Some Basics For Building A Spiritual Practice To Support Your Recovery – Guest Post

I’m excited for you to read this guest post from a fellow recovery writer, Rose Lockinger. Every piece of her writing that I have read has been an inspiration to me; I think it will be for you, too.  Enjoy!

~Jami

praying

When I first got sober I was so confused about spirituality and religion. Having grown up with parents who were missionaries I was introduced from an early age to a religion that I didn’t understand and a God that I felt was rather impersonal to me. I thought that most religious people were hypocrites and at the time I had trouble separating the idea of religion from God. I had finally hit my bottom both emotionally and spiritually and for me rock bottom was a beautiful place to start my new life.

To me God, and religion were synonymous and to separate the two was blasphemous and impossible. But then I was introduced to some simple ideas when I first got sober that really helped me to get over a lot of my resentments towards God and start to build a spiritual practice of my own.

The first thing that was introduced to me that was revolutionary to my way of thinking was that I could have my own relationship with God. This relationship meant that I could relate to God the way that I wanted to and that I didn’t have to talk to him, or her if you like, in thousand year old prayers that I didn’t understand. I could talk to God the way that I wanted to.

I was also introduced to the idea that no two people can have the same relationship with God, so any way that I chose to partake in this relationship was fine. I remember the first time that I heard this, I was blown away. The person said to me, think of it this way. You have a relationship with your mother and your father has a relationship with your mother as well. Your mother is the same person, but the way that the two of you relate to her is very different. This was something that I could get behind and it helped me to break some old thoughts that I had about God and create new ones that made more sense to me.

One of the first spiritual practices that I started to do was prayer. In the beginning they were very simple prayers and that was all that was needed. I would wake up in the morning and ask God to help keep me sober throughout the day and when I went to bed at night I would say thank you God for keeping me sober.

My sponsor told me that was all that was necessary for me to make a start. I didn’t have to have long drawn out conversation with him, or speak in tongues, but rather I could just say please help and thank you.

From this point my prayer life has evolved over the years but the basics remain the same, I speak to God like he is a friend and I don’t make things too formal. Sometimes I get on my knees to pray but most of the time I do not and I believe that God is okay with that.

Another spiritual practice that I began to integrate into my life was meditation. I will admit that I am not the best with this one and my meditation practice is sporadic at best, but when I do meditate I once again try to keep it simple.

In the beginning I could not sit quietly for very long and so I would try to meditate for just 5 minutes at a time. I would go on YouTube and find five minute meditation music and then I would sit and focus on my breathing. This is a very simple practice to incorporate into your life and the benefits of meditation are widely documented by psychologists and doctors.

Another great spiritual practice to help support my recovery is journaling, or inventory taking depending on how you look at it. On the surface this may not seem like a spiritual practice, but I assure you that it is. Not only does journaling act as a form of meditation, because writing actually slows the mind down, but the basis behind journaling is self honesty, which is among the most basic of spiritual principles.

The ability to accurately see yourself and your actions is a great way to grow as a person and in your relationship with God, because I believe that we cannot relate to God as someone other than who we are. This is why for so many years I could never feel his presence because I was always attempting to be someone else. I was dishonest and caught up in my addiction and so I couldn’t see to find him.

Lastly, and this is an important spiritual practice to try to incorporate into your recovery, is helping others. Helping other people, whether that is in recovery or out of recovery is just about the most spiritual thing that a human being can do. The act of giving of yourself not only makes you feel good, because altruism does feel good, but it also gives you purpose and direction. Purpose and direction is something that many of us lacked when we were in our addictions, and I found mine in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous by helping other people. Helping others makes me feel closer to God and I always sleep better at night when I know I have helped someone that day.

If you are just making a start in your recovery and you are worried about building a spiritual practice of your own, remember to just take it easy and keep it simple. Spirituality does not need to be complicated. You don’t need to meditate for an hour a day and perform rituals to talk to God, but you can simple just talk and sit quiet for as long as you can. These are the things that I did in the beginning and they really work, so give them a try and you’ll be surprised at the outcome.

