reality, the veneer of an outrageous party lifestyle and false freedom of lawlessness could never reconcile with the tragedy of my undeniable downward spiral. In those dark desperate and lonely moments of clarity the dread of my addiction cut past the bravado of my rhetoric and coldly grasped my heart with the clammy hands of doom. In recovery I’ve learned that until I take my life seriously, valuing how I conduct myself, certainly no one else will—or should. The acceptance of the spiritual reality of my life in the greater scheme of the world helps me place a value on how I live each day. It forces me to review and come to grips with the ultimate question of how I choose to live given that my death is inevitable. It drives me towards an acceptance and understanding of a vitally important truth. I am, in my brief life, an important custodian and participant within the great cycle of humanity and that my contributions, no matter how minor I perceive them to be, truly do matter.

An excerpt from “A Year of Days” – July 16

Self-Esteem and Integrity is Built Slowly and Deliberately in Recovery

I clearly remember at age fifteen the first time that someone told me I was “burning the candle at both ends.” I’d never heard the expression before and wasn’t sure how I felt about it being applied to me—but I could see their point. That is what I was doing and it seemed exciting and clever, the prerogative of youth perhaps, but in the back of my mind I was concerned about my candle running out too soon. That perhaps I was off track and foolishly misusing or wasting my life. Of course at age fifteen I didn’t give it too much thought and quickly chose to live large now and that I’d figure out these deeper questions later. After all, I was having too much fun to stop now. The postponement of these sorts of important questions about how I choose to live my life was ultimately central to my later addiction. Looking back now I can see how I was trying, even then, to fit more, more, more, into each day. I was frantically pursuing more than normal, more than my share, and I could rarely get enough.

My life was all sizzle and no steak and it became a meaningless maze of chasing things that brought nothing of lasting value.

Recovery has shown me the valuable pleasure of a simple day done well. It has shown me how to live carefully and with a purposeful meaning that allows each day to contribute to something larger. “Slow and steady wins the race” was another one of those sayings that I dismissed without ever fully understanding and today I am glad to have been able to find the truth it contains.

My addictive mind still wants to make things happen childishly fast. Now! Now!

But the experience of recovery has shown me that the self-esteem and integrity of a good life is only built slowly and deliberately. Each day has small lessons and gifts of spiritual understanding that are available to me if I slow down enough to receive them. Today as I look back on the dramatic changes that recovery has brought into my life I can see that it all happened in part because I learned how to live one good day at a time.

An excerpt from the book A Year of Days – April 22

Caretaking, Enmeshment, & Victimhood in Recovery

The recognition of how I can play the role of caretaker of others in my life links to a paired sense of being the suffering victim—and was a difficult but very important insight for me to grasp and understand. Once I was able to see and accept the message it was very helpful and lifted a huge weight from me.

The burden of caretaking others—something I did far too often over the years—put me in a cycle that my inner-addict relished.

I tried so hard to create the fictional reality I wanted for myself but when things didn’t work out I felt underappreciated and misunderstood. My thinking turned to being the victim as I cradled thoughts like; “I gave up so much” or “I must not be good enough” or “life is SO unfair!” And so then of course I deserved to have my vices—after all I had earned them! Once I understood this pattern of behavior and was able to accept its truth in my life it became clear that it had been distorting my relations with others for years. Learning to no longer play God by trying to control others using a blinded disguise of caring, helping, or saving them—and then later playing victim around the failed results—has been very powerful and changed my life. I have learned the freedom of knowing that only I am responsible for how I chose to feel.

As a healthy grown man no one “makes me” feel a certain way.

I am not a victim controlled by a false sense of the power of others or the outside world. Instead I am in charge of my inside world and my own thinking. By learning to have integrity within myself I can allow others close to me. I can allow them to be who they are without it being a reflection on me or some kind of extension of who I am. Today I am in the “sunlight of the spirit”* and that simple truth allows me to walk through each day knowing that life, and my place in it, is enough.

