Friday, April 27, 2012

Looking For The Light

"Had enough yet?"

Were there ever before three words calculated to piss off people quite as much as "Had enough yet?" To the person using those words, he or she is looking at someone in an incredible amount of pain and well down the road to the destruction of everything and everybody of value to the one being asked.

To the using addict, though, the view is different. "Yeah, I'm in a lot of pain, and things are coming apart pretty much, but you want me to quit using the only answer I've got. You just don't understand."

No. We do understand. We've all been there. The difference is that we have learned that when the only answer you've got is to use the stuff that's causing all the problems, that is the definition of late stage addiction.

The answer, of course, is pain; Lots and lots of pain. Pain can turn on that lightbulb, and the hope is that the light goes on before death turns it off forever.

"But I'm not sure I'm an addict."

Uh huh. I was once on a designer-drug panel at a science fiction convention. One of the speakers there said something quite remarkable: "I've been using this drug for over fifteen years, and I'm not addicted."

Believe it or not, using drugs is not really good evidence that you are not addicted to drugs. I know it's unfair, but that's the way it is. If you want to test whether or not you're an addict, put down the drug. No booze, no chemicals, no gambling, no other obsessive-compulsive behaviors (gambling, overeating, raging around, being a destructive bastard, etc.) and see how it fits. Try being addiction free for a few years and see what happens.

Holy Crap! Waddya mean, a few years?!"

If you aren't addicted, then you don't "need" the booze, joint, pill, powder, whatever; There's no point in using, right?
"I've been using these drugs for years and years, and although I don't need them, I enjoy them. I can put them down any time I want, but right now I don't want to put them down. And look at me. I have a job, a house, two cars, a family, money in the bank. Things are all right. Why should I do without?"

You ever hear the one about the guy who jumped off a two thousand foot cliff, and as he neared the bottom a passing eagle asked, "How are you doing?" As the fellow plunged down toward the rocks he replied, "I'm doing okay, so far!"

For those looking for a softer landing, pick up that phone and call that number. It's in the book. Who knows? They might just have a parachute that fits.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What's On Your List?

At Brothers In Spirit, the NA men's retreat every April in Alfred, Maine, I chaired a workshop on "Letting Go of Backdoor Reservations."  So, what are these "backdoor reservations" of which I should consider letting go?

It started with a list in rehab: "Write down all of things which might happen that would cause you to pick up and use drugs again."

Of course, there was a time in my using when it being Wednesday would be cause enough to use. "I'm awake. That's reason enough." One time, trying my best not to use all on my own, facing yet another wet bar at yet another convention, the reason I found, after two weeks of sobriety, for climbing back into the bottle was, "What the hell."

A sincere effort is different. Rehab, followed by regular attendance of Twelve Step meetings in AA and NA, years of being clean and what are the back doors now? Consider your list carefully because you can almost guarantee that one or more of the things on that list are going to happen to you, because addiction is just that kind of disease. If being blind, losing your job, being thrown out by your spouse, or losing your children would cause you to use, watch out! Your disease considers this its shopping list.

Addiction says:
     1. Nothing comes between my user and the drugs.
     2. My user requires that he first wreck his marriage before he can use again.
     3. So long, marriage.

If you have a list of horrors that you cannot possibly survive without using, addiction will begin attracting those horrors ever closer to you until you do use.

The only safe course? Close all those back doors. Tell yourself, "I don't use, no matter what." You'll probably need to repeat this every now and then. You might even want to talk to your sponsor about it. You don't have a sponsor? You haven't quite made it through those meeting room doors? The clock is ticking.

Instead of making a joke about it on Facebook, or tweeting your buds for some Bud, use that phone to call NA or AA or whatever A program is designed to save your A from addiction. Always ask, "What is my next right step?" and then listen to the answer.

Go make a good day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What's Important?

There is a long list of things each item of which once occupied most of my attention because I regarded them as important at the time: Grades in school, pleasing unpleasable parents, another bit of rank advancement in school and in the military, Heaven, Hell,  politics, economics, sex, drugs, money, work, publicity, applause, and so on. In some respects, however, as the years pass, the bullshit thins out revealing the germ of wisdom that had always been there. 

In the end, the most important thing is love: Giving it, allowing it in, acting on it, even using it on myself. Love. That's what's important.

Today, look in that mirror and tell yourself that you are okay. Find someone else and tell them that you love them. And if you should be so fortunate as to have someone tell you that they love you, believe it. Don't make a joke out of it; don't throw it back in someone's face with a sarcastic comment. Instead, take it in, feel it, and join the trend: Love your self, and treat yourself as though you are someone worthy of love.

Monday, April 16, 2012


A friend telephoned me a few hours ago to let me know that Larry, the man who has sponsored me for the past 28 years, passed away sometime last night. He's the man I loved and trusted most in the world. I am mostly numb with occasional moments of devastating loss.

We were going to meet at the recent Brothers In Spirit retreat last weekend, but he never made it. There was a lot of talk at the retreat about program brothers who had passed away recently. Dan, Neal, Uncle Jimmy, Skip. At the Steering Committee meeting after the retreat, doing housekeeping things and discussing next year's BIS, one of the brothers reminded us all of what Neal used to say whenever he'd hear recovering addicts complaining about aches, pains, graying hair, loose teeth, and enlarging prostates. He'd say, "Remember, we weren't even supposed to be here."

