Turning it Over!

In Step Three, the word “care” has a lot of meaning to me.  To me, it’s an action word.  A reminder to do my best.  I’m not just handing it over and hitting my can to watch how it all turns out.  Hell no.  I have a big part.  To do my very best.  And then…gulp, let the results be what they are.  Looking back, it’s an evolutionary process.  Step Three means something completely different at eight years sober, than it did at one, three, five years etc.

As for the deity part in Step Three, I spend little time there.  I only have to go out in this great big world and travel a bit, or experience nature.  Yes, there is something bigger than me!  And, really, who am I to say otherwise.  I don’t need to burn energy in any debate beyond that.

“Let go or be dragged” is another description, along the lines of Step Three, that means something to me today.  And, it certainly doesn’t mean give up.  Far from it.  What the phrase means to mean is just to put all my energy into doing my best today.  That’s it!  No looking back.  No looking forward.  No disappointment with whatever the result is or isn’t.

It has definitely been a process that has taken time to fully understand and embrace.  I couldn’t let go at one year sober. I had done Step Three and considered it complete.  Read it, said it and believed it. But looking back, I really had no depth of understanding what this Step really meant.  And, looking back, I still hadn’t let go at even five years sober.  I was still looking back, hoping for a better past.  Or, feeling anxious because I just didn’t know about next year, or the following year.  And, that inner critical voice, still critiquing the minute I finished something.  Picking on the small blemish that didn’t go “as planned”.  Or, where I experienced a flash of fear or shame while engaged in what I was doing.   I would hyper focus on that.  Never allowing myself to step back and realize how well things went overall.  And, if it didn’t go well, forget it! Hours of ruthless and crushing inner dialogue persisted.

Once I truly let go, everything changed.  And it hasn’t left.  Every day just keeps getting better the more I am able to let go.

So, if this is what it feels like to have a spiritual awakening, I am all in!

I No Longer Drink, So Why AA?

One thing is for certain, alcoholics never seem to be short on “over thinking” things.  Life presents itself, but to us we want to know if there is just a little more.  Mentally churning the what if’s and where fore’s.  Never satisfied to just accept what is.

I have learned that alcoholism is a fatal illness.  I have also learned (the hard way) that if you’re an alcoholic, and still drinking, things will always get worse…never better!  I had to experience that process of illumination and understanding until the pain and suffering in my life reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore.

My solution was alcohol.  It was my solution until I drank the value out of drinking.  And then, of course, I had a gorilla size problem to deal with.  When I survived addiction and got sober, the bigger problem that I have had my entire life was still there. good ole life itself!

My program in sobriety is AA.  I don’t go to AA because I have a drinking problem.  No, I took care of that!  I go to AA because I have a sober problem.  And I have had this sober problem for as long as I can remember.  I never fit in.  I always felt uncomfortable in my own skin.  I was never good enough.  People were always judging me, or so I thought.  The list goes on!  Joy was elusive.  Happiness…fleeting!

Learning how to live life on life’s terms has been a challenge.  Learning how to stop fighting everything and everyone has been a challenge.  Learning how to become free from the bondage of self, the stifling self-centeredness that consumes alcoholics, that has been a challenge.  But eight years into my sober journey, I can tell you that it has been that most rewarding experience of my life.

The last two years of my life, in particular, have been incredible.  And it just keeps getting better each day.   it is all due to the fact that I became willing to take a hard look at myself and change.  I never knew I had to change.  Hell, I just thought that I had a drinking problem and I needed to fix that.  Eventually, in this process of becoming truthful and conscious, I could see clearly that all of my problems had one common denominator…ME!

None of these admissions, and then taking corrective actions toward change is easy. In fact, most people don’t. I guess they find it too tough. But for those of us that do make that change, it’s hard to put into words just how great life becomes.

AA is not my life. AA has become my way of life!

Not God!

At two years into my sober journey, I had traveled to the zero point of my soul. I was so full of pain and self-induced suffering that I just stopped and sat down on the floor of my bedroom one day. I became paralyzed. The room felt too big, so I closed the door. That brought me no comfort. I went into the bathroom and closed the door. Still, no relief. So, I got into the shower. In great discomfort, I just dropped to my knees and curdle up into the upper left corner of the shower. It was just me, my tears, and my overwhelming thoughts of stopping the pain for good.

I have heard it said that you live your life forward and understand your life backwards. Makes sense. Hindsight is 20/20, right! Today, I can tell you that I was not alone in my shower six years ago.