                                           _____________________________________________

roseRose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

You can find Rose on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

 

Finding My Serenity

I just saw that it has been four months since I have posted here! I can’t believe it. I don’t have any excuses, nor have I decided to stop blogging. I guess life just gets in the way sometimes. It was a busy, but good, holiday season — one of the best that I have had in a long time. It wasn’t until a few weeks after Christmas that I suffered a setback. I had a miscarriage. It was sad and awful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

The good news is that I learned a lot from it, and throughout the whole ordeal (and it was an ordeal) I didn’t want to pick up a drink at all. Not once. What a blessing. When I think back to four years ago, I know that the situation would’ve sent me right back to the bottle, and quickly. I would have maSerenityde an emotionally messy time even messier, and who know where I would’ve ended up. Not this time though. I had lots of support from family and friends, and I am thankful for that. But I think that what helped me most were some of the things I have learned in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Here are some of the things that helped me get through a tough time:

  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Believing that God (my Higher Power) could restore me to sanity during and after my miscarriage was comforting to me. It meant that I didn’t have to try to do it all by myself. The beauty of Step 2 is that we have someone — someone with far more power than we have — in our corner, to support us, and to take care of things that we can’t.
  • Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him. This step is a go-to step for me every single day. It is not always easy to turn my will over to God, I am prone to take it back…repeatedly. When I do actually turn something over to God though, and I let go of it for good, it is like a weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I had to practice this with my miscarriage. I knew that God’s will isn’t always going to match mine, and that the sooner I let go of the pain, handing it over to God, I would have some peace about the situation.
  • Acceptance – “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”  This quote from Dr. Paul’s story, Acceptance is the Answer, in the Big Book of AA, is a lifesaver for me. What it says to me is that when I’m upset about something that I cannot change, I have to change my perspective about that thing. When my perspective changes, I am able to move into acceptance…and that brings serenity. I had to accept that my expectation of having a healthy pregnancy that resulted in a healthy baby wasn’t going to happen. Changing my perspective from, “Why is this happening to me?” to “I guess this pregnancy wasn’t meant to happen right now” helped me to deal with the sadness and disappointment.
  • The Serenity Prayer – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. These three lines that we recite during every AA meeting really kind of say it all. We need to change what we can, accept what we can’t and be able to recognize the difference. If we do that, there is no situation that we can’t make it through — including losing a baby.
  • Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him. I love this step because it is always my goal to strengthen my relationship with God. I pray often, whether things are going well or I am circling the drain, and when I do, I immediately feel closer to God, no matter what outcomes come to pass. When something difficult arises, like my miscarriage, prayer and conscious contact with God comforting to me.

The AA program is so much more than just a way to quit drinking. I have been sober for over 3 years now, and the meaning and the application of the steps and suggestions of AA continue to evolve as I do. It’s a program that not only saved my life, but taught me how to live it — and how to find my serenity.

 

 

 

 

Out with the old, in with the new

happy-new-year-banner-graphic

I love the feeling that comes along with the new year.  It’s a feeling of being given a clean slate, an empty canvas, a fresh start.  I don’t know why on January 1st it seems easier to let go of the past than any other month of the year, but it does.  For me, the past few days have been filled with looking back at 2014, remember all of the happy, joyful times with a smile, and letting go of the negative stuff that crept in from time to time.  It’s also been about looking forward to the new year with hope and optimism, more than I have had in a very long time. 🙂

This new year started differently than any of my previous 43…with snow!  In Tucson!  I rarely stay awake until midnight to welcome in the new year.  This year started out to be no exception, I was asleep before ten o’clock.  Then, a little while before midnight, Austin woke me up to tell me to look outside.  It was snowing!  We went out onto our little patio and watched the big flakes float down.  It was so beautiful and peaceful, it even sounded calm outside…I don’t know how to describe it, but the acoustics were different, more serene than usual.  I’ve always lived in the desert so this was a special treat ushering in the new year.  Maybe it’s a sign that the 2015 will be filled with peace and serenity.  That’s what I am choosing to believe.

snow2015

 

This year I am not making any resolutions.  I didn’t last year either, instead I tried adding Healthy Habits (you can read about them in earlier posts) into my life by trying something new each month with the hope that the habit would stick, and I would end up healthier at the end of the year.  Overall, I think that approaching something healthy, new, and different each month was a success.  I learned that I like yoga and meditation, and that when I focus on prayer and gratitude, I feel better spiritually and emotionally.  I learned that it’s not as hard as I thought to pack my lunch for work every day, and to get away from my desk to eat it, taking a real lunch break.  I learned how to find joy in the ordinary, and even in the adverse.  I learned that I am still lazy when it comes to exercise and that I am going to have to continue to struggle to get over that hurdle.  But I’ll keep trying.

