Expanding Horizons

As the disease of addiction takes over more and more of life, the addict’s world became smaller and smaller. I think that’s the experience of most of us who enter recovery. The one who was the life of the party and the centre of attention imperceptibly changes. He looks to party with people who party like he does, who don’t suggest that he might want to slow down a bit. He finds a bar or a house where he can enjoy his pleasure in peace. Each locale is smaller, in a sketchier neighbourhood and with more of his kind. Gradually even these folks begin to irritate him. He doesn’t want to hang out with a bunch of losers so he holds up in his now tiny apartment or rooming house.

Slowly he has turned into the loner who doesn’t go out anymore unless he absolutely has to leave to seek out more supplies. He’d rather stay hidden under the table or behind the chair because that’s where he feels safest. He can’t see that he’s lost his family, his house and his job. He is unable to perceive that he’s without a sense of living or purpose or dignity. He can’t see it because the change happened gradually and addiction has twisted his mind to such a degree that his search for solace in a bottle or a toke has become a solitary experience.  If he continues he will move into a cardboard box on the street and then onto a statistical list of persons found dead of an overdose, cirrhosis or suicide.

Recovery opened up my world. It has slowly broadened and widened my life to one of fullness. Recovery delivers on all of the promises that alcohol and drugs reneged upon. I am living a life that truly I couldn’t have ever imagined. And it takes time.

Early recovery is difficult because the lure of what was known is so much closer that the promises of being clean. My world had shrunk so much that I no longer knew how to cope in the outside world.  My mind was still in the prison of addiction and though the door was open, I was afraid to venture forth into the open spaces of recovery. Some days I wanted it and other days I wanted the ‘comfort’ of what I had known for so long. I often felt insecure and undeserving of recovery. The sins of my past weighed heavily upon me.

Though it was explained to me that I wouldn’t find happiness, joy and freedom overnight, I had the expectation that once I stopped, things would get better quickly. Looking back I can see that some things did begin to turn around fairly quickly such as my financial situation, and my physical health. I was told that I didn’t get to my bottom in a week or a month so I shouldn’t expect to ‘get over this’ in a week or a month. I went to a lot of meetings in those first months, more than 90 in 90. It was where I felt safe and protected by my recovery family. That long breath that I once took after I got that first sip or hit now happened as the chairperson called for quiet to begin the meeting. It was my social life because I couldn’t trust myself in other social situations yet. Slowly, my world began to get bigger again.

Staying in recovery takes a decision and commitment. I’ve come to realize that my perspective on life slowly changed so that I became more comfortable without using and drinking. I woke up in the morning and began to enjoy this new life I was living. I started to see things around me that I hadn’t seen in a long, long time: birds, squirrels, people walking dogs, a beautiful scene. I turned my focus from the smallness of my old world onto the greatness of the one around me.  As my recovery continued, my life expanded again to where I can now see a far horizon. There is a path before me and I happily tread it. Gone is that tiny little world of addiction. I never want to return.

♥  ♥  ♥

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Photo credit: Rodney Conrad

Honestly? Yes!

I’m not sure how many times the word ‘honesty’ appears in recovery literature but I am sure that it’s a substantial number. Honesty is an essential part of the program. The essence of the twelve steps is to dig through the layers of ego driven lies and bravado in order to arrive at the truth of who I am and then maintain that truth, and even dig a little bit deeper as I go along.

“To thine own self be true.”  Shakespeare

The coins we receive to mark time in sobriety have this struck onto them. It comes from the play Hamlet where a father is giving advice to his son who is going off on his own for the first time. Be honest with yourself, says dad. He’s also advising his son to stay the course, not to stray, to be true in the sense of an arrow heading for the bullseye. The first nine steps in the program allow us to find our path of truth. The last three help us to stay on that path.

We’ve all told some whoppers in our day. When looking back at these big lies, we can see that we told them to protect our vision of ourselves or deflect suspicion onto others: lies are always Ego based. The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves. The biggest lie I told myself is that I was ‘different’. I suffered from ‘Terminal Uniqueness’: my belief that I was unlike anyone else was killing me slowly. My ego told me that it was okay to try to escape from my surroundings and who I was because no one understood me, no one was going through what I was going through and everyone was against me or I against them. Drugging and drinking were symptoms of deep dishonesty.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde

It’s a challenging path to the truth of who I am. It’s peeling off the layers of the onion to get to the center. There’s often a fear that we’ll go so far we’ll find there’s nothing at the center. Fortunately, onions grow from the inside out and there’s always another layer to discover: new truth and understanding. But yes, being honest with myself means ripping off the layers that Ego has built with half-truths and lies and getting to my essence and accepting the ‘me’ that I discover. It’s not easy and it’s not something that happens overnight. Like many other parts of our program, it’s a process. But once there, I have a base, a foundation I can build upon.