I struggled most of my life with the concept of God. As far back as I can remember. Who is this all-knowing and almighty being! Someone that takes deep refuge in the clouds, watches over and protects you? Not buying that! Someone that is all around me that I just can’t see. Not buying that either. So how about just living in the mystery of not needing physical proof and just believing. Yeah, whatever! Maybe when things are going incredibly great. But…but…certainly not when things are going bad! Because then, I’m in charge!

Discomfort was my most comfortable state of being, growing up and well into adulthood. If the discomfort was too much, I eased that discomfort with alcohol. If I felt comfortable, I felt fearful. I never wanted to feel fear. I would always wait for the discomfort to return. But I would also use alcohol to ease that fear. You know, that’s what I believed I deserved…fear and discomfort. And damn it, I was in charge! Not any God. I would not be foolish enough to believe that someone could possibly run my life when things went bad.

Why did I not choose the long-term solution to my short-term problem that day on the floor of my shower. Looking back on that day today, it is clear to me that I was not alone. I remember passing thoughts about the collective souls of those who had passed, but stay in my thoughts, they were there. I also remember the collective souls of those who are living and were trying desperately to help me, they were there. It was my frightened but determined wife. It was my friends, who didn’t understand my pain, but cared about me and wanted to help me in any way possible, they were there. It was my children, all confused and not saying anything, they were there! And nature, the bright sun shining onto the shower floor. The song birds singing, there too!

Today, I am eight years into this sober journey. I am humbled. I am grateful. Happiness fills me daily. Everyday! “God is doing for me what I could not do for myself” (Quote from the Big Book of AA). Everyday! And, everyday, my faith continues to grow stronger. Everyday, the joy that I feel inside grows alongside my faith. And, everyday, I think less and less of my troubles and my needs, and more and more about helping others in need. My intentions become my actions to help others. Those that I can help.

Yes, I traveled to the zero point of my soul, figuratively driving that bus until it just stopped and shutdown. I realize that my seemingly control of everything and everyone was nothing but an illusion. There, beside me on that day was my God.

I know who I am today. I am enough! A husband, a father, a co-worker and a friend. And, I know who I am not today. Not God!

Enlightenment

I got a bit long winded responding to another bloggers post earlier today.  To the level of my reply being its own post.  Sheez!  What got me going is that I hate to see people suffering and on the brink of contemplating a drink again as their best option.  If an alcoholic is going out for another beating, there is little that I can do.  I know that!  But I try because that’s what we do.  We help each other stay sober.  After a bit of clean up, here’s what I wrote:

My reaction to your post is that I see a lot of similarities to myself in early sobriety.  Similarities not unlike what I have observed from many newcomers walking into the rooms of AA every year.  I see that you post a lot and I am rooting for you.  I wish you nothing but the best on your sober journey.

I’ve learned a bit over the past eight years.  Most of all is that I know very little!  In and of itself, that has ignited a passion in me to learn more.  I’ll never stop learning…unless I pick up a bottle again!   It brings me happiness to know that I have that choice today.

Here’s a sliver of some of the things I’ve learned.  Intellect will kill me.  It almost did.  As an educated person and working professional, I’ve been well trained to solve problems.  But Alcoholism is not a problem for me to solve.  That’s not the problem. The problem is/was me!  As Einstein once famously said “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.”  I had no training or experience to solve the problem called “me”.  In fact, I couldn’t even recognize that I was the problem!  What was my problem?  It was a sober problem.  A problem with life as I saw it and reacted to it.  Alcohol was my solution. Until it stopped working. Then I had another problem.  Addiction!

We need others to help us. Others that have been there themselves. Other alcoholics. For me, I found them in AA.

Many alcoholics reject AA at the onset of sobriety. They can’t identify with the program and find little common ground.  I realize today that that’s a “no shit Sherlock kind of thing”.  Crafted in my own design, my life had become one in which I lived in opposition to the basic principles of AA.  Duh!

And, how did that design work for me after nearly 45 years?  Not well!  Yet I fought AA tooth and nail with all my willpower and intellect. I fought it until I was sick and tired of being a dry drunk.  There was nothing to fight, nothing to challenge nor oppose.  Upon further review, it was just me fighting me.  After six years of fighting myself sober, I finally became willing enough to do anything not to live another day of self-imposed torture and discomfort.  My scorecard was apparent.  I was of no use to my family, my friends, my career and anyone else that I crossed paths with on any given day. I had some relief during my first six years.  But depression, anxiety, little happiness and little joy were still my constant companions.

That’s all different today. It didn’t take long after I started working the simple of AA.  My life changed completely.  Depression left as I no longer hoped for a better past…the byproduct of finally forgiving myself.  Anxiety left as I no longer lived in the future, projecting outcomes and expectations.  Today, I live a life that I never could have imagined.  And if just keeps getting better. Good intentions are only good intentions. Taking action has made all the difference.