So, what are my plans for 2015?  Well, I met with my sponsor today and we talked about it.  Our conversation wound its way around to the difference between completing tasks and working toward goals.  I realized that I am not keen to make 2015 about checking things off of my to-do list.  For me, it has to be more about working toward goals…some being measurable, but most being things that can’t be quantified.  They are things that I already do, that I already know bring me joy and feed my soul.  They are things that 2014 showed me I love, but that I feel I need more of in my life.

These are a few of the things that I am thinking about:

  • Read more.  I often let silly time-wasters get in the way of my love of reading.  Toward the end of the year, I got way behind on my blog reading and I am still working finishing the same book that I started in October.  That’s just sad.  I love reading, it brings me joy.
  • Write more.  A while back, I decided to write a memoir…so far I’ve only written an introduction and half of Chapter 1.  I have pages of recovery-related topics that I would like to blog about.  I’ve also been asked by a few different bloggers and recovery websites to write something to contribute to their sites.  I’ve yet to work on any of those, even though I know that writing is something I’ve come to treasure and that is good for me.
  • Connect with others more.  The connections that I have with my friends is absolutely what feeds my soul.  I feel like I have the most wonderful friends, and that my relationships are more meaningful than those I have had in the past.  The lack that I am feeling about my relationships is completely on me.  I am not good at keeping in touch.  There! I’ve said it!  I always have the best intentions, but I’ll talk to a friend about meeting up for coffee…and then six months go by.  Or someone will call me and leave a voicemail, and it takes me a week to call them back.  I don’t know what it is other than life getting in the way, but I want to get better about growing the relationships that I have.  I am blessed with great friends that never make me feel less-than for taking so long to make it to coffee, or for waiting for their second call to actually talk.  They deserve better.  So I am going to work on that.
  • Pray more.  Prayer works.  It’s a fact.  And yet I still don’t think about doing it as much as I should.  I would really like for it to be my go-to response to all things, good and bad, for supplication and for thanksgiving.   When my conscious contact with God is increased, my acceptance, serenity and joy are increased.  I learned that last year, and I’m putting it into action this year.

I’ll probably write more about each of those things in the months to come.  They’re simple goals, really, but they seem so much better than items on a to-do list.  They aren’t things that I can complete…they are the things that will complete me.

I’m looking forward to a peaceful, happy year, and I hope you have one too!

 

 

 

Came to believe…

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Step Two of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

As I go through the steps again with my sponsor, I am currently working on step two.  This step asks us to consider two things:  1) trusting that there is something bigger and stronger out there than we are, and 2) that greater thing is able to do what we couldn’t – restore us to sanity.

I think that in reworking this step, I have really been able to see how far I have come.  When I first heard step two, my focus wasn’t on either of the points I listed above; it was on the fact that accepting this step meant that I was admitting that I was, in fact, insane.  Believe me, there was a time during my active drinking, when I preferred friends and family just think I was crazy as opposed to thinking that I was an alcoholic.  That explains why my first “stay” at any kind of treatment facility was at a psychiatric hospital.  It was easier to let everyone believe that I was having some sort of breakdown, than admit I was throwing back bottles and bottles of wine and vodka.  It was easier with the doctors too, as I didn’t tell them the truth about my drinking either.  Somehow, at the time, it seemed like insanity was the lesser of the two evils.

By the time I got to rehab, less than a month later, and had to consider step two, I really didn’t want to be considered crazy anymore.  I wanted, with everything in me, to get well.  I wanted to be sober and sane.  I knew that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life was unmanageable.  But now, the program was telling me that I was crazy and that I had to trust something greater than myself if I wanted that to change.  That was a really hard concept for me to swallow.  First of all, I wasn’t in the state of mind to be able to trust anyone. My family was bailing on me during my time of need (not that they were always there anyway, but if there was ever a time that I needed them, it was then); my boyfriend had dumped me while I was in the psych hospital; my friends weren’t really friends, they were either people I drank with or people who I never let see the real me.  I felt like I had no one, and they were telling me that I had to trust something, or someone, that I couldn’t even see.  Fat chance of that happening!  Or so I thought.

