Monday, May 06, 2019


A few minutes after meeting my new sponsor at his home, he sat me down at his dining room table, put a piece of paper, and a pencil in front of me. "Now what we're going to do is design you a higher power."

He sat next to me, faced the paper toward himself, wrote a line on it, and faced it toward me. The line read: "Has the power to keep me clean for a day when asked."

"That's all I require from your higher power," he said. "Throw on anything else you want."

Wow! Did my inflated intellect and barely subdued disease ever want to have fun with this! "What?" I said. "This piece of paper?"

He shrugged. "Pretend it's a teddy bear, a sunset, a favorite chair, Allah, Vishnu, or the keychain in your pocket if you want. But if you ask that piece of paper for the strength to keep you clean for a day, you will get another day away from the nightmare." Then came the big lesson, which I have mentioned in this blog several times before: "You don't have to believe in this shit for it to work. All you have to do is do it."

The search for a Higher Power and figuring out how to fit one into your life and recovery can be difficult, particularly among rabid god-haters such as I was. I wanted to take this nonsense, discount the whole thing, and throw it in the wastebasket. I didn't, though, because I told my sponsor I would do what he asked.

I don't think I personified my paper HP nor borrowed any of the available gods and goddesses from current and ancient religion. Unnamed and "up there" somewhere, I asked for another day clean. I not only got that next twenty-four hours clean, it was easy.

Since then I have added on a few things. They are in my mind since I lost that piece of paper a long time ago. My HP needs to be okay with me testing it. I needed to see it work in my life and in a manner I could understand. One time, looking for a parking place, and frustrated on that account, I came up with my first test. "Okay, give me parking places." I found a parking place, and the parking places I've gotten since are embarrassingly great. My HP listens to me and answers every prayer, sometimes with "No."

There are a number of other things I added to my list, but I do not need to know and understand my HP. What I need is to be clean one day at a time and grow in recovery. Every now and then I need direction on what to do. How it works, why it works, and so on are not my questions to answer.

Keep it simple. 

Monday, April 29, 2019


Shaker Wall at the Center
Brothers In Spirit, the annual men's retreat at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center in Alfred, Maine was meeting for the 20th time. I was program chair, our theme was "That Higher Power Thing," and for the previous couple of weeks I had been sweating cannonballs. The program, essentially, involved discussing and sharing on probably the most difficult and personal subject in NA, the Higher Power problem, as well as one of the most explosive issues in the world: believing, not believing, in which god, how to use or be used by this or that supreme being, which message or messages to follow, which set of rituals, which raiment, which set of dietary laws, which set of scriptures, which holy beings in which sect to follow to be good with the spirit world, good with my fellow temple, church, synagogue, mosque, circle mates, and keeping, as well, those in differing sects from throwing bombs through my window and slaughtering everyone with swords and submachine gun fire.

Addicts, especially those new in recovery, are not the most tolerant of persons. Neither are they usually patient, forgiving, non-judgmental, understanding, nor open-minded. These are skills and qualities one develops after years and decades in recovery. One cannot count on old-timers, however. As with modern education, I have known those who managed to go through the entire process of recovery without learning much nor changing a thing. So, we proposed to take this bunch, mix them up with the world's most controversial subject, and see if we could learn anything from the process. I should add, we did not provide metal detectors nor pat-down body searches at the meetings.

Check out this program:

Came To Believe —or Not! For many the biggest stumbling block in recovery is the “came to believe” part of Step Two. Why do that? How do you begin believing? How to get around a life of unbelieving.
The Decision: Wills & Lives In recovery, what does turning one’s will and life over to an HP mean? How is it done? How to detect reservations.
To Find, Have & Use an HP Talk is not cheap if your Higher Power is nothing more than words. How to find and use your individual Higher Power in recovery and in life.
Sending & Receiving Sharing the prayers we use and the ways we meditate, not just to achieve a closer contact with our HP’s, but to stay clean, grow in recovery, and live life.
Journeys In Spirituality We find our HPs each on our own path, but many get stuck along the way. Sharing experience, strength, and hope in our spiritual journeys.

There were tears, laughter, and men sharing their deepest fears, pains, hopes, loves, and aspirations. We all learned from each other, picked up what we could use to apply to our own lives and recoveries, got help where we needed it, exchanged numbers and made bonds of friendship and fellowship. What we did not do is argue, judge, nor attempt to dictate or control what another believed, how they prayed, nor even if they prayed. What we all did was shut up and listen to each other.

