Thursday, March 29, 2012

WANT TO HEAR GOD LAUGH?

I had a really inspiring post, written as I am once again in a hospital awaiting invasive tests and heavy answers. It was a great blog. Then . . . I hit delete instead of publish. If you want to hear God laugh, make a plan.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THIS NEW DAY

I was asked about the prayers I use. A number of them depend on what's happening, but I have a few regulars.


First thing in the morning, once I'm done with breakfast, complaining about my aches and pains, wondering if I'm ever going to get a motorboat, and make it into the fresh air outside, I say, "God, thank you for last night, thank you for yesterday, and thank you for the gift of this new day."


Life is a gift. A near death experience taught me that. As the years on my ticket get used up and my health problems increase, the treasure that is each new day becomes ever more obvious. "Okay, I have another day; Now, what do I do with it?"


After that, I pray that God watches out and protects me and those I love in our travels and adventures today, and I pray for some folks I know in and out of the program who are having a tough time with addiction and/or other things.  I may throw in a prayer or two for deceased friends of mine who I'm not absolutely certain made it to a better place.


If the committee in my head is really running around, screaming, pulling me this way and that, I say: "God, help me to focus on the present moment and fill my mind with the task at hand."


The Serenity Prayer is frequently employed when I'm feeling up against it.


Try a prayer or two. As a crusty old bastard in the program once told me, "You don't have to believe in any of this shit for it to work for you; All you have to do is do it."


I came.
I came to.
I came to believe.


Make a great day.

Monday, March 26, 2012

BALANCING ACT

"The program isn't my life.  The program gave me back my life." —Bruce Chamberlain


All or nothing: That was how I ran my life and everything else before getting clean in the program. Work, sex, research, writing—I went at it all as though my life depended on it, which included drinking and using prescriptions. When I began writing a story, I would begin writing and wouldn't stop until—sometimes days later—I would finish. Things like moderation and balance were vague and mostly meaningless concepts from Eastern philosophy that had little to do with me, even after my way of doing things gave me a heart attack at the age of thirty-six..

Then I ran headlong into a wall called "addiction," rehab, Narcotics Anonymous, and a person whose name I can no longer remember who told me, "All you need to do to get and stay in recovery is change everything but your hair color—unless changing your hair color helps, then change that, too."

I didn't have to change my hair color, so I did. When my beard started turning gray, I used a product that was supposed to return my beard to its original color—a youthful light brown. The color I got, however was Big Bird yellow! About the same time that my gray beard grew back in, the hair on top decided to thin the crop.  I was falling apart! At a meeting I went to, a young man was sharing about the gray hair that was peppering his sleek locks. "I told my sponsor about it, and he held out his hands and said, "I don't know what to tell you; if you don't use you get older."

The frantic way I went about my recovery mirrored my behavior when I was still using. If I was going to be a recovering addict, I would be the most perfect recovering addict the planet had ever seen. Meeting attendance, service work, sponsors, sponsees, Twelfth Step calls, buried myself in literature, and when it came to Higher Powers, I fell into an endless pile of research on ancient and modern religion.

Slowing down. The first time I actually heard and listened to this concept, I was at an Al-Anon meeting. How much should I slow down was the obvious next question, and the response I got was sobering . . . so to speak. "Take a quarter of what you're doing now and do half of that." I talked to my sponsor about that, and he agreed. “God didn’t put you on this earth to sit in endless meetings and chant steps and traditions like a robot. The program is medicine for the disease of addiction. It’s not a life. Out there somewhere you have a life. Go and find it —but don’t forget to keep taking your medicine.”

Today I'm not running as hard as I can to wind up in the same place. I have a life, people I love and who love me, fun things to do and see, wonderful books and movies to experience, places to go, things to see, causes I like that can use my help, and downhill skiing. I also am still writing and enjoying it much more now that I'm not hovering over myself with a bullwhip, driving myself into another cardiac problem.

Easy does it—but do it!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

LIFE'S TOUGH

"Life's tough, kid, and it's tougher if you're stupid."

