Connecting with Spirit

Reconnecting with my Higher Power is the most important part of my recovery.  When I came to the meeting rooms it was to get rid of my addiction, not to be prostletized.  In fact I stayed away from twelve step groups for more than two years because I wanted nothing to do with God, religion, or Christianity.  I tried counseling, meditation, acupuncture and even my own willpower to get clean and sober but nothing worked.  Not for long anyway.  I knew I had to do something to make a change. I was desperate enough that even though I feared I might end up under the thumb of some bible thumping, born-again fundamentalist, I went to that first meeting. That’s how beaten down I was.

I found, very soon, was that my preconceptions were unfounded. I didn’t have to believe any set of rules or dogmas,  bow to any statues or light candles while chanting. I was given suggestions.  In the second step I “…came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.”  It was a gradual thing, this opening up to something other than myself.  I heard others in the room speak about their experiences with their higher power.  It didn’t have to be the God I grew up with.  It could be anything that had a power greater than me.  And, at that point, there were a lot of things that had plenty of power over me including my addiction, alcohol and drugs.  I learned that I could choose my own my higher power, a ‘God of my understanding’.

Gradually I changed my focus to some sort of a spiritually based power.  Gradually I began to form a connection with something greater than me.  I didn’t really understand what I was doing, but I was told to do and I was beaten down enough by that irrepressible demoralization I have spoken of before, that I did what I was told.  I was told to ‘act as if’.  Act as if I were happy, act as if I were sober, act as if I liked who I was, act as if I was connected to my higher power.  At first, I felt like a fraud.  I felt I was pretending to be something or someone I wasn’t.  But it was explained to me that we all do that when we start anything new.  When we begin a new job, we act as if we know what we are doing.  When we go to a new social situation we act as if we are cool, suave and in control even though we have no idea of the dynamics of the people around us. And, gradually we do learn and we can stop ‘acting as if’, because we finally know.

That is how it was with me and that new Higher Power I found through the program. Gradually I started to want serenity, courage and wisdom.  Gradually I wanted to talk to that Higher Power, though it was more of  a one sided chat at first, I continued.  And gradually I began to see results; the main one being that I was sober for the first time in years. I wasn’t made to believe, I came to believe. Gradually that connection to my Higher Power was made.  And finally, I came the realization that my Higher Power always has been connected to me, is with me now and will always be with me.  It’s a knowing that I have in my head and feel in my chest.

Oh, I still have times of doubt.  I sometimes wonder if I am talking to a wall.  I still feel lonely at times.  I bristle when people want to say the Our Father at the end of the meeting or I hear some say how Jesus is their higher power.  But I have gradually come to realize that while we walk the same path, we can focus on different things along that path.  Who am I to say that my way is the only way? As long as I don’t think of the guy who stares back at me in the mirror is my higher power, then I have a good chance of staying sober.

It is only in step one that alcohol and drugs are mentioned.  Where as a higher power, God,  a power greater than oneself is mentioned in six of the steps.  So I find it ironic that people talk about the ‘spiritual part’ of the program.  For those who forged the original twelve steps there was no doubt, this is a spiritual program period.  This program is restoring my connection to my Higher Power.  In fact, the twelfth step tells us that if we have worked the previous eleven steps, it will result in a ‘spiritual awakening’: a realization of the connection with something greater than myself that has helped to break that cycle of addiction. We will have exchanged bottled spirits for a spirit that cannot be contained.  I am grateful.



Making the Connection

A while back I heard about a new model to describe addiction.  Basically it states that we become addicted to a substance not because of the substance itself, but because of our lack of connection to our surroundings.  The feelings generated by the substance help us to feel connected, or diminish that desire for connection.  Sobriety happens when we make connections.  This model was based on experiments devised after the US war in Vietnam.  A large percentage of troops were using opioids on a very regular basis, but when they got back home, the didn’t go into withdrawal, or deeper into the drug world, but integrated back into their circle of family and friends.  Yes, there were many who did end up in the streets or V.A. psych wards, but the percentage is relatively small compared to the percentage using on active duty.

I am quite fascinated by this model.  It rings true for me and for my fall into addiction.  I just didn’t feel connected. From a very early age, I felt different from everyone else.  The first small glass of beer I shared with older cousins at the age of six, I remember because I was invited into their circle.  At 12 and 13 I would drink because it helped me feel like I was a part of the ‘group’.  Certainly growing up in a conservative, religious milieu that constantly physically and mentally tortured anyone mildly suspected of being gay did play a role in the development of my addiction.  I rarely felt I fit in, and when I did, I felt sinfully wrong about the whole thing which pushed the cycle of separation further along.

There is no doubt in my mind that when I entered recovery I was very disconnected. My relationship was a house of cards awaiting destruction. I was living 2500 km from my family.  I had few true friends, though I had plenty of barstool buddies.  And I was spiritually bankrupt; there might be a God but we were mutually disinterested in each other.  I had spiralled my way down deeper and deeper in the funnel, moving around faster and faster as I was heading to the hole in the bottom and hoping that it would finally suck the life out of me because I lacked the courage to do it myself.  I was alone, separate and without ties to anything that didn’t get me high.

I am still here over six years later.  Why?  I believe that my Higher Power, in spite of my lack of cooperation, gave me an open door through which I could walk to a new freedom. I knew I was totally alone.  I didn’t feel a connection.  I just wanted oblivion and yet there I was walking into a twelve step meeting.

