Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A REACH FOR HAPPINESS

The topic at the meeting was what happened at your first program meeting that caused you to go to your second. It was remarkable how few of the recovering addicts in the circle could even remember their first meeting. Between the haze of time and the impenetrable fog of drugs, memories of first meetings tend to be patchy at best. I remembered mine, though.

It was an AA speaker's meeting in the midst of a blizzard that second night of mine in rehab in Minneapolis. I'd been almost thirty hours off drugs and was busy comparing myself to the war stories related by the AA speakers. I hadn't been to jail, hadn't gotten divorced, hadn't lost my house and car, hadn't lost limbs in a horrific traffic accident, and hadn't experienced a lot of things the speakers had experienced. I was busy putting together my argument that I wasn't either an addict or alcoholic, and this was all good solid evidence. Then came the next speaker.

She was a frail, little old woman and her story was that she had never taken an alcoholic drink or had a mood altering drug her entire life, until her husband died when she was in her mid seventies. Because of sleeplessness, she began drinking an ounce of alcohol each night. In short order her life began revolving around that one ounce of alcohol each night, the obsession driving everything else out of her life. She never had more than that one ounce a night, but her choice was to either increase the number of drinks or get into the program. She chose the program.

Well, comparing what I'd done with all that she hadn't done ran me up on the rocks double quick. If she was an alcoholic then I was, too. That was the night I learned to identify instead of compare--a baby step toward sanity. There was obviously more to learn about addiction, so I stayed in rehab and continued going to AA and NA meetings. That was my recollection.

Then a fellow talked about his first few meetings, and how he spent them in his car, in the parking lot, using. The only thing he got out of those meetings was that the men and women going in and coming out of that door seemed to be a lot happier than he was. Eventually, he put down the chemicals and went through that door to see why those folks were so happy.

We got into the chemicals because we thought it would make us feel better. In my case, it worked--for awhile. But one day I woke up and discovered I was a slave, everyone close to me was in pain, and happiness was a lost cause. The best I could hope for was to pop enough pills and soak up enough booze to keep from screaming. Then I was introduced to a program that allowed me to become a free, caring, responsible, happy human being.

No, I can't say I'm giggling all the time in recovery. Most of the time, however, I'm happy. Most of the time the people I'm close to aren't in emotional pain because of me. And I only scream when Army loses yet another Army-Navy game.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Adapt, Improvise, Overcome

This is day 3 with my server down, no email, no access to the blog, no access to anything. I have located myself and my ipad next to an unlocked hot spot to let you all know we're still in business. The message for today? Don't use, go to meetings, and ask for help. If we all do that we should all still be around whenever the $@%¥~#!! Server comes back online.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

THE NEXT TEN MINUTES

I have a high school reunion coming up.  It's an all-class event held every year by the alumni committee of a military academy that closed down in the mid Seventies. It's a chance to meet again with those men who, when we were boys, shared many of the same experiences, all of us affected more than we knew by the school's motto: Truth, Duty, Honor.  There are faces I expect to be there; In fact, there are faces I take for granted will be there. But no one has a lock on the next ten minutes. One face I took for granted would be at the reunion won't be there. Another of my classmates let me know last night
 that our friend and fellow classmate Dave Feagans died from complications following a motorcycle accident.

Okay, the class of 1960 is around seventy years old, plus or minus, funerals of persons I know are getting all too frequent, I know how close I've come to that final checkout in recent years, and the TV news can't get enough of celebrities whose lives are cut short by drugs, murder, or mayhem. This doesn't even factor in all of the suicide bombing nutcases out there, drunk drivers, muggers, addicts acquiring the wherewithal to buy drugs, workplace accidents, and so on. Find an old geezer and get him to talk on the subject of life, and sooner or later you are going to hear, "Life is short." Yeah, we all know this. Yet I still take that next ten minutes--that next ten years--for granted.

I expect to be alive ten years from now. I act like it's a done deal. I expect you to be alive ten years from now, and I act like that is a done deal. In very real terms, though, that means I'm taking your life for granted, and even more distressing, I'm taking my own life for granted.