The above quotation, a variety of which is most often attributed to John Wayne, came from The Friends of Eddie Foyle.  John Wayne is also attributed as having originated the following quotation: "If you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

The value of the second quotation to the problem of staying clean is marginal, since it is the main credo of every addiction of which I know. When alcohol had me by the litchi nuts, my heart and mind definitely followed. When I first got clean, however, my heart and mind were still trying to make up their minds. It frightens me to think about my early and quite naive bargaining and negotiations with Death, not understanding until much later that Death does not negotiate.

The world of recovery is made up out of two groups of persons: Active addicts and recovering addicts. Active addicts use; Recovering addicts don't. Active addicts are playing leapfrog with Death; Recovering addicts have stopped playing games with the disease of addiction. You never want to play leapfrog with a guy who's carrying a scythe.

There are problems in life, and as an old sponsor of mine once put it: "Recovery is one long exercise in applying the Serenity Prayer."

For those not familiar with the abbreviated version of Reinhold Niebuhr's untitled prayer used in Twelve Step programs, it goes like this:

God, grant me Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.

I can't change that I'm an addict. I can't change what I need to do to remain in recovery from addiction. If I accept those two things and do what I need to do, I thrive, mostly. If I decide to go to war with the facts of reality, well, I'm back to playing leapfrog with a guy who packs a three foot-long blade and doesn't like to lose.

I know better. Since I know better, the only way I can convince myself that going back out is a good idea is through that self imposed blindness and ignorance we call Stupidity.

"Life's tough, kid, and it's tougher if you're stupid."

Today I'm going to do what I know I need to do for my recovery, let go of outcomes, and have a great day. I hope you have one, too.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A MAN CALLED BRIAN

Under the heading of "Identify, don't compare," I was sent the following by a fellow in Virginia.


A man walked out to the street and immediately catches a taxi in New York City . The cabbie says, "That's perfect timing, sir, you're just like Brian."

Passenger: "Brian who?"

Cabbie: "Brian Sullivan. He's a guy who did everything right all the time. I first heard about him in the program. Like my coming along when you needed a cab, things happen like that to Brian Sullivan all the time. A great man."

Passenger: "Program? Are you a friend of Bill W.'s?"

Cabbie: "Yes sir, I am.  You?"

Passenger: "Yes. Clean and sober the past three years. About this person, Brian, everything couldn't have been perfect for him. There are always a few clouds over everybody."

Cabbie: "Not over Brian Sullivan. He was a terrific athlete who could have won the Grand Slam at tennis or played golf with the pros. He sang like a bird, danced like a star and played the piano . He worked one hell of a program, an amazing guy."

Passenger: "Sounds like he was something really special."

Cabbie: "Oh, there's more. He had a memory like a computer, remembered everybody's birthday and worked Twelve Step calls like a saint. He could fix anything from a toaster to a car. Not like me. I change a fuse, and the whole street blacks out. But Brian Sullivan did everything right."

Passenger: "Wow... Some guy that Brian."

Cabbie: "He always knew the quickest way in traffic, avoided every traffic jam, and never had to search for a parking place. Brian never made a mistake, picked up after himself, and he really knew how to treat a woman and make her feel good. He would never answer her back even if she was wrong; and his clothing was always immaculate, shoes highly polished, too. He was the perfect man! No one, and I mean no one, could ever measure up to Brian Sullivan."

Passenger: "An amazing fellow. Was he your sponsor?"

Cabbie: "No. See, I never actually met Brian. He died."

Passenger: "Then how do you know so much about him?"

Cabbie: I'm married to his goddamned widow."
~ ~ ~

Thursday, March 22, 2012

ADDICT IN THE RAIN

There is an annual Narcotics Anonymous convention in Alfred, Maine mid-September every year. It's held at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center and the convention is called "The Miracle." If you're looking for king-sized beds, maid and room service, you are looking in the wrong place. At the Miracle, you make your own bed, clean your own room, and have a chance to open yourself to the worlds of fellowship, recovery, and spirituality. There are snacks, table tennis, and pool, too. Meals are prepared by the Brothers and Sisters and served at the dining hall. The food is good. No one has reported losing weight at a Miracle.