My first step two, although it was kind of a half-assed attempt at believing put me on the right path.  I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t get sober on my own.  If I had been able to do that, I would have stopped drinking a long time before ending up in treatment.  And I knew that people just like me had been able to get and stay sober; almost all of the employees at my rehab were in recovery themselves.  So what was the difference between them and me?  They had a Higher Power, and I was trying to do it all by myself.

What I found, when I was willing to walk the right path, was that heading in the right direction can lead to real faith.  I know that I didn’t “come to believe” all at once.  It was gradual and slow.  It took time.  I think my first real inclinations toward faith came when I thought about all of the past chaos and wreckage in my life.  Somehow, I had made it through all of that, no thanks to me.  Why, when I done all of the dangerous, self-harming things I had, was I even still alive?  How had I survived?  Clearly, it wasn’t my doing.  There had to be something out there that was doing it for me.

Over time, working the rest of the steps, listening to other alcoholics, and confronting my past and putting it to rest, I realized that I had “come to believe.”  I did have a Higher Power:  God, and He was taking care of me and giving me grace even when I didn’t want to see it.  The grace I had been given was evidence to me that God was working in my life, and all I had to do was trust in that.

So, this time as I worked my second step, I found it much different.  I no longer focus on the insanity part of the step.  As it says in the 12 and 12:

“Sanity is defined as “soundness of mind.” Yet no alcoholic, soberly analyzing his destructive behavior, whether the destruction fell on the dining-room furniture or his own moral fiber, can claim “soundness of mind” for himself.”

I did not have soundness of mind when I was actively drinking.  In sobriety, I think I do.  Well, most of the time anyway.

I also have faith this time around.  I know that it is God that deserves the glory for my 16+ months of sobriety.  I’ve done some hard, really hard, work, but without Him, I wouldn’t be where I am.  So as I take step two now, I am confident in saying that I have come to believe in a power greater than myself, and He has restored me to sanity.

 

 

Making Prayer a Habit – Healthy Habit #1

February is here, so it is time for me to give you all an update on Healthy Habit #1 – Prayer.  As I wrote in my last post, I made a commitment to praying out loud each morning with my husband using our prayer beads.  My hope was that our daily prayer would become a habit and that we would continue to grow in God, and closer to one another.  I started off by doing some research about the benefits of couples praying together and I was immediately happy with the healthy habit that I chose.  Here are some things I found out:

  • Prayer Unites Couples.  Praying with your spouse provides spiritual unity through God, and spiritual unity is a tie that binds us to one another and is not easily broken.
  • Prayer Promotes Emotional Intimacy.  When couples pray together, they are not only inviting communication with God, but also with one another.
  • Prayer Keeps You Humbled.  Praying together is a humbling experience.  It’s easy to be humble before God when we pray on our own, but being able to ask for help, or strength, or mercy while praying together requires humility and vulnerability.
  • Prayer Gives Hope.  When your hearts are in unity with God’s good and perfect will, then your prayers will always be answered.  Regardless of you actually getting what you prayed for.

After reading these things, I was all in, and, after a month of daily prayer, I have to say that I experienced all of those things.  My husband and I have a very strong, fulfilling, happy marriage.  That said, I did (do) experience a stronger sense of unity and humility when we pray together.  The act of sitting together, heads bowed, eyes closed, approaching God as one instead of individually, was extremely intimate.  Talking about what we wanted to pray about extemporaneously before getting started was definitely an act of humility.  Being able to tell one another, “here is what I need help with today,” or, “I need to pray about (fill in the blank), because I am really struggling,”  is much more difficult than baring our souls to God on our own.  All in all, it has been a beautiful experience…one of growing in God together.