“Pretty words are not always true, true words are not always pretty; and yet, they are still true.” Aiki Flinthart, The Yu Dragon

Being honest isn’t easy. It’s hard to face who I am and to know that it’s not the world, circumstances or others who brought me to my knees. I did that. I was the one who made those decisions that created the addict/alcoholic that I am. It wasn’t my parents, my partner, my job, where I live or my tragedies: I created the mess that landed with a thump at the door of a recovery program. That’s probably the most difficult truth anyone has to face. It’s the one that I must face if I am to recover.

I build my new life based upon truth, based on honesty. I can begin small by just not telling lies to myself and others. This goes beyond being ‘cash register honest’. Honesty and truth become deeply imbedded in this new character we are constructing. Self-inspection is essential to building this new life.  Even the best bricklayer uses a level to make sure that his work is plumb and follows a string line to make sure that it is straight as well.

“The longest journey is the journey inwards.” Dag Hammarskjöld

Once more I see how the program is simple, but not necessarily easy. It takes courage and willingness to dig deeply into my self and come up with an honest appraisal of who I am. Here again, the Serenity Prayer comes in: serenity, courage and wisdom. I ask for these in my quest for honesty and the discovery of self.


Faith Over Fear

Fear. It paralyzes us. It oppresses us. It looms over our whole being. Fear of our future. Fear of illness and death. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. I could go on and on. Fear is something that keeps us cowering, immobile in the corner, unable to come out. It is pervasive in our disease of addiction. We fear we won’t have enough, we fear we will have too much. We fear the opinion of other and we fear our own thoughts about ourselves.  Addicts and alcoholics don’t have the monopoly on fear, but we do have an unhealthy dose of it in our lives.

F.E.A.R. There are two acronyms that we use for fear in the groups I belong to.  One is F*** Everything And Run, which is what I usually did. I couldn’t deal with the muddle of my life. I couldn’t handle confrontation. I didn’t even want to open the mail and I screened most of my calls. Running to my addiction gave me the illusion of safety; at least I didn’t have to deal with the stuff that was going on around me for now. I didn’t know how to face things. I didn’t know how others would react to what I was doing so I thought it better to do nothing.

The other acronym is Face Everything And Recover. This took me quite a while to understand and put into practice. To be honest, I’m still working on it. I am certainly a whole lot better at facing those fears I have about life. In facing them, I have discovered something for myself: discussed fears dwindle in size and intensity. If I talk to my sponsor or another member about what I fear, the very act of talking brings it down in size from the paralyzing monster that my brain had made it, to a manageable point of discussion that doesn’t seem so big any more.  My brain makes mountains out of mole hills and tempests in teapots. Talking makes it right sized.  I try to remember that it’s not the end of the world until it’s really the end of the world.

I also try to remember that fear is a product of my Ego.  I want things to go my way, but they might not go that way.  What then might I do? Then this will happen, then that and oh my, that surely won’t go my way either! You get the picture. I let my expectations of what I think should happen take over and fear tells me those expectations will miserably fail. Ego takes me for an unstoppable ride. Talking slows down the ride and helps me look at things realistically, not fantastically.

I also trust. I know that my Higher Power has always been there for me. I know that because I am here today. If that’s the case why would I think that my Higher Power will leave me hanging in the wind tomorrow? I will live through everything that comes my way until I don’t. I have faith that H.P. will be by my side even at that moment too. Besides, like worries, 95% of my fears have never materialized. I am finding that by living the program of recovery things have a way of working themselves out in ways that I could have never dreamed. Fears are fantasy. They don’t exist. Like the smoke and mirrors of a carnival, they have no substance. Permit me one final acronym? False Evidence Appearing Real. There is no reality in fear. It’s all in my head. It’s a future that I can neither know or predict.

We ask for courage in the Serenity Prayer. Courage is what we need when we still have fear. We go forward even though we don’t know what the next step might take us. We take the next step knowing that we have faith in whatever comes our way we will be able to handle. And we take another step in the knowledge fear is not conquering us, rather we are vanquishing it. Courage and faith conquer fear.

♥  ♥  ♥

Please like and share this blog. Perhaps it will give others the needed courage, strength and hope to start and continue their journey down Recovery River. I would appreciate it if you would sign up and follow as well.  Please comment and offer suggestions.  I’d love to hear from you.