The convention is purposefully small. Several times the organizers and attendees have discussed moving the Miracle to a larger facility, and each time it has been brought up, it has been voted down. You see, at a small gathering, it's tough to hide in your room, becoming one of those invisible attendees who walk in fear of change. Those who come to the Miracle really want to get clean, stay clean, and advance in their recovery.  They may want to hide, but it's hard to do in Alfred.

The first Miracle was in 1983 and it has been going strong ever since. If my addition is correct, this coming September will be Miracle XXX. I have attended all of the Miracles, I owe much of my recovery to the things I've learned there, the friends I've made there, and the fellowship I became a part of there.  There, as well, I came to trust this Higher Power of mine who, up until then, had been a sometime figure of comfort most often lost in a cloud of my own doubts. 

At the first day of the first Miracle, I had a lousy time. The place was full of people I'd never met before, at one of the meetings I made a reference to something I had learned in AA and had been reamed out by a NAliban Nazi, the weather was gray, cold, and wet, and I was ready to get in my car and go home Saturday morning.

I remember sitting at breakfast on Saturday, huddled over my eggs and sausage, silently glowering around at the other addicts, wondering why no one wanted to sit with me. I mentally chewed over some of the things I had heard at the meetings on Friday, particularly a couple of Higher Power believers who kept repeating, if you need something from your Higher Power, all you need to do is ask.

So there I was after breakfast, standing in the rain in front of the tiny cemetery the Brothers have there, trying to decide what to do. What did I need from my Higher Power?  I needed a sign. Okay, I thought, I'll ask for a sign. Fully convinced I was making requests to a nonexistent deaf ear, I mumbled sort of out loud, "Okay, Whoever you are, give me a sign. What do I need to know."

Well, no giant finger came down from Heaven and burned my answer in the flagstones with lightning bolts. I got zip, nada, nothing, which was what I secretly expected. It was dead quiet, except for the patter of the raindrops. Maybe the sign I need is already there, I thought, giving this fictitious power every chance. So, what can I see? I looked and shivered as the icy rain ran down my collar. And I answered, "Well, I can see I'm god damned cold and wet!"

What a bunch of crap. But then I happened to look to my left and saw Denis Hall, the main meeting place and dormitory for the Miracle attendees. I was cold, wet, and all alone standing in the rain. But it was warm and dry back there with all those recovering addicts. It was enough of a sign for me. That was the moment I became a part of the fellowship of NA.

On Sunday, before I left to return home, I walked down the lane to that place near the cemetery and made two deals with my Higher Power: First, that I would try my best to stay clean and work the program, HP taking care of the rest; and, Second, if I was clean that time next year, I would be back. I've returned every year since.

Do I want to move this convention to a big flashy hotel that can serve a convention of thousands rather than the hundred and fifty or so who squeeze into the Spiritual Center every September for the Miracle?  I don't think so. But, even if at some future date, it is decided to make such a move, come mid-September every year I'll be back at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center, standing amid the towering oaks on the lane to the Brothers cemetery. I made a deal with my HP to return every year that I was clean. HP has held up his end of the bargain; The least I can do is hold up mine.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

INNER PEACE, INNER PEACE---AND SHUT UP, ALREADY!

One of my favorite movies is the first Kung Fu Panda. I like the story, the animation, the beautiful art direction and score, the message, and the laughs. I identify with Po's eating problem, but most of all I identify with Master Shifu (voice by Dustin Hoffman). In one scene, after being given the  seemingly impossible task of turning a big, fat Panda whose only skills appear to be making food and eating it into the dragon warrior, Shifu is in the temple, attempting to meditate to clear his troubled mind and regain his center and serenity. "Inner peace," he chants, "inner peace, in-in-in . . . inner peace---  Would whoever is making that slapping sound quiet down!"

Step Eleven says, "We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious with God, as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out."