An excerpt from the book A Year of Days – March 14

 

* Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. 4th ed. New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001. P. 66.

 

Living Life Fully in Recovery

February 28 – an excerpt from the book A Year of Days

The program of recovery has opened many new doors for me. My life is much fuller and I participate in more activities, both new and old, that demonstrate to me that I am really living life today. Before, life was living me and it was a constant battle as I fought my way along a narrow and dark canyon of harsh and lonely addiction. Being able to come up and out of that trap of despair and into the real world is exciting and rewarding. It can also be very difficult and painful at times but I understand today that this is a part of the process of life.

I don’t run and hide from life’s difficulties—instead I stand and face them with the help of my Higher Power and other people.

The ability to explore my place in the world and to participate in it stems from the self-discovery and strength that recovery has given me. Having honesty, integrity, and faith gives me confidence and purpose and a sense of value and worth that ultimately allows me to accept my eligibility for all that human life offers. Because of my choices today I am no longer cut off by a feeling of not being good enough. My understanding of myself, who I can be, and what my life can become, has grown, changed, and continues to evolve.

There will be many more choices in life for me as I continue my own spiritual growth.

As an addict I always wanted more of something that could never be attained. Today, the steps continue to show me how to live in a way that brings me more of the wide range of life’s possibilities, opportunities and rewards. I no longer fear or feel unworthy of taking my place in life and redeem my eligibility for the options and choices in front of me today.

 

Understanding My Anger in Recovery

February 20

The role of anger in my life is an interesting, yet painful, subject for review. Perhaps skipping the maturation process from youth to adult because of my early addiction is one reason. Perhaps my experience with addiction itself is another. For whatever reason, my anger and temper was often explosive and all consuming. Some of the consequences of that anger remain with me today, relieved by the daily practice of acceptance and a willingness to seek forgiveness. In the past, unresolved issues of anger seemed to lurk and bubble just under the surface, often emerging suddenly and excessively. For many years it was like that. My relationships with people close to me suffered from my inability to express anger in a healthy way. I would withhold and repress my feelings. They would grow and seethe within me until exploding all at once. In recovery I’ve learned that pain, fear, anger, and resentment are often all linked together like the layers of an onion.

I can never escape the pain of life, but I can learn how to express my fear and anger in a healthy way that prevents it from settling into a resentment that resides inside my mind and soul—poisoning my life.

When experiencing anger, I have the choice to do the real work to find a resolution, or instead hold onto it, harbor it, nurture it and suffer it. Learning how to express and discuss my feelings of anger, instead of basking in my own self-inflicted misery, increases my ability to have compassion and empathy for those I am angry with.

The process has shown me how suffering is not a valid way of showing I care—it is more of a mysterious form of addiction.

It is a great reminder of the truth I know today, that I am a grown up and not a child, and no one else “makes me” feel a certain way. I chose my response to life—no one else does, ever.

(An excerpt from the book A Year of Days)

Today I Have Nothing to Hide

For many years, living with addiction meant I was living various roles that I would act out. Living a double life for so long meant that I really lost myself as the substance abuse continued to further blur the lines between reality and my own delusions. In fact, because I started so young I never found my true self and instead became many shallow versions of the man I thought would be best for the moment.

In recovery, learning that it’s ok to be me is a hard thing when I don’t know who “me” is. As I sobered up it felt like I was a stranger to myself, perhaps like a sort of amnesia of the spirit and soul. It took building and participating in honest friendships, working the steps a few times, and gaining some insight about myself and God in order to clear the insane thinking. Only then was I was able to begin to learn about who and what I really am and who I want to be. The process has freed me from that constant subtle fear I used to have.

Today I have nothing to hide.

It is ok for me to be me and I’m no longer a stranger to myself or ashamed of whom I am. By becoming vulnerable to the truth, with myself and close friends, I have gained a tremendously strong and peaceful clarity of mind and spirit. The journey of self-discovery, and the resulting insight it provides, always takes place in the efforts of today that help me understand my past and guide my future.