That’s why I responded to your post. It’s worth the time investment to elaborate as well.  Even though I know that “you’re ready when you’re ready” (to get sober and stay sober). Not a damn thing I can do about it except share my experience.

One other thing I’ve learned in the rooms of AA.  Alcoholism is a fatal illness.  Sadly, most of society treats it like the common cold.  People die every day from this illness.  I’ve been around this long enough to watch people die far too often.  I need no further convincing as to how serious this illness is and what I need to do on a daily basis to not go down that path.

We see when we can see and hear when we can hear!  But too many of us don’t and end up dying a painful alcoholic death.

I wish you all the best!

The Solution…”For Me”!

I can remember begrudgingly sitting in an AA meeting when I first got sober and an older gentlemen leaning over to me and saying “If you want to stay sober and learn to live and have a better life, you’ll have to learn how to ask for help from others”.  Starring straight ahead, without missing a beat, the immediate response from my inner voice was “that’ll never fucking happen!”  And so….I suffered for six years as a sober person.  Dry drunk, but sober.  Man that was painful!

Finally, I had had enough of the constant suffering.  I found myself uttering one of those cliché phrases that I hated hearing in those damn AA meeting.  “If you are willing to go to any length…”.  Yes, I am, and I know where to go.

I fought it hard for six years though. This simple program.  This 79 year old book.  Yah see, I was different.  “I” was smarter!  I would write a blog, redouble my efforts with the Therapist that I had been seeing for nine years, read recovery books and medical journals, and join sober online groups – one was actually an anti-AA anarchy group….no shit!  It folded after we lost 25% of our membership in one day.  Yeah, one of our four members quit.

After six years, I was tired of being a dry drunk. No longer drinking, but just as miserable and feeling it oh so intensely because I no longer altered my mental state. I was of no use to my family, job, friends or myself.  That all changed when I let go absolutely. There’s another one of those “hallmarky” AA sayings.  I learned the hard way.  Or, probably right on time “for me”, that we need others to help us recover. We see when we can see and hear when we can hear.  Right?

With the help of a Sponsor, I learned that psychology is the study of human behavior. The discipline wants you to “think” differently so your feelings will change.  AA, on the other hand,  is the study of our behavior. It is “taking action” for us alcoholics, that changes our thinking, feeling and outlook on life. But, as most of us are educated, and taught to solve problems, we go about studying, reading, seeing therapist…all with the intention of solving “the problem”. Well, the problem is “us”!  But, we’re incapable of recognizing it and even more incapable of changing it without the help of others.

No one can help us more than a fellow alcoholic can. And I know where to find lots of alcoholics. I see them daily.

King Alcohol

Alcoholism wants to get us alone and kill us, I’ve seen it too much, been there myself. One drink is too many, and a thousand is not enough!

I drank the value out of drinking, it no longer worked like it use to. That is what I remember now, each day, as a sober person in recovery.

And, what are we striving to recover? I have found it to be myself. What I was after in the bottom of every bottle, I found that and more, on my sober journey. A new found freedom and happiness. It comes from within. It’s a return to innocence.  In a word, its love!  And as it is said, we cannot love another, until we learn to love ourselves!  Today, I no longer loath myself.  And, I no longer have that constant inner dialogue of how I’m not good enough and how I could have done it better.

“The only thing that truly matters in the end is that you loved!”  – Author unknown

“Don’t be afraid to be weak. Don’t be too proud to be strong. Just take a look into your heart my friend. It will be the return to yourself. The return to innocence”.
– Enigma

Iceberg Ahead – Seven years of Sober Seas

Wow, in 10 days I’ll have strung together seven years of continuous days without drinking. With this impending milestone at the forefront, I’d like to share with you my experience, strength and hope of recovery, self-discovery and living seven years without alcohol.

There are four AA slogans repeated in every meeting that I held resentments toward for several sober years but over time they have transitioned into life savers for me. And, I do mean LIFE savers!

The mercurial seas, always churning and constantly changing. Periods of calm followed by impressive storms and then back to calm. Sounds like sober living to me…with a big ole iceberg in my downward path, no matter what course correction I made. Aware of this iceberg, I believed that if I just start attacking what I could see, then what I couldn’t see buried beneath, would just somehow go away. Like my bill paying method. Put them in a draw and they no longer exist. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Nor does sobriety. I learned that I had to uncover and address the entire iceberg – bit by bit. For me, it was and still is, the uncovering and discovery of my character defects, the acceptance of those defect and the summoning and mobilizing the courage to take action.