The meditation part of Step Eleven, is every bit as important to our recovery as is prayer. The serene have no excuses, no reasons, to go and use. Inner peace. Inner peace.

Serenity, eh? So what do we do about all the drug substitution, quack rehab, guaranteed addiction cures, and self-appointed do-it-yourself sobriety gurus making money and gaining notoriety at the expense of many active addicts and alcoholics whose first efforts at recovery become misdirected by unprincipled charlatans and the well-meaning but ignorant?

Addicts die. Nothing anyone can do about that. Addicts who honestly want help know where to get it: the halls of NA, AA, other Twelve Step programs, and treatment centers based on the Twelve Steps. Addicts who look for that easier, softer way will often fall prey to the willpower illusionists and to those selling "cures." 

It sounds cold, but the program of recovery isn't for those who need it; it's for those who want it. As recovering addicts, our job isn't to engage in controversy, publicly arguing down those who hold differing views. Our job is to get into recovery, stay there, get on with our lives, and by our example carry the message of recovery to the still suffering addict.

And those commercials promising a guaranteed cure for addiction ("not based on any Twelve Step program"), when they come on the air?  "Inner peace, inner peace, in-in-in . . . inner peace---Would whoever has the remote please change the damned station?"

Monday, March 19, 2012

INSTANT GRATIFICATION vs. LIFE

The Ability to resist impulse can be developed through practice. When you’re faced with an immediate temptation, remind yourself of your long-term goals—whether they be losing weight or getting a medical degree. You’ll find it easier, then, to keep from settling for the single marshmallow. —Daniel Goleman

"One is too many and a thousand never enough."

If you have ever attended Twelve Step meetings of almost any kind, you've heard the above quotation. It makes no difference what your addiction or collection of addictions consist of, it's all the same: Abstain, and you can be making progress toward your long term goals; Use, and it's back on the treadmill of addiction.

"I'll never use again." We've heard that, as well. Often these are the ones who, if they ever do manage to make it back through the doors of recovery, begin by saying, "I had no intention of using." The whole point of Step One is that addiction is more powerful than you are and if you tangle with using again, you are going to lose.

"What's your poison?" the bartender used to ask. It's a good question, the answers to which are important to those who want to reach for better lives free from addiction. Gambling, alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, food, tobacco, nail biting, sex, controlling others, work, cutting ourselves, down to and including the darkest extremes of addiction as with compulsive rapists and serial murderers. In my own case, that first drink, that first prescription drug, that first puff of tobacco, that first bet, that first bite of food outside my food plan, and I'm back there once again, racing to keep up and going nowhere except deeper into addiction's hell.

Here is another quote, one of the Twelve Step program slogans: "Think." In some programs it's phrased, "Think First." In others it's phrased, "Think it through." They all mean the same thing: Engage brain before operating body. If you don't pick up the first, there is no need to go through the humiliation and punishment of the second, the hundredth, or the ten thousandth. If I don't pick up the first, I can still move toward accomplishing my long term goals.

"Oh, but what's the use? Why try?" We've heard that, too, and sometimes from ourselves. What do I do then?
Call my sponsor.
Write a gratitude list
Go to a meeting
Read the program literature
Write out my feelings
Do something nice for someone
Call someone else in the program
Get back on working the Steps

Once in recovery, I have the choice whether to pick up that first or leave it be. The choice is mine until I pick up. I need to keep my long term goals in mind and not pick up that first, because all the things I could now put on a gratitude list are what I might lose should I con myself into thinking, "One won't hurt."

I've experienced the slavery of addiction and the freedom of recovery; Freedom is better.

Think it through.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

GROWING UP IN NA

A few of us were standing around in the hall of the hospice waiting for a dear friend in the program to die. Understandably, the mood was somber.  One of our number had something his daughter had written and he read it to us. I asked her permission to reprint it here.


Twenty or so adults stand in a circle with their arms entangled. I wormed my way into the circle. All heads look to the floor. There is a moment of silence before they begin:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
Heads raise. Everyone smiles as they break their embrace.