One of the main things that I found in the program were connections.  First of all, I was invited to return.  I wasn’t receiving any invitations at that time: someone cared enough to invite me back.  I was told to share in the group because I too had a story.  The members listened to me and afterward, talked and offered suggestions on what I might do to feel better and make it through the next 24 hours.  Someone agreed to be a my sponsor and we shared intimate details of our lives.  I heard my past and my feelings in the stories of others as well.  I went through the steps and cleaned up the mess I had made of my past.  I learned how to construct bridges, not how to burn them.  It was all about making those connections with others, with myself and with my Higher Power.

(The re-connection with my Higher Power is a very special one to me and one that deserves a special entry.  I will write about that in the next blog entry.)

By making connections I am now in recovery.  I feel that I am now spiralling upward.  I touch upon many themes over and over again, but each time I feel I have a broader understanding and a greater sense of awe.  I am so grateful that I was given another chance at life.  Certainly I still have my days where I would really like a drink.  But I remember that I never had just ‘one’ drink.  And I remember that there is no problem that getting drunk won’t make worse.  I no longer follow Oscar Wilde’s advice of dealing with temptation by giving into it.  I treasure the connections I have made in my program. I have a model for living that works for me and many others.  I believe it is a model for living that everyone, addict or not, can enjoy. But that is up to you to decide.

If you wish more information on this model of addiction that was my jumping off point today, please check out the TED Talks link here:  Johann Hari’s model of addiction  It is a very enlightening talk.

♥  ♥  ♥

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Real Recovery

In the 82 years since the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous, the granddaddy of all twelve step programs, a lot has changed.  There is generally a better understanding of what addiction is and how one recovers. There are movies as well as series on regular and cable channels in which twelve step groups are depicted, sometimes fairly accurately. One thing however, that seems to remain the same is the idea of what Recovery looks like.  We (including the general public and those who are going in for the first time) think that one goes into a rehab or recovery centre for a month or two and they are cured!  To many people, recovery looks like the illustration below.

recovery arrow

And, it doesn’t.  A far truer representation of recovery is this:

real recovery arrow

Recovery is messy.  It doesn’t last for a month, or two, or a year.  It’s a lifetime commitment to staying clean and sober.  Sometimes we fall off the page and find our way back on, and sometimes, we just drop off and are never heard from again.  It’s a constant struggle to learn new skills, a new design for living that is as strange and foreign to us as using chopsticks for the first time: we understand the concept but we just can’t get our fingers, our minds and the sticks to work together.  Food drops off before we get it to our mouth, we splash our new white shirt, and we just want to go back to what we know.  We drugged and drank because that was what we knew how to do; that is how we had learned to cope with everything. And now we just want to scream out like a newbie in a Chinese restaurant: “Give me a bloody fork now!”  

It takes time.  I recall my first year.  I can see now that I was still certifiably insane.  I owned a business, but didn’t want to answer the phone or open the mail.  It was all I could do to attend to clients, get through the day, make it to a meeting and head to bed early. Once a day I would listen to the phone messages.  And it took a real effort to make myself open an envelope or go to the bank. Just doing regular, normal things that running a business entailed were monumental feats. Oh, and I felt I deserved a medal every day for doing what little I did do, because I was finally acting like a normal human being doing what normal human beings do.  Yup, the elevator wasn’t making it all the way to the top floor.

Like everyone else, I thought that when I went clean everything would be fine, would go back to normal, life would be beautiful and there would be rainbows, and unicorns, and butterflies, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing in the background. Only, I had been out of it for so long that I had no idea what normal life was supposed to be like. I had badly twisted and damaged my mind and that of those around me as well. I still had all of my faults and character flaws and now that I was sober, I was acutely aware of them. Some days weren’t pretty at all.  Early recovery wasn’t what I had expected to it to be.

I am fortunate that I was ready to give myself to the program.  I didn’t want to go back to the irrepressible demoralization that was my life.  But I complained about it. I remember one member asking me at a meeting, “Do you have a sponsor?”  When I said I did, he responded, “I suggest you use him!”  Our program has so many tools that help in early sobriety when everything is so new.  The meetings, home groups, steps, slogans, sponsors, phone lists and just not drinking the first drink were the first tools that I was given.  Gradually I learned to use these tools.

One of the things I learned was that in order to get a year in sobriety I had to go through a whole year in sobriety.  It takes time.  There are plenty of firsts in that first year: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, festivals, outdoor patios, beaches, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the list goes on. Making it through each one of these firsts added to my resolve to continue. My sponsor guided me through the steps, listened to my B.S. and gave me advice from his own experience. When I made it through that first year, I did it all over again, this time knowing that if I could do it once, I can do it again.

There are still plenty of dips and dives in sobriety. But with time, there is more of a balance in my life. I suggest that new members to give themselves time.  It took years reach my bottom and I didn’t climb out of it in a few weeks. Remember the rooms are full of people who will help you to grow and understand and show you how they worked the steps. If recovery were easy everyone would do it.  It takes a decision and dedication to make it through that tangled mess of a life, sober.


♥  ♥  ♥

Please share if you think this blog can help someone.  Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc. or good ol’ copy and paste.  I would appreciate it if you would sign up and follow the blog as well.  My intention is to post Mondays and Thursdays.   Please comment.  I’d love to hear from you.

At the suggestion of a reader I have added a new page to the blog:  Recovery Resources. There’s a Google Translate link to the site on the right sidebar if you prefer to read this or share this in another language.   Let me know of your thoughts and possible additions that might be helpful.  Please share your ideas for future posts.

Once again, please like and share, not to stroke my ego, but for those who need the courage, strength and hope to start and continue their journey down Recovery River.