Life is much easier when I’m not constantly trying to figure out who I should pretend to be.

Instead, I can have the trust and faith to just be me, safe and secure in the knowledge that just being me is all that is ever really required. I have found an entirely new type of freedom as a result of the ongoing self-discovery of my work in recovery. It has brought me an increased understanding and insight of who I am and what I stand for in life. It has given me self-assurance—a comfortable sense of knowing myself. When I speak and live my beliefs honestly there is a simple truth and acceptance about how it feels

Today, the privacy I enjoy within my own self is a calm peaceful space where I can sit with my Higher Power and enjoy the comfort of having my own valid place in the world. I am relieved of the excessive concern about the opinions of others because I am truly at home with myself.

 

 

(Post inspired by the January 30 entry in ‘A Year of Days’).

Today I Face Fear with Faith

1/16/17

One of the first things I learned about in recovery was the link between fear and faith. Over the years it continues to be a source of insight, comfort, and spiritual growth.

In active addiction I could find no respite or relief from the fear that drove my insane thinking and actions. One of the things I feared the most was recovery—and the reality of facing life on life’s terms without the escape-hatch of inebriation and delusion. One day I realized that my old life will always be available to me if I want it back and that the truth of my hesitation was a fear that I wouldn’t be good enough for the new life recovery offered. That I would fail.

There is a strong relationship between fear and faith. My understanding of that relationship often finds daily relevance in my desire to control people, places, and things. It happens without me thinking about it or realizing I’m doing it and is a stark reminder of my frequent lack of faith and underlying fears. When I am trying to control life and run the show myself I am usually fearful at some base level and afraid that things won’t work out well—or in the way I want them to.

Fear remains a common foe in my daily effort to live and grow spiritually. It is very often the root cause of my agitation or discomfort. Sometimes when I pause and remember to think about what I am fearful about in my problems or struggles I can quickly identify what particular thing is causing my discomfort. Other times it’s not clear exactly what I’m in fear of—but it is enough to simply recognize and acknowledge the feeling. When I am stuck in fear I often preclude God’s chance to show me new solutions.

Ultimately, when I have slipped away from faith and into fear it is because I have lost sight of my ability to trust in or accept the results that my Higher Power will provide.

An honest connection with a Higher Power opened the door to the arrival of faith in my life. Faith rides with me on the horse of my actions in life and allows me to seek the help of God and my friends because I’ve nothing held back—nothing hidden that causes shame or guilt. Acceptance, and ultimately transcendence, of life’s fears is easier when I’m properly prepared and supported. Fear becomes a much more natural part of my living and less likely to control or propel me in ways I don’t see or understand.

The idea of replacing fear with faith is fairly simple but learning how to put it into practice regularly, and thoroughly, has taken many years. The first stage is recognizing when my actions are being motivated by fear and then understanding in what way I am trying to control an outcome. Seeing how my faith and ability to trust work together enables me to remain connected to God’s plan for me and allows me to step back from my own desire to take charge and force my will into the world around me.

Slowly I began to experience how the gifts of recovery accumulate in ways that build and increase my faith. As I faced the inevitable challenges of life and got through them I added another “win” to the faith column. Each of these wins helped overcome the sense of fear and doubt that was rooted in my addictive past.

These experiences showed that when I weathered the storm of today I would always return again to the calm sunshine of tomorrow.

Today it is the attraction of recovery rather than the fear of the consequences of addiction that keeps me excited and eager to participate. I’ve learned that I need only the courage to face today and can let the fear of the future and the pains of the past remain where they are. The spiritual awakening provided by the process of recovery frees me from the trap of ruining my present with fears about the past or future and connects me to something larger than myself. Instead of the fear and worry about what others are thinking and doing, I am able to know what I am thinking and believe in. Today I follow a path guided by a security of faith and spiritual belonging rather than the isolated longing and fearful worries of addictive thinking.