Another benefit that I have found is that when we pray together, we remember to pray for others.  I’ve heard it said that the biggest lie that comes from Christians is, “I’ll pray for you.”  I have said it before myself, and then forgotten, or just thrown up a few words to God in passing.  This month, whenever I said that phrase to someone, I was able to keep my word because Austin and I talked about who and what we were going to pray for beforehand.  The prayers were more thoughtful and thorough than they would have been otherwise.  That’s a blessing, for sure.

As far as it becoming a new, healthy habit…it has!  I don’t know how the experts judge whether or not a behavior has become a habit, but I think that once something is truly a habit, you will feel it’s absence when you don’t do it.  For example, I am in the habit of getting to work earlier than I have to be each work day.  On days when, for one reason or another, I have to get to work at my actual scheduled time, I feel like my whole day has been thrown off.  It’s like forgetting to kiss my husband good-bye in the morning.  Not doing it doesn’t ruin the day, but it makes the day (or morning, at least) feel like something’s missing.  That’s how I felt on the few days that we didn’t get to pray in the morning.  I think that there were four days that we didn’t pray together before work.  On a couple of those days we did end up doing our prayers later in the day, but on a couple, we didn’t.  One day in particular I remember that we didn’t have time in the morning (I overslept but still had to be at work an hour before I was scheduled…I know, I have issues), and all day long I thought “we need to do our prayers,”  but the evening came and we just didn’t get to it.  I felt the lack.  I felt like something was missing.  I was so happy the next morning when Austin said, “are you ready to pray?”

I am going to call Healthy Habit #1 a success.  We are going to continue to pray together every morning, using our prayer beads, and growing closer to each other and to God.

  **********

Healthy Habit #2 – A Month of Meditation  

I’m going to need your help on this one.  I haven’t really ever had any success with meditation, but I’m going to give it another go.  I started this morning and will post about it in the next couple of days.  In the meantime, I would love to hear from any of you that find meditation helpful.

Healthy Habit #1 – A Month of Prayer

In my last post I talked about starting new, healthy habits instead of making new year’s resolutions that I knew I would not keep.  I realized that adding healthy habits into my life would take a change of perspective about the whole clean-slate, positive-change thinking that comes along every January 1st, because when it comes to setting rules for myself, I don’t often succeed.  My thought was that if I changed my way of thinking, and made my new habit a positive, healthy addition to my daily routine, it would be more likely to stick.

So here we are a little over half way through January and I wanted to give you all an update on the new habit that I am working on.  For the month of January, I committed to praying out loud each day with my husband.  It’s not something that we do together very often, aside from before meals; but we both pray often on our own.  My relationship with God has grown so much over the last couple of years, and my faith has increased.  I frequently have conversations with God in my head, and feel like I am continually improving my conscious contact with Him (AA’s 11th step).  Before this month, my prayers were usually one of two things:  I was either giving something over to God that I knew I couldn’t handle on my own, or I was thanking Him for His grace and mercy.  I know that these two things are good, and necessary.  But could I do more to glorify God and bring me even closer to Him and to my husband?  I thought so.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I made some prayer beads.  He was the brains behind the design, and I was the manufacturer.  The idea was to use them to teach people (me, really) how to pray.  Austin put together some carefully chosen scripture that briefly but thoroughly takes us through the gospel as we go through the beads one-by-one.  There is time for extemporaneous prayer, and even the serenity prayer is included.  The whole thing takes about ten minutes.  Here is the set of prayer beads that I made for myself:

prayer bead pic

If you are interested, what we pray is at the bottom of this post.

I love the progression through the gospel in the five small prayer beads and the four larger promise beads.  The five smaller beads, which we repeat five times, remind me that don’t have to work for God’s love, I have what is needed, a broken and a contrite heart.  I love the  progression from “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner,” to “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  It is at first as though we are asking for something we know we don’t deserve (we don’t), but then we progress to using God’s name (Lord is the English translation for His Hebrew name – Yahweh) and saying, I have faith, but please help me to strengthen it.  At the fourth small prayer bead, the prayer changes to praying for “us” with the  Kyrie Eleison, our mindset changes from help me, to help us all.   And then, finally, we get to glorify God in the throne room with angels and saints, as children of God.  That last bead never ceases to remind me who I am, and the ones preceding it never cease to remind me who I was.  I came as a beggar and became an unconditionally loved daughter.