How to turn this around? Not taking anyone's existence for granted would mean valuing every moment spent in the now. It would involve getting closer to those we love and respect, telling that man or that woman what he or she means to you. It means becoming vulnerable, loving, open to love, and humble enough to accept that the ticket we each have on this ride will not last forever.

Life is a very precious gift despite all the bumps, potholes, and wrecks. That's why I got clean and why I stay clean: Life. I love being alive. I also love you being alive. Take care today and do whatever it takes to stay alive.

Thinking about my dead friend, and others who passed out of my life, I opened my front door this morning and learned that it had snowed last night. This is what I saw:





Friday, February 24, 2012

TWO WOLVES

Today's Just For Today reading (see Links, column right) deals with some of the attitude changes we need to make to be happy about being clean, rather than stumbling along as a big white knuckle. It brought to mind a story sent to me by a friend in Pennsylvania about an old Cherokee who is telling his grandson about a fight that goes on inside most men and women, and just about every recovering addict I've ever met..

"Grandson," the old man began, "the battle is between two wolves within us all. One wolf is Evil.  It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The young boy thought about it for a moment then asked his grandfather, "Tell me, then. Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee replied, "The one you feed."

A thought: Today, with my actions, my goals, my attitude, and my outlook, which wolf am I feeding?

* * *
"There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading; The few who learn by observation; The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves."
---Will Rogers

Thursday, February 23, 2012

THE FIRST POST, Sept. 2004: Life Sucks Better Clean

This is the first post on this blog from back in September of 2004. It describes the point of Life Sucks Better Clean. I decided to move it up front to let everyone know why we are here.


Life sucks. Oh, yeah.

Jammed up. Depressed, sitting there at the bottom of a hole trying to figure out how to stop digging while an annoying little voice asks, “Is this why I got into recovery?” It creeps up on you like a shadow in the night, then all of a sudden it’s towering over you like a like a tidal wave, this helpless endless gloomy desperation in which all of the tried and true answers that sustained you for so long suddenly don’t seem to work anymore. You look to your higher power and it feels like nothing’s there but a ceiling, a sky, air, a couple of trinkets, or a few scraps of plaster and wood. You leaf through a big book or a basic text, meditation books, program pamphlets, and the answers are all there but they just don’t seem to mean anything.

Sooner or later, if you call someone or keep going to meetings, you’ll hear about faith, gratitude, acceptance, living life on life’s terms, and trusting in the process, but the words fall flat. The specter of the big setup—if you make yourself miserable enough, you’ll go back and use—sits on your shoulders like a row of vultures waiting for you to fall, confident of the coming feast. And you know it’s coming, too, this breaking point where the pain of not using overcomes fading memories of how bad things used to be.

Call your sponsor? Share at a meeting? Do something for someone else? Make a gratitude list? Lose yourself in service work? Take another run at working the Twelve Steps? Try that higher power again and see if the sonofabitch finally showed up for work?

The problems are real, they are massive, and they are crushing. Those storm clouds gather, the thunder rumbles, the hail and lightning strike all around you and you’re sitting on your ass in the center lane of an urban expressway just before rush hour trying to think of a reason to get up and get out of the way.

The dragon blows smoke in your ear, and maybe you listen. You don’t have to be this miserable and clean both. Ooo. There’s that big setup again. Perhaps you know better. You know where picking up again will leave you and those you love, so picking up is not an option. Instead, your fallback position is the Big Nothing, the permanent solution to the temporary problem: suicide.

“I’m clean now, I’ve been in the program so many years, and this is not supposed to happen anymore.”

If you listen very hard you can hear the dragon laughing.

A very important truth begins to make itself clear: Life didn’t change because you got into the program. The only thing that changed were your tools for dealing with life. Your only choice: Use them, or not.

When bad things happen to recovering people. It's called life. There are enough loose cannons rolling around on life’s deck that at some time or another you are going to get hit, overwhelmed, jammed up, and flattened. Really bad news from the doctor, the death or injury of loved ones, not being able to find work, all the bills come due, a good friend with lots of time goes back out, little children are snatched from their front yards and damaged, thousands die in disasters natural and unnatural, and whatever safety net you thought you had suddenly has a big hole in it. And, no—not a single damned soul on earth knows how you feel. Their memories of being jammed up are way back there in the “Whew! I’m glad that’s over,” bin. When you are on the griddle of depression and despair, you sizzle by yourself no matter how many are around you dishing out slogans, advice, pity, or hugs.