I understand that ideal learning and retention takes place during two heightened emotional states, when we are happy and when we are sad. For the past seven years, I experienced a lot of pain and suffering with some happiness along the way. Through the pain and suffering, self-discovery then mindfulness, I have learned a lot! And through all that learning, I have predominantly learned that I have only removed the tip of the iceberg. Going forward, I am excited and open to being teachable. There is hope for a still better future, a more complete self, and I am humbled and grateful for the people in my life that will guide me there as long as I remain willing.

Seven years ago, I couldn’t even make it into the rooms of AA without taking a resentment. They had alcoholics stationed at the door who would greet you with a big WELCOME as you approached. They even gave you a hug sometimes, if you happened to let you guard down. I resented that. It didn’t matter if it was audible or otherwise, I resented the welcome. The voice in my head told me to be on guard, they’re not as happy as they are projecting and they are here only to suck the remaining life from you and be thankful that they are not you. Twisted and insane thinking. That was me.

Today, I enjoy a hearty welcome, a handshake and a smile when there are alcoholics at the entrance of the meeting rooms. After all, it is customary to welcome a new person; be it at your home, place of business, etc. Today when we welcome the newcomers at meetings, I say a silent little prayer…”Hope you stay, don’t die if you don’t”! I have seen the later too much.

Resentment number two..”Keep coming back”! Immediately the voices in my head would go into overdrive, offering up, in a whiny mocking voice…keep coming back, keep coming back. They need a fresh supply of newcomers to plug into and drain their energy to keep their own sobriety. But I kept coming back, alert and on guard. And, I did one thing perfectly each time I untethered myself from AA….I didn’t drink NO MATTER WHAT! Not drinking allowed me to come back each time with a clearer head and a hopeful heart.

Resentment number three…:You must take contrary action”. Huh, are you shitting me! You’re saying that my thinking is 100% off and that you want me to trust YOU! I remember thinking “that will never F’ing happen.” Pain and suffering, however, have a way of getting you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. I picked up the phone and called five people to run my latest crisis of conscience past. All five people I checked with…ALL FIVE…offered a response that was opposite of mine. So I threw those names out and got a new list of five people. That’s not true. I have learned that when my thinking goes bad, I cannot think my way out of bad thinking. That voice in my head is in overdrive…you pussy, you couldn’t buck up be a man and make your own decision. You’re weak! You have no confidence in your own abilities, when are you going to learn to rely on yourself,and on and on an on, spiraling seep into self-pity, self-loathing, self-hatred with a brutal and punishing voice. I rely on others opinion these days. When they dispatch their advice, I follow it. This has made a huge impact to my life.

Resentment number four. “You must work with others”. Ugh! That is an doable suggestion. I must seek out those who need help. And in doing so, I also help myself. I’ve learned something very valuable along the way. When I am engaged and helping another struggling alcoholic, I experience a new-found freedom of joy and happiness. Who could argue against that! Resentments gone. Iceberg gone!

For the Love of Opiates and Ethanol

In the embedded YouTube video, Dr. Gabor Mate makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask “why the addiction”, but instead ask “why the pain.”

Love, mother/child bonding, sex, vigorous exercise, spicy food, caffeine, nicotine, opiates and ethanol – all signal the chemical machine in our brain to produce dopamine, temporarily elevating the natural dopamine levels in our brain. Some, like nicotine, produce almost an instant and massive surge of dopamine, albeit short-lived. Whether it be through healthy or unhealthy methods, the opioid receptors in our brain and spinal column enjoy the higher levels of dopamine. “The increased dopamine sends a pleasure signal over and over. This feeling — and the craving to repeat it — help create addiction.” (Court JA; et al. Dopamine and nicotinic receptor binding and the levels of dopamine and homovanillic acid in human brain related to tobacco use. MRC Neurochemical Pathology Unit, UK. Neuroscience 1998 Nov; 87(1): 63-78.).

So why are some people prone to addiction while others are not? That is still unclear in the scientific community. However, there are strong indicators that have been researched and give varying degrees of plausibility.

As a boy, I lived in a constant hyper-vigilant state, never knowing when or where it might come from. I always had to be ready to move quickly. The hormone Adrenalin, on the ready to take flight. And the hormone cortisol, geared up to keep me moving. I believe that the elevated and sustained levels of cortisol in my system during those crucial brain development years (one to five) did its damage on the neuron endings (synapses) in my brain. The research that I’ve done supports my claim. Also see my post “How did this happen to me” for further explanation.