The four larger promise beads also progress through the gospel.  They start with Jesus’ invitation to us to stop trying to do everything on our own.  We can turn everything over to Him, and instead take His yoke upon us.  What a lightened load!  Then we move to the confession of our sins and the forgiveness that doing so offers.  There is such freedom in that.  We no longer have to be a slave to guilt and shame.  We are forgiven.  The third bead reminds us that we can have confidence that everything according to God’s will is perfect and right.  All things will work together for good if we just turn around and trust God.  That’s it, just turn around and trust Him.  And with the final promise bead, we get to rejoice because the Lord is at hand!  What could be better?!?

The extemporaneous prayer follows.  Austin always does this prayer, but we talk about it beforehand so we don’t leave anything out.  I love the way he prays and I love that he has the words to express just what I feel.  First, we express gratitude for all that God has brought us through, all the joy and peace that He has filled our hearts with, and for His unconditional love.  Then we ask for the things we need.  We pray for our families and friends that are struggling and we pray for ourselves.  We ask for the knowledge of God’s will and the desire to live it.  We ask for the grace that we already know God gives us.  And then, lastly, we express our thanks that we can be confident that God will provide for us, as he has always done in the past.

I haven’t really written posts like this in the past.  I often discount my attempts at anything theological or biblical, because I consider myself a “baby Christian,” since I came to Christianity late in life, and I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about it.  But I do feel confident in these prayers that I have been saying aloud every day for 19 days.  I am reminded every single morning that I am valued, I have a perfect Parent, and that I am not alone.  I am reminded of the big picture every morning.  I don’t have to can’t do everything on my own, but that’s okay, because God can.

I feel like January is having a profound effect on me.  The act of sitting and praying with my husband, going through our homemade prayer beads and reciting scripture, has already made an impact.  I find that I am much less anxious and more mindful throughout the day.  I can almost immediately change my focus when it drifts to the negative, by simply remembering my prayers from the morning.  I can take my beads out of my purse and hold them or set them on my desk as a reminder of the promises that God has made.  I can rest in the knowledge that I’m never alone.

I’m going to update you all on the habit-making part of all of this as the end of the month gets closer, and I will let you know what my plans for February are.

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Prayer Beads

Begin with the Cross:  Gloria Patri

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

Three initiatory beads:

1.God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

2. The Courage to change the things I can;

3.  And the Wisdom to know the difference.  Amen.

Five prayer beads:

1. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.  A broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, you will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)

2. God have mercy upon me, a sinner. (Lk 18:13)

3. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.  (Mk 9:24)

4.  Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.

5. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.  Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High.  Amen.

Four promise beads

1. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  (Mt 11:28-30)

2.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 Jn 1:8-9)

3. We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  (Rom 8:28)

4.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.  (Phil 4:4-5)

Three concluding beads:  Extemporary Prayers

Following this pattern:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds trough Christ Jesus.”  (Phil 4:6-7)

1. Gratitude  (prayer)

2. Petition  (supplication)

3.  Confidence  (thanksgiving)

Meditate on the crucifix:

1. Crucifix side:  Meditate on Christ who proceeds us into suffering.  “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Rom 7:24-25a)

2. Cross side:  Meditate on Christ who proceeds us into victory.  “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Rom 8:1a)

Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer

 

 

 

A year of joy and adversity

adversity

This was a big week for me.  It was Thanksgiving, and of course I have a lot to be thankful for.  However, the holidays have been really hard for me the last few years.  As many of you know, I have no contact with my family and that is really emotional for me when it comes to celebrating holidays, birthdays and the like.  I have worked really hard to accept that things are the way they are, and to no longer let my feelings about my family send me back out drinking.