You might be lucky enough, however, to have some irreverent politically incorrect crusty old bastard lay on you the Big Truth of all Twelve Step programs: Life Sucks Better Clean. There are a lot of different ways to say it, some are even conference approved. It is, however, the core reason in every program for continued abstinence—not picking up: Whatever your problem or problems, no matter how big the crime, how many the victims, or how devastating the result: The one thing absolutely guaranteed to make things worse is using.

Hang on.
This, too, shall pass.

And, hang on!

A Thank You Note. The most recent time the cannon rolled over me, it backed up and rolled over me again and again: Health, career, finances, relationships, world events. No single thing. Getting out of bed in the morning, though, was like coming back from the dead. Tired, constant pain, no interest in work or anything else, an outlook that could see nothing but flaws, frustration, and failure. I’ve stepped in it again, and after beating myself up for stepping in it again, it was one foot in front of another muttering, “Life sucks better clean,” until, in my office checking my Email, there was a letter that had been forwarded to me, and the subject, of course, was gratitude.

Yeah, faith not fear, keep an attitude of platitude, and if you had any idea how deep my hole is, you wouldn’t offer me this pitiful little string. Even so, I read it. The willingness to go to any lengths is a hard habit to break. It read:


Someone who teaches at a middle school in Safety Harbor,
Florida forwarded the following letter which was sent to the principal’s office
following a luncheon the school had sponsored for the elderly:


Dear Safety Harbor Middle School,


God blesses you for the beautiful radio I won at your recent senior
citizen’s luncheon. I am 84 years old and live at the Safety Harbor Assisted
Home for the Aged. All of my family has passed away. It’s nice to know that
someone really thinks of me. God blesses you for your kindness to an old forgotten
lady. My roommate is 95 and always had her own radio, but would never let me
listen to it, even when she was napping. The other day her radio fell off the
night stand and broke into a lot of pieces. It was awful and she was in tears.
She asked if she could listen to mine, and I said fuck you.

Sincerely,

Edna J.




I burst out laughing and for the next two hours I could not stop giggling. Yeah, I know. Seek through prayer and meditation, asking only for his will—

—Yeah. And thank you, HP, for Edna J. and her letter to the Safety Harbor Middle School. It was a bucket of cold water in my face, a kick in the ass. It shocked me right out of the emotional hole where I was being suffocated.

It started me thinking about the number of times we show at meetings feeling that life on life’s terms is a rigged game, only to be snapped out of our misery by a comment, a story, or a joke that strikes right to the heart of a problem or is so outrageous all we can do is laugh. And the dragon hates laughter. You can’t laugh and wallow in helpless despair at the same time. To do it your brain would have to explode. And people who are laughing aren’t miserable enough to use.

Yesterday's Tomorrow. When I got clean late in 1981, haunting the halls of AA and NA, a number of us hard cases realized that laughter, irreverence, and poking fingers in the eyes of pompous blowhards were among our most valued unauthorized recovery tools. There were jokes, sayings, puns, and stories around the halls that kept us laughing, and clean, and I collected a number of these and showed them to the folks at Hazelden. This original collection became Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Recovery Meditations for Hard Cases (Hazelden, 1997). In the introduction to that volume I asked hard case readers to send in their own experiences, sayings, and little bits of grit that helped them through the moment. Hard cases are those men, women, and young folk who take on the mission to give everyone else in the program an opportunity to grow. As a young friend of mine put it, “If I don’t drive my sponsor to call his sponsor at least three times a week, I feel like I’m letting him down.”

The response from readers was tremendous, and most of this blog, at least at the beginning, will be made up from their contributions. There were additional benefits I received from soliciting their contributions. The benefits were all of the sharing letters sent by my fellow hard cases out there, and for them all I am very grateful. We are something of a tribe, hard cases, and there is nothing more important in recovery than knowing you are not alone. For the past few years, because of the hard case mail, for me it’s been like one long meeting.