“Early childhood is a critical period in a child’s life that includes ages from birth to five years old.[1] Although stress is a factor for the average human being, it can be a molding aspect in a young child’s life.[2] Characteristics of stress include the outcomes that arise when people cannot manage internal or external difficulties.[2] Internal stressors include physiological conditions such as hunger, pain, illness or fatigue. Other internal sources of stress consist of shyness in a child, emotions, gender, age and intellectual capacity.[2] External stressors include separation from family, exposure to family conflict, abuse, divorce, a new home or school, illness and hospitalization, death of a loved one, poverty, natural disasters, and adults’ negative discipline techniques.[2] Additional external stressors include prenatal drug exposure, such as maternal methamphetamine use, other maternal and paternal substance abuse, and maternal depression.[2] A few stressors can be manageable for young children, but the effect of multiple stressors can be cumulative and significant.[2] When stress builds up in early childhood, neurobiological factors are affected.[3] In turn, hormone cortisol levels are uncontrollable and cannot be brought back to normal ranges.”

In this short 17 minute video, Dr. Gabor Mate speaks without mixing words about the association of Dopamine and addiction. This is a fascinating presentation by Dr. Mate.

Notes
(3. Poulsen, Marie K. “The Biological Context of Early Childhood Mental Health.” Preventive Medicine 583 Lecture. University of Southern California, Los Angeles. 8 Sept. 2011. Lecture.
4. Davies, Douglas. “Chapter 3: Risk and Protective Factors: The Child, The Family, and Community Contexts.” Child Development, A Practitioner’s Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press. Print.
5. Middlebrooks JS, Audage NC. The Effects of Childhood Stress on Health Across the Lifespan. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2008.
6. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2005). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 3. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu)

Love…..

In the movie “City Slickers” the venerable and grizzled cowboy named Curly, uttered the now famous line of “just one thing” when referring to the secret of life.  When asked what that one thing is, Curly would only repeat the previous line.  It was for us to go out, experience life, and find that one thing for ourselves.  That one thing for me is LOVE!.

I love my father more today than at any other time period in my life.  I make that proclamation due to several experiences that we’ve shared together over the past six years.  My 76-year-old father told me that he loved me for the first time in March of 2007.  It was the same day that I came home after spending 28 days in our local hospital’s Chemical Dependency Unit.  Kind of an odd time to tell me that he loved me but I remember thinking “hey, I’ll take it”  There have been several other endearing moments shared between my father and I since then. There is another reason that I feel a deeper connection with my father today.  Last year, after a particularly emotional heavy session with my psychologist, in which I talked exclusive about my father and recalled some of the brutal encounters that I remember from my childhood, I sat exhausted and slumped back on the couch.   Looking at my psychologist, silence lingering between us for a few minutes, I eventually broke the silence by saying  “I wonder what my father’s childhood was like.”  After another moment of silence, he responded by saying “I believe that he showed you”.  I left our session with those words pulsing in my mind.

The generational cycle of child abuse lives and thrives among us today.  What happened to me at the hand of my father, I am certain, also happened to him at the hand of his father.  For that alone I am sympathetic toward my father.  He has suffered from gastrointestinal problems and esophageal reflux as long as I can remember.  I can see how that would manifest over time when your own childhood trauma was bottled up and buried deep in your soul. What happened to me at the hand of my father was absolutely wrong.  Adults know better.  Adults should to control their actions.  If he was having trouble controlling his actions, he should have sought help. All the evidence is there.  Its been tucked away for 51 years.  Bits and pieces recalled and shared in my therapy sessions over the past 9 years.  The evidence has aged, as anything would over a half century.  Sketchy sometimes.  Missing pieces here and there.  But the core of the evidence remains vivid in my mind, in my body and in my soul.  I can feel it now as I write.  My fingers are shaking and my heart is pounding.

I have walked this earth for a smidge over a half Century and I have come to realize that I have never loved anything or anyone unconditionally.  Not my children, not my wife, not my friends and not even my beautiful unconditionally loving Weimaraner who worships the ground I walk on.  Why?  To protect myself maybe.  Fearing that I might not be loved me back.  I might feel hurt.  Bad things might happen to my family and as long as I maintain an arms length posture, I will have a back door escape should any bad things happen to them. I am no longer a victim.

Today, I am a survivor.  I am motivated to work on opening my heart so that I can experience love in all of its essence. “Don’t be afraid to be weak.  Don’t be too proud to be strong.  Just take a look into your heart my friend.  It will be the return to yourself.  The return to innocence”. – Enigma, Return to Innocence I have listened to the lyrics in that song by Enigma over a thousand times.  They are simple and pure.  I will remember them as I seek to love my kids, my wife, my parents, my friends and my fellow man…unconditionally.