Whether it be a church, friends, or relatives, everyone is born into a community. When I came into this world, my community was Narcotics Anonymous. My most vivid memories as a child were in church basements. Not on Sundays, but at night. I would sit in between my parents among the adults in the folding metal chairs. The smell of coffee and cigarettes wafted through the room as I listened attentively to the stories.

Among those stories, I have listened to a man once living on the streets who now owns his own barbecue stand, a woman with two children, no teeth, and Hepatitis C who still finds hope at every meeting, a woman with one lung who hikes four thousand foot mountains, and a man with one eye and stage four liver cancer who spends his free time tending to his honey bees. These people have demonstrated that although addiction does not have a cure, it is not a terminal disease. As a child growing up in this community, I have learned that setbacks are not all there is and a person never stops growing.

One would think that Narcotics Anonymous meetings are a place of despair and misery; but really, they are a place of empowerment, and hope. As a child, I used to hope that I would be an addict when I grew up. Hoping that one day I could participate in these meetings, myself. The truth is, though, I have gained so much knowledge and wisdom from Narcotics Anonymous without having to go through what it takes for most people to end up there. My parents have raised me in an environment full of recovering drug addicts and, surprisingly, they are all my role models. Not for what they did, but for what they have done and continue to do for themselves and others. These people have been in a harder place than I have and still came out the other end not only alive, but loving life. They have demonstrated the awareness, courage, and drive that it takes to become better people and a contribution to their community. As I grow up and move on from this community, I will take the lessons learned from Narcotics Anonymous and for that, I trust that every problem I face, I will handle with grace, maturity, and responsibility.

                                                   ~Hannah Huggins


It was the beekeeper with the cancer, Uncle Jimmy, who was in the hospice dying of cancer when Hannah's father read the above to us. I've thought long and hard on it, but I cannot think of a better advertisement for getting and staying clean in the program of Narcotics Anonymous.

Monday, March 12, 2012

ACRONYMS, OR WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Feeling quite ill, I answered the telephone and it was a fellow in the program. He asked me how I was doing. "I feel like shit," I answered.

Being teddibly adult and program correct, he said, "I don't know how shit feels."

"It's an acronym," I said. "It stands for Sore, Headachy, Infirm, and Tense."

Curiously enough, "SHIT" originally was an acronym standing for "Store High In Transit." In the days when fertilizer was shipped in leaky wooden boats, getting the stuff wet could have rather explosive effects. So, longshoremen were instructed to load the stuff in the ship's upper reaches. "Store High In Transit" became abbreviated to "S.H.I.T.," and the rest is history.

There are many program acronyms attempting to make it easier to remember a slogan, some fact or guiding principle, such as the familiar "KISS" = standing for, "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Here are a few others that have been sent to me by Twelve Step program members over the years:


ASK = ass-saving kick.
BMW = Bitch, Moan, & Whine.
DAMIT = Dreams of Absent Minded Transgression.
DENIAL = Don’t Even kNow I’m Always Lying.
FEAR = False Events Appearing Real. Also, Fuck Everything And Run.
FINE = Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, Evasive (also Emotional) and Feeling Insecure etc.
GOD = Good Orderly Direction, Group’s Outstanding Direction, Good Old Doubt, Group Of Drunks, Group Of Druggies, Gathering Of Desperates.
HALT = Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
SLIP = Sobriety Losing It’s Priority.
SOBER = Son Of a Bitch, Everything’s Real!
TENSION = Temporary Effect of Nervous Stress I Openly Neglect.
TIME = This I Must Earn (also) This I Must Excrete.
WBBB = With Bill Before the Book (old-timer).
YET = (As in "I haven't done that yet") Your Early Termination.

By the way, check out today's Just For Today reading (link over there on the right), especially if you have a lot of clean time.

Now, go make a good day.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

RESENTMENTS & THE PASSIVE SHIT LIST

Todays Just For Today reading has to do with resentments and what a burden they can be to those who carry them. In meetings they have been described as putting poison in a glass, drinking it, and saying "Take that!" to the person resented. It's also been described as hitting yourself in the head with a fist or hammer, and doing the same thing as the poisoner: saying "Take that!" to the person so resented. There are three points to make here:

1. Resentments don't affect the person resented.
2. Resentments hurt the resenter.
3. The disease of addiction uses your resentments to fuel your way back to the nightmare.