True. Addicts die young. That was the rule for the longest time. It's no longer a rule now; It's a choice.  No addict who wants to get clean has to die from this disease. Reach out, pick up that phone directory, call the Narcotics Anonymous number, do what the person on the other end says, put down the drug and pick up on the program, go to those meetings, and follow the suggestions. If you do that, most likely you too will grow old enough to wrinkle up, ache, gimp, bitch, and help a few hundred newcomers into recovery.

If you don't use, you get older. Kids in the program make jokes about me having been around since rocks were soft. And Larry was older than me. He probably witnessed the Big Bang and complained about the noise. It shouldn't have been a surprise he passed away, but it was.

Being mindful of mortality, I often say that no one has a lock on the next ten minutes. But somewhere deep inside me I feel that those about whom I care are immortal. I never raised that belief to a verbal level, so I never knew I held it. Time after time this year, though, someone has died who "wasn't supposed to." But they died anyway. Life on life's terms: what a sucky deal. I don't have a lock on my next ten minutes, nor anyone else's.

I can hear Larry now, laughing in my ear, and saying, "So what're you gonna do? Pick up? That'll make everything all right." Larry had his sarcastic moments. 

No, Larry, I won't pick up the drug and use. It's the one thing calculated to make what I'm feeling now much much worse, and I don't think I could live through feeling worse than this. Besides, that would be one hell of a way to honor the thirty years of clean time you and I, among others, achieved for me. You're the one who blessed the title of this blog because you knew it's truth. I really hope you can get together with the redneck (his first sponsor). I know how much you missed him. I really wish we could have written that book.

Monday, April 09, 2012


I don't watch the very popular amateur talent shows such as Britans Got Talent and American Idol, both shows descendents of 1950's era Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.  I don't watch because I literally cannot stand to watch someone go through all that one must to appear on such shows, then lose. Heartbreak is a part of life, as is pain, as is crying. In addition to life, as a recovering addict in the company of hundreds and thousands of other recovering addicts, all too many of whom have very short-lived recoveries, I get more than my share of heartbreak dished up to me every day. But, as is frequently pointed out to me, in avoiding the pain, one also avoids the pleasure. Avoiding the failures also means doing without the victories, scarce as they may be. To do without the tears, one must also forego the laughter.
Inside each and every one of us is a very strange but wonderful alien life form known as a human being. If you've had to travel where one has to go to carry this lable "addict," whether your addiction(s) is drugs, gambling, sex, overeating, codependency, video games, TV, or any of the dozens of other obsessive-compulsive disorders, you might not believe that human being---that worthwhile, capable, lovable man or woman---exists somewhere inside and beneath that ugly mountain of lies, misdeeds, wasteful and shameful acts. Inside each of us, that human being does exist. The more we do to allow that being to surface---abstinance from the addictive behavior or substance, doing the head work and continuing to grow---the closer we come to first glimpsing that being, then becoming that being: becoming who we really are.

In NA they have a slogan: "Don't leave before the miracle happens." That miracle is becoming the human being you were supposed to be. And don't be afraid of failure. According to the Baseball Almanac,  Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams batted .406, which means that he missed most of the time.

Incidentally, that was the message my Higher Power whipped on me at one of our earliest conversations. Try my best and leave HP to do the rest.

So, go give your inner human a treat and make a good day. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Every Act Is A Spiritual Act

I've heard that more than once in the program: Every act is a spiritual act. I think I even wrote on this in my original meditation book, Yesterday's Tomorrow.  The first spiritual act that was pointed out to me in rehab was my attempt to end my own life. That's the basic choice in life: To live or not. All spirituality related to my own recovery from addiction draws from that fundimental decision.

Do I pull this trigger or trust that my nightmare will somehow take a better turn?

Do I admit to myself that every problem I have is either caused by or made worse by active addiction?

Do I stay in this exhausting footrace with an untiring death, or do I get clean---free from the pitiless chains of addiction?

Do I keep doing what I've been doing and keep getting the slams I keep getting, or do I open my mind enough to try a different way?

Do I go to where the kind of help I need is, or do I keep drawing from the dry well of my own thinking?

Do I reach for freedom and life, or do I continue creeping through the muck of shame, guilt, illness, debt, loneliness, and despair toward a certain and demeaning death?

This is Easter Sunday. For a good part of the religious world, it is a time to celebrate a resurrection. For others, it is Spring. The world clock has turned, trees are budding, the perennials planted and tended last year are warming up, some peeking through the soil to see if it's warm enough to come out, moose, deer, bear, rabbit, and fish are preparing for new life, and with all this going on around me, what am I going to do? Pick up?

No. What I'm going to do is what I did yesterday: Don't use, go to meetings, ask for help.



The quote from NA's Basic Text appearing in April 8th's Just For Today says, "We come to know happiness, joy and freedom."

I like happiness. It makes me happy.  It feels good. That's why I do what I need to do to stay clean: Meetings, Higher Power, Step work, sponsor, sharing --- it really is much less bother than being borderline suicidal 24 hours a day.

Do what you need to do for today.

  ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

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