This is part of what I hope to accomplish with Life Sucks Better Clean. It's a way to jump-start your sense of humor, to turn around your day, to flip a finger at the dragon.


Thought for the day: If the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off.

ADDENDUM

I started this blog in 2004, made an entry almost every day, then wound up in the Maine Medical Center with triple bypass surgery followed by two surgeries to fix a boo boo made during the triple bypass event, followed by years trying to rebuild my brain after spending more hours on a heart-lung machine than is good for it. My wife tried to keep up with the blog, but the guy who had been stumbling around her house for all those years was in trouble and that took priority (lucky me).

Recently, after a stretch of health and the death of a close friend, I've gotten back to the blog, and since I was again sick (with a cold) I decided to see what was new with the Blogspot site designer, themes, options, and so on. I like the hummingbirds. If you don't, let me know. Anyway, among the tools there is a spam detector in which I was cautioned to look through every so often. There was no spam in there; The spam I found was old and mixed in with all of the comments that have been made since 2004.

While I was going through and deleting the real estate and penis enlargement pitches, I also read the comments, realizing as I did so that I had never seen most of them because of my various illnesses and abscences from LIFE SUCKS BETTER CLEAN. I'm very glad I read them.

First, many apologies to you all for my abscences, and for failing to read the comments I've missed. Next, Thank you very much all those who sent in comments, even the fellow who wondered why recovery programs have to be silted up with banal platitudes and boring truisms. In fact, when I was in early recovery and would hear "Keep an attitude of gratitude" at a meeting, I'd usually mutter, "Keep an attitude of platitude." *Grump* I hope you're still clean, man. If it wasn't for soreheads like you and me, Yesterday's Tomorrow never would've gotten written.

The poster child for Alateen? Although you're probably not in Alateen any more (some years have passed), I hope that you're still clean, too. In fact, all of you are in my prayers (the spammers less so). I am not a guru passing out program wisdom. This blog is a clearing house for funny, gritty, gut-wrenchingly direct unauthorized program wisdom supplied by those in recovery and those trying to get there. This blog is a two-way medium of communication, and what gets sent to me helps me as much or more than the messages I send out helps others.

Hope to hear from you,
                                    Barry

LOOKING FOR A BETTER DEAL

The main speaker at an NA convention once put it this way: "Some days it's just putting one fucking foot in front of the other."

"Do you mean it's not all sweetness and light once I stop using and enter a program of recovery?" you might ask.

Duh.

"Life on life's terms." It's hard to get through a meeting or a talk with one's sponsor without hearing that phrase at least once: Life on life's terms. During our using, life's terms seemed too steep and we were in the market for a better deal. Life on addiction's terms, however, turned out to be much more steep and quite a bit more brief. So we stumble into the program, start going to meetings, put down the chemicals, and then discover that all of the stuff we avoided or put off during our using days is still there. Oh joy.

Comedian Bill Cosby pointed out that pain killers do not kill pain; they only postpone it, allowing little "pain buddies" to gather and really kill you when the anesthetic wears off. It only seems like life saved up all its problems to drop on us in early recovery. The problems have always been there; when we were using, however, either we didn't notice them or didn't give a crap. But now we're clean and---Oh no! Illness, legal problems, unemployment, underemployment, suicide bombers, the dollar going down, prices going up, relationships, career glitches, armed debt collectors for past purchases, friends and loved ones dying, your favorite TV show gets cancelled, your sponsor doesn't return your phone call, the dog gets into the garbage can, you runn out of dental floss, and on and on and on . . .

What to do? In the program, meetings and literature, we hear about the tools of recovery. Recovery is a structure that needs to be built. Building requires tools, and in the program we have a most effective set:  Pick up that ten-ton telephone and call your sponsor (and if you don't have a sponsor yet, go get one NOW). Read the Basic Text, Just For Today, one of the dozens of Information Pamphlets, telephone another addict, do something nice for someone else, volunteer for NA service work, ask your HP for help (and if you don't have an HP (Higher Power) yet, go get one NOW), write about your problem, ask yourself "What can I do about this situation?" and begin planning how to make a dent in the problem, say the Serenity Prayer and listen to what the words mean, go to a meeting, share at the meeting (and if you haven't been going to meetings, go get your ass into a meeting ASAP).