What's the big setup? If I get miserable enough, eventually I'm going to use. My disease, therefore, focuses on ways that I can make myself miserable, resentments being number one on the going-back-to-Hell hit parade. In early recovery I thought I understood this. That's why I developed my Passive Shit List.

Here's how it works: I'm not going to give this person free room in my head, deviling my thoughts from sunup to sundown. For all practical purposes, I've let go of that. However, if the guy should be crossing the street in front of my while I'm driving a car, how much trouble would it be to run over the sonofabitch!

When I explained this new letting-go program tool to my sponsor, he stared at me for a full thirty seconds, stared up at the sky for another fifteen, then looked back at me and said, "The main thing to learn about letting go is to let go!  Now, let's go and work on that."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

3 AM AND THE EVER DIMINISHING SUCK

It happens a lot. I wake up at 12:30 am, or 1:47 am, or in the case of this morning, three o'clock. I try to get back to sleep. I have a day to put in and feeling awake is feeling good, and feeling good is why I put down the chemicals (and why I picked them up in the first place), and while I'm waiting for sleep to return, the Committee in my head decides just lying there is boring, and it begins an endless review of my problems, my country's problems, the problems of the universe, and before I began composing speeches I'll never deliver, I got up, sneaked out of the bedroom so as to not awaken my wife and our two yappy dogs. Cup of coffee in hand, computer up and running, I wondered what today's reading is in NA's Just For Today meditation book.

The link for today's reading is over there on the right, "Today's Just For Today." Go on and take a peek, if you haven't already, then come back here. We'll wait.

* * *

Work the Steps.  Have fun, but work the Steps. Addiction programmed me to be a self-centered, unreliable, self-hating, physically ill, depressed, angry son of a bitch. Working a program of recovery, that is, working the Steps with a sponsor, began the process and continues the task of turning that son of a bitch into a human being. I've been at it now for over three decades and there is still work to do.

The clincher on today's Just For Today reading is at the end: "I want everything my personal program has to offer."

For a long time, staying clean seemed like enough for me. All of the changes I'd have to make to work the rest of the program frightened me. It took a while for me to realize that what really scared me was that the program would work and I'd never use again. I was gypping myself, however. If all I changed was to put down the drugs (alcohol and prescriptions in my case), all I'd become is an addict who was out of stuff--not a happy camper.

Then came a Higher Power, followed shortly by acquiring a sponsor I would actually use, followed by continuing to work the Steps I had begun in rehab, followed by NA service work, followed by health, peace of mind, gardening, serenity, friends, skiing, movies, wood carving, some really great writing experiences, even better writing instruction experiences, and glorious F-U-N!

Fun. What is this terrifically wonderful feeling: fun? Happiness? Laughter? This warm feeling in my heart, love, for others? This pride I feel in their accomplishments? This amazement I feel when others trust me, consider me responsible, value me as a friend, consider me cool and a delight to be with?

When all I wanted was to be clean I was shortchanging myself. "I want everything my personal program has to offer." And I don't have all of it yet. The rewards for the Step work and service I do keep coming.  Most of my life these days doesn't suck. The Steps and the program are how I whittle down the sucky remainder.

Make a good day.

Friday, March 09, 2012

GRATITUDE SHORT LIST

On the subject of gratitude, what about the karma challenged? A contributor sent me a newspaper clipping by Rebecca Dudley from the Brush News-Tribune, from Brush, Colorado. Ms Dudley recounts the tale of a fellow who had brought his motorcycle into his living room for the purpose of repairing it. He had a bowl of gasoline, some rags, and tools. After making the intended repairs, He climbed on his crotch rocket to start it up and make certain everything worked. When he cranked it up, however, the motorcycle was in gear and promptly carried the fellow though a pair of glass doors.