Ultimately, recovery asks that I demonstrate through example how faith has changed my life. The daily commitment to faith in the relationship with my Higher Power shows me how to find the value of my entire life within the journey of a single day—today.

The “Inside Job” of Finding a Higher Power

 

It has taken time and regular effort for me to develop a relationship with a Higher Power, a God I understand and can relate to. In early recovery, I struggled for a long time to gain a truly valid connection to a power greater than myself. Yes, time takes time, but at some point I realized it had become real. It had to become both honest and also be one of the most important things in my life.

It wasn’t until I was able to be honest and true to my Higher Power that I was able to achieve any meaningful spiritual growth.

Today that relationship is always within me and I have peace and faith in my place in the world around me today because of it. It has shown me how to enjoy and find meaning in life through participating in relationships with others. It reminds me to be aware of the folly of trying to possess things that can’t be possessed.

It has helped highlight the futility of trying to find happiness through consumerism and controlling others.

The gift of a relationship with a Higher Power has enabled me to learn how to find the peace I used to seek always in outside things and instead realize how lasting and sustainable happiness can only be found through the pursuit of inside things. It is a powerful truth that by turning my will and life over to a power greater than myself I have found a tremendous freedom and joy within myself. The “inside job” of recovery truly began for me only when I became able to trust and have faith in an outside source.

 

An excerpt from the book A Year of Days (12/25)

If Not Today, Then When? – Today is where my recovery is always found.

There are some things in life that move only in one direction or the other, where there is no middle ground or resting point. Either I am taking good care of my health or I am becoming less healthy. Either I am becoming more honest or I am continuing to justify being dishonest.

It is also like this with my spiritual condition.

I must take action each day in my efforts to be a spiritual man. I often think of paddling a canoe up river. As long as I keep paddling I continue to make progress but if I stop then the river slowly brings me back the way I came. While of course there are days when I am very busy pursuing my interests and activities—living the life that I have been granted—I am still very conscious of how spirituality undergirds it all.

My recovery is not a separate activity that I perform in the morning like the dishes and then move onto the rest of the day.

It is part of all my day, evident in my thinking, words, and actions—in how I show up in the lives of others. It is found in the actions of my daily living rather than the stories I tell myself or others. For me today, putting my recovery first in life has become simply living my life spiritually. It cannot be separated or parsed out of my living and requires taking regular meaningful action to keep it active and vibrant. It is part of the daily behavior of my living. Sometimes I behave better than other days but it is always present in some form because I can no longer leave it behind.

If my living of life is truly comprised only of today, then today is the day I must live well—If not today, then when?

(An excerpt from the book A Year of Days – 12/20)

 

 

“Each of us must drink from our own unique cup of life” – The role of detatchment in recovery

The idea of “detachment” in recovery is perhaps not well served by such a clinical name. It sounds cold and quite standoffish. As I have worked to understand and practice detachment in my relationships I’ve found that it brings me closer to people in powerful and meaningful ways. It is a vital part in my true participation and helpfulness in other people’s lives. For many people in recovery, including myself, relationships with others were typically codependent and enmeshed because of over-attachment and a lack of proper boundaries.

I can’t help someone else find their truth by giving them mine and denying them the chance to develop their own.

Understanding that we are each alone with our own understanding of God in our journey in life means I can stand with you but not be a part of you. Nor can I make you a part of me.

Each of us must drink from our own unique cup of life.

This insight has also provided a framework for understanding how my own desire to control others works. It has helped me become able to accept people for the way they are now rather than hoping, expecting, or “helping them” become something I think they should be. Playing God in the lives of others while ignoring his role in my own life was a chronic problem during my years in addiction and it continues to be subtle area of opportunity that I get to work on in recovery. I am increasingly able to step back from my desire to ‘mansplain’ the world to others in ways that disguise my desire to control as help.

(An excerpt from the book A Year of Days – 12/13)