The other big news for this week is that on Tuesday I celebrated one year of sobriety!  I was really excited to be able to go up and receive my one year chip at my home group meeting on Tuesday morning.  It felt great.  It felt exhilarating.  It felt miraculous.  And it was…all of those things.  Mostly though, I felt so grateful, so very grateful.  It is really apropos that my sobriety birthday is so near Thanksgiving, the timing is perfect.

one year

This post could easily turn into one about gratitude, but I am saving that for another time.  What I really want to write about is what the last year was like.  As I reflect on the past year, I can tell you that it was like a roller-coaster.  There were a lot of really high highs, but an equal amount of really low lows.  I was dealing with the wreckage of my past (I still am), learning how to live with the grief that comes from being estranged from my family, trying to forgive others and myself, and trying to do it all as honestly as I could.  It wasn’t easy, not by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a lot of self-examination, which for us alcoholics is often pretty ugly.  It certainly was for me.  It was emotional and very stressful at times.

As hard as it was though, I realized a while back that this past year was actually, amazingly, filled with joy.  Each difficult situation and negative emotion gave me the opportunity to work through it – not around it, not over it, but really, genuinely through it – without taking a drink.  This wasn’t just a change in perspective for me, it was a life change.  Before this past year I lived in extremes, even when I wasn’t drinking.  A bad situation was never going to end, good things would last forever.  I would always feel whatever emotion I was feeling.  My vocabulary was filled with “always” and “never”.  It was black and white thinking and it did not serve me well.

On Thanksgiving I wrote this in my journal:

“I’m so grateful to be alive and happy.  A year ago, two years ago, five, ten…whenever I was asked what I wanted most in life, my answer was to be happy.  I finally have that now.  I thought that I would never know what that really felt like, but now I do.  I also never thought that there could be joy in the midst of adversity.  But the two can peacefully coexist.  I’ve realized that it isn’t black and white.  I can have joy and happiness even at the worst of times.  I don’t have to get mired down in the shit.  I can do the next right thing, no matter how hard, and I can still have joy in my heart.”

Getting through the bad times, without hurting myself or anyone else, is really a cause for celebration.  The simple act of making it through to the other side is joy-producing.  Realizing that bad times and feelings aren’t going to last forever is joy-producing.  Knowing that I can hand things over to God and have faith that His will is what’s best for me is joy-producing.  Not drinking over all of life’s crap is majorly joy-producing.  How awesome is that?

I DO!!!!!

I sure do!!

Keeping the Faith

Faith

Today’s AA meeting was much better than the one last week.  I wrote about the drama last week when an old-timer told a newcomer to shut the fuck up during his emotional share.  (Update:  I haven’t seen that newcomer all week.  I hope that only means that he has chosen to go to different meetings after what happened, and not the alternative.)   Thank God there was no drama today.  It was an enlightening meeting with a lot of insightful shares and it was filled with hope.  The topic was faith.  The person that brought up the topic (the same old-timer that was so rude last week!) expressed that, as the Bible says in Matthew 13:31, all we need to change for the better, to live a life filled with joy, to stay sober, to have a relationship with God, is faith as small as a mustard seed.  That resonated with me because when it came to both my faith in God and the gospel, and my faith in AA, that’s all I had.

My faith in God came first.  I grew up in a family that didn’t go to church, didn’t talk about God or the Bible, and didn’t behave in a Christian way.  Yet, if you had asked any of them if they were Christians, they would have enthusiastically said yes.  But, whenever I questioned them about faith in God, no one could explain it to me in a way that I understood or believed.  A typical response was “it’s just something you have.”  I didn’t get it, so at an early age, I declared myself agnostic.  I couldn’t see God, couldn’t touch God, couldn’t feel His presence, so how could I have faith in Him?  I didn’t even know if He was real.  I saw though, in people outside of my family, that the ones that had faith had something I wanted.  They had a serenity and peace about them.  They were able to face things that seemed impossible to me, and make it to the other side of trials and tribulations.  I always knew that I was missing out on something big, I just couldn’t figure out how to get it.