When a recovering addict speaks in the circle on what he believes or how he communicates with his HP, we listened. We didn't stab him to death, blow up his room, smear his name in the media, nor slaughter four hundred innocent passersby in protest. We listened, often celebrated his achievement, and even learned a thing or three we could apply to our own spiritual journeys. It was a miracle that outshone any bright lights or burning bushes and we almost let it pass without recognizing it for what it was. Thankfully, a couple of speakers pointed it out at the last sharing session. You don't want to let those miracles zip on by without notice.

There is an old newspaper yarn about what constitutes a newsworthy story. "Dog Bites Man," is not newsworthy. "Man Bites Dog" is. Churches, mosques, synagogues, and those of various faiths being torched, blown up, and worshippers slain in endless horrific ways is almost so commonplace it isn't newsworthy unless the body count is so high it in itself becomes remarkable.  Well, under the heading of "Man Bites Dog," in a tiny town in Maine, Jews, Christians, Islamists, Pagans, Buddhists, and atheists got together to peacefully discuss spirituality, higher powers, recovery, share their deepest beliefs, and learn from each other. And they did.

Monday, March 25, 2019


The meeting was about early recovery and how sticky that drug can get when you first try to put it down. Non-addicts do not understand this stickiness, this pull, this almost supernatural command to pick up that drug and use. These are the same folks who tell you, “If drugs are screwing up your life, why don’t you stop?” We had a number of newcomers at the meeting and they shared about those struggles, successes, and failures. For those who have been clean for years and decades, hearing about early recovery from those who are living it helps keep things fresh. The disease is alive and well, and every recovering addict, including the old-timer, is just one bad decision away from a return to the nightmare. The main thing newcomer meetings emphasize are what some of us call “The Dues.”

“Narcotics Anonymous is a club with the most expensive membership dues in the world.” I heard that in an NA meeting about thirty years ago. When you add up all of the costs of addiction, the prices, the financial problems, the health problems, mental problems, loss of freedom, being thrown out of one home after another, problems with the law, with employment, rejection of friends and family, and discover those are only the down payments on the dues, the size of the problem gets frightening.

Many don't appreciate the size of that balloon payment on their dues until they try to put down the drug. When they do that they discover that the disease of addiction is almost a real creature with a separate personality and a very loud voice. It talks, whines, cajoles, bullies, and has physical access to emotions, to mental focus, and to almost every nerve. It is very much like a very powerful mad-scientist dictator who has had power over you for a very long time and who isn’t going to give up control of you without a struggle. You try to put down the drug, the battle begins, and the battlefield is you.

I call it “the dragon,” some addicts call it “a monkey on my back,” and some call it “a gorilla on my back.” What is comes down to is a condition that presents itself as almost a separate personality whose only ambition is to get you back on the pills, powders, and potions. It makes it so you can only see loneliness, misery, pain, disappointment, injustice, and horror. It does this with the promise that all that will go away if you simply pick up and use. As I heard one recovering addict say, “The monkey is off my back but the circus is still in town.”

No sweet fairy tales here: Early recovery sucks. It is hard and often painful filling one’s head with constant doubts, worries, and a million good-sounding reasons for picking up. In Narcotics anonymous the addict new in recovery gets tools to use to combat those urges to pick up. The main tool for me was going to meetings—lots and lots of meetings. There I heard others going through the same things I was going through and how they dealt with them without using. After some time passed the cravings went away and it got much easier. But that condition only remained by continuing to use the tools of the program.

A tool I had a hard time learning to use was the telephone. Calling another recovering addict when I was up against it sparked this peculiar thing in me: I didn’t want to ask anyone for help because they might think I needed it. Then one day I was faced with what seemed to be a simple choice. The dragon was sitting on my desk and it was either pick up the drug or pick up the phone. It was a monumental struggle, but I picked up that ten ton phone,  called another addict, we talked it out, and I was clean for another day. Phone calls became much easier.

The dues to get into this club of recovering addicts are terrible and expensive, but they only need to be paid once. You learn how not to have to repay those dues (as well as how not to occupy your grave any sooner than necessary) by going to meetings and listening, by reading the literature, by getting and using a sponsor, by working the Steps of Recovery.

There is no cure. Addiction can be arrested and recovery experienced as long as that disease is still under arrest. Those cuffs, bars, and guards are meetings, a program of recovery, and other recovering addicts. The cop in this instance is that part of you that wants to live life as a human being.


A few minutes after meeting my new sponsor at his home, he sat me down at his dining room table, put a piece of paper, and a pencil in fron...