His wife called the paramedics, off the fellow went to the hospital, and was sewn back together with many stitches. Upon returning home, he went to bed and his wife bent to the task of cleaning up the living room. Among the other things she cleaned, she took the bowl of gasoline and dumped it in the toilet, which she failed to flush. Her husband, then, bandaged like the Mummy, went into the bathroom to take a dump. He dropped his pajama bottoms, sat down, then lifted a cheek and took the cigarette he was smoking and tossed it into the bowl, which promptly exploded sending the man through the bathroom door, his posterior aflame.

His wife again called 911 and the same paramedics as the previous time answered the call. They put the guy on a stretcher, and while they were carrying him out to the ambulance, the man's wife explained to the paramedics what had happened. Unfortunately, this got the paramedics laughing so hard, they dropped the man, breaking his collarbone.

Days like this I've had myself, including being dropped by the guys who were carrying the stretcher I was on, giving me the third concussion I had received over the previous 36 hours. When I awakened in the hospital with a level nine headache and half-blind with seeing multiple images, I did my Gratitude Short List. I said, "I'm still on this side of the dirt."

"While the sick man has life, there is hope." —Cicero

Thursday, March 08, 2012

WHY & HOW GRATITUDE

WHY AND HOW GRATITUDE

Speaking of a program of truisms, clich├ęs, and threadbare platitudes, here's one for you: "Grateful addicts don't use." It's a fact of life in recovery; grateful addicts don't pick up. If you cherish what you have and what you have achieved in recovery and are grateful to the program, your sponsor, your friends, your own efforts, and the powers of the universe for that recovery, why throw it all away by using? It doesn't happen. Thus the old slogan: "Keep an attitude of gratitude."

But then the gasoline prices bump up another ten percent, layoffs are increased, the world's governments seem to be run by a bunch of brats, a close friend dies, a family member is into the alphabet soup of drugs, the dog gets run over, and your doctor tells you the test results just came in and would you please drop everything and come into his office—on the other hand, meet him at the emergency room!

Gratitude? When everything seems like it's falling apart, tempting one to play with thoughts of running from the head noise by chemically numbing it out, how does one get grateful? A gratitude list is usually called for, and there are different kinds. Some sponsors will simply tell the gratitude deficient to write a list of ten things for which the sponsee is grateful. In my meditation book, Yesterday's Tomorrow: Recovery Mediations For Hard Cases (Hazelden, 1997), Meditation 115, "For a Werewolf, Every Day Is a Bad Hair Day," describes how my sponsor taught me to do a gratitude list:

You take a piece of paper and run a line down the center.  On the left side you write down your clean date.  On the right side you write today's date.  Returning to the left side, write down the names of all of the people you loved on your clean date, followed by the names of all of the people who loved you, then a list of all of the material things you had and how you felt about them.  Finally, You write down how you felt then, about yourself, your purpose, and your place in the universe.  After completing that, you do the same on the right side:  In reference to today's date, you list those you love, those who love you, the material things you have and how you feel about them, and how you feel about yourself and your place in the universe today

I have yet even to begin one such gratitude list without suddenly being flooded with gratitude, the mean nasties in my head chased back into the shadows. Please note that I did not say the mean nasties were chased clean out of my head. That never happens. Gratitude is a temporary respite from the stormy attitudes and outlooks that tempt us back into using. With the passage of time, a few good days, a little complacency, and a few skipped meetings, suddenly a bad attitude springs up seemingly out of the blue, which is the disease of addiction running things from inside your own head.

Sometimes I hear from a sponsee, that a close friend just died, or he lost his job, or this crappy thing happened, or that crappy thing happened. "I have a right to feel bad, don't I?"

At things that cause sadness, the healthy person feels sad. At things that cause anger, the healthy person feels angry. At things that cause grief, the healthy person grieves. But neither sadness, anger, or grief makes one feel ungrateful. Ingratitude—the feeling that you're being singled out and screwed by the universe—is the feeling left over after the disease of addiction has made one blind to all of the good in his or her life. The gratitude list is how to bring those good things in your life back into focus.