We have a disease that knows if we get miserable enough, we'll go out and use. Letting life's challenges pile up on us until we get crushed makes us miserable. So, we deal with the problems, one-at-a-time, as they come at us, with the proper tools, and we don't use. It's not always fun, but it's a way better deal than you get with active addiction.

A friend of mine passed this along to me: It's a link that brings you the Just For Today reading for today: http://www.jftna.org/jft/index.php Copy it into your electronic device and you'll always have it handy, as long as you keep your device charged.

Funny. It works that way with us as individuals, as well: We will always have recovery handy, as long as we keep ourselves charged up. And where and how do we get charged up? Meetings, phone calls, contact with sponsors, reading program literature, working the Steps, doing program service work, doing 12th Step work, and not picking up one-day-at-a-time.
***
They asked the oldtimer how he managed to acquire his forty-five years of clean time. He answered: "I didn't use and I didn't die; the two are connected."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

THE MONKEY LIE

It has been almost two months since writing of the passing of Uncle Jimmy, and I confess it was a hard posting to put behind me. But the disease doesn't issue slack to anyone because of grief. In fact addiction uses grief like grease on a steep staircase, preparing the complacent recovering addict for that next "slip." The recovering addict either grows toward recovery or begins sliding back to the nightmare, so we move forward. What brought all this to mind was the closing meeting at this year's Unityfest, a very small, very intense NA convention at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center in Alfred, Maine.

The subject was gratitude. After the intense sharing, tears, honesty, and damn hard work done by the folks at Unityfest, recognizing the gratitude each individual felt at the end was a lot like counting your receipts at the end of a very profitable business day. It was great watching the speaking turn go around that big circle, each speaker sharing what he or she was grateful for. Man, it was all sunshine and lollipops until I heard a newcomer say, in effect, that she couldn't imagine using drugs again after such an experience as the Unityfest.

The chills her words caused me reminded me of all the times I've seen the Monkey Lie and shook my head in despair. What is the Monkey Lie? Many refer to addiction as "a monkey on my back." NA convention tee-shirts and sweatshirts sometimes print a picture of this monkey on the recovering addict's back, but the creature is depicted as sound asleep. This is supposed to represent recovery. That is the Monkey Lie, because that monkey never sleeps. When you think he's sleeping, he's really over at the gym working out, getting stronger, leafing through his data base on you to see what Step you aren't working.

The evidence is helping to fill the world's graveyards. It's a stock saying in NA, AA, and other Twelve Step programs: "If you go out again, you don't pick up where you left off; You pick up where you would have been if you had never stopped." I've heard too much testimony from those who have researched this phenomenon first hand to need to repeat the experiment for myself. This doesn't keep me safe, however.

Hang around the halls long enough and you'll hear about the guy who had three, five, fifteen, or twenty-five years clean time and then went and picked up! Everybody thought the monkey was asleep! What happened?

The monkey doesn't sleep, and neither does the dragon. In my area, we refer to addiction as the "Dragon," and there are way more dead addicts than there are dead dragons. I have a little gift that keeps reminding me of how vigilant my disease is. Every time at a meeting, during the reading of "What Is The NA Program," there's that line: "If you are like us, you know that one is too many and a thousand never enough." When whoever is reading finishes that sentence, there is this little echo in my head. It says "...a thousand..."

"...a thousand..."
"It's not enough," says the echo, "but it's a lot!"

I have just over thirty years clean and sober, and I still get little messages, dark little desires, and an occasional yearn for a quick answer to a chronic pain? You're damned right I do, which is why I still go to meetings, why I share at those meetings, why I work the Steps, do service, sponsor newcomers, have a sponsor myself, and use my own sponsor. That's why I go to Unityfest, Brothers In Spirit, and The Miracle. I am not a recovered addict. I am a recovering addict who now has the ability, by the grace of this program and fellowship, and a Higher Power, to stay in recovery if I stay alert one day at a time.

Enjoy your recovery--that's what it's there for. Bathe in the peace, the serenity, the sheer joy of being a human free of addiction. However, never forget the price. That monkey is awake. You'd best be awake, as well.
"Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom." --Thomas Jefferson