I think that is one of the reasons that I became an alcoholic (of course that is a long list!).  I was missing something that the human soul needs.  And I drank to try to fill it up.  When I finally made it to rehab, I ended up at a Christian treatment center in Phoenix because they accepted my insurance.  That was really my only reason for choosing that facility, other than the fact that they returned my desperate call first.  When I got there, I chose the traditional track (Big Book studies, meditation and lots of lectures and 12-step meetings), as opposed to the Christian track (devotionals, Bible studies, the same lectures and 12-step meetings).   That only lasted about a week, because I started to pay attention to the staff working with all of us addicts:  the therapists, the behavioral health techs, the nurses, even the doctors.  I learned that all but one of them were in recovery themselves.  I struck up conversations with them and I learned that spirituality and faith in a Higher Power were helping them stay sober.  Amazing.  I went to Bible study and morning devotional the second week.  When I listened to the believers share, what I heard was what I had been missing.  They spoke of their horrible experiences and of how God brought them through them.  They spoke of knowing that they were powerless and that they had to rely on God to save them.  They threw up their hands and turned their will over to God.  They relinquished control.  And, here’s the kicker, they believed without proof that God would take care of them.  That was faith!  That was what I had been looking for my whole life!  The people at rehab, a bunch of addicts and alcoholics, finally showed me what faith was.  I was overjoyed.

Having faith in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous took a while longer.  I loved AA almost from the beginning, and again, I found people who had what I wanted – sobriety.  I wanted to be able to live without getting loaded, and these people were doing it.  But, when it came to really believing that the program could work for me, I wavered.  It all sounds good on paper, but how could one alcoholic helping another really work?  How could these AA members that had lost their families, their homes, their freedom, their jobs, really be happy, joyous, and free?  I was probably a year into the program before I really started to have faith that it works.  I started to see that the promises that the old timers talked about and that we read at the end of every meeting, really could (and would) come true.  I saw it in their lives and it gave me hope – and faith – that it would happen in mine.  And you know what?  It is happening in mine.  I have made it nearly nine months free from alcohol, I have not had an inclination to drink, and I have had many times when I have been happy, joyous and free.  These things don’t happen all the time, but they happen often enough for me and for others that I see in the program, that I am able to have faith that it works.  And I’m gonna keep the faith!

Choices

good-choice-bad-choice-sign

Yesterday was quite a day.  The early morning went well, it seemed like a good start.  Then, on the way to work, everything hit the fan.  The details aren’t really relevant, so I won’t write about them.  Suffice it to say, there were a couple of hours that were pure chaos, drama, flashbacks to the past.  I was so quickly sucked into my old, alcoholic way of thinking and feeling, that I’m surprised my head didn’t spin.  I was in sheer panic, heart racing, cold sweats, shallow breathing.  I was sure that the end of the world, at least my world, was eminent.  It had been a while since I felt so much anxiety so fast, and then I heard it.  It was that little voice that I hadn’t heard from for over seven months.

You know how to make these feelings stop….

And just like that, I wanted to drink.  I didn’t romanticize or justify it the way I used to.  It wasn’t that I suddenly thought that I would be able to control it like a normal person this time, or that I was just going through so much stress that I would just have one drink to “take the edge off.”  No, I knew exactly what my wanting to drink was – I wanted to shut off every thought that was going through my mind.  I felt a deep need to change every feeling I was having at that moment.  There was nothing that could be misconstrued in what I was thinking.  Did I think that drinking would improve the situation?  No.  Did I think that I would create more wreckage by drinking?  Yes.  Did I realize what giving up my sobriety would mean?  Yes.  Did I still want to drink?  Yes, so very much.

That solution to my problems hung out in my head for a while.  I was aching for the relief of that first drink.  Then something crazy happened.  Those thoughts quieted down and were replaced by new ones.  What I heard was:  You don’t have to drink.  You can make it through this, and anything else that happens.  You are under God’s care, and He doesn’t screw up.  You are not alone. 

Now I am not going to lie, those two contradictory reactions fought back and forth for a while.  I was really waffling on which one to believe.  I knew which was the right way to go, but I also knew which would give me relief faster.  In the past, I wouldn’t have even entertained anything besides the drink.  I would’ve been hammered before those other thoughts even had a chance to make themselves known.  But yesterday, fortunately, I was able to make the right choice.  I didn’t drink.

I am certainly not going for sainthood here, had there been a bottle of vodka right in front of me this whole thing could’ve turned out a lot differently.  But with yesterday’s realization that even if I have the craving, I don’t have to give in, I feel like I reached a milestone.  I had been pretty damn lucky that for the past seven months I hadn’t had one inclination to drink.  But I honestly didn’t know what would happen when that luck ran out.  Now I know.  I can choose.