The End of the World! …not really

When we speak of humility, that elusive quality of character, we often speak of accepting ourselves as we are.  We speak of downplaying ego and of selflessness.  Humility also has something to do with how we react to what is happening around us. It isn’t just a quality on how we see ourselves, but also how we respond to our world.  It is keeping things in proportion.

Humility is keeping things in proper perspective.  It’s not exaggerating about what is happening in our lives, not bragging about how great we are, nor is it commiserating about how bad things are.  How we love to exaggerate. To quote Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” For most of us, before we got into our twelve step program, there were high highs and low lows.  Seldom did we find ourselves balanced anywhere near the center. And we loved to tell everyone just how good it is, how much money we made, where we lived, who we were married to.  Or, we droned on about how life had done us wrong, how bad things were going at work, how that SOB was going to get what’s coming to him. It was either the best or the worst but rarely a happy medium.  How do we get to that balance?  We give ourselves over to humility.

Humility is that quality that reminds us that we can deal with anything; those things we like and those which challenge us.  It reminds us that we are not alone in life, that we have a Higher Power guiding us and friends around us we can count upon. We learn that we can make it through everything. We can ask ourselves: was it really a bad day, or was it 15 minutes that I milked for the rest of the day?

I remember when I first started teaching.  Managing a full classroom of ten year olds, trying to prepare and present lessons, keeping the principle and parents happy were way beyond my limited experience at the job.  If one thing happened that I wasn’t expecting, say a half an hour before the final bell, suddenly the whole day was a fiasco.  It was the worst day ever. It would be better if I quit now and worked at KFC.  Well, that was my scenario, more or less.  But no, it wasn’t the worst day ever, it was a small thing that I let colour my perspective on the whole day.  I can see now I was operating with plenty of egocentric pride and hardly a speck of humility. Ego and humility cannot exist together. When I claim I’m a humble person, I’ve just let my ego take over.

How grateful I am to learn that I can make it through everything.  I am quite fond of saying that it’s not the end of the world until it’s the end of the world!  I have a Higher Power and I will always get through whatever comes my way, until I don’t make it. And then it won’t matter. Meanwhile I choose to live while I am alive and not wallow in hiding for fear that things might not go the way I want them to go. Besides, in spite of my desire to have it so, it isn’t all about me.  I’m not the only one involved here in this game of life. The world happens.  The world happened before I arrived and will probably keep on long after I’m gone. Humility reminds me that I’m not that important in the big picture.

Someday, I hope to become the guy my dogs think I am. Until that time, I keep working away at changing for the better: remembering that I am just another of the creatures on this earth doing the best I can with what I am given each day.

 

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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Peace