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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!

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.

There is a gift from me to you at the end of this post. And there is also an honesty test. Scoring is pass/fail.

I have been sober for 2,118 days, 0 hours and 1 minute. Among the AAer’s that’s a “way to go, keep coming back”. Among the population at large that’s a “good job, 2118 days of healthy living, and, under their breadth…that’s 2118 days of not putting your life or someone else’s life in danger”. I celebrate both perspectives.

I have heard that success as a teacher has pretty much taught us all it can by the age of 30 – 32. Our teachers from that point on become emotional pain and suffering. Oh boy, the stark realities of adulthood.

In the 5 plus years that I’ve been sober, I have experienced 3 crippling depressions, all filled with a bountiful dose of anxiety. Was I comfortable in my own skin during those periods? Anything but! I walked around as on big human nerve ending. Through all of that I started to understand that sometimes the solution to the pain – is the pain. A valuable lesson learned during this last bout with the big black dog.

Pain and suffering can also be a motivator. Today, I find myself motivated to not take anymore self-inflicted ass kicking’s. I don’t want to burden my family by not being there in body, mind and spirit. I don’t want to burden my wife, who is busy with 3 teenagers, ailing parents and a challenging career. I want to take part in life and not withdraw into isolation.

So what action have I taken. Well, when I was struggling to make it through the day I focused on “one day at a time.” I often repeated “let go and let God”, don’t take resentments “live and let live”, “don’t think, do, no matter how difficult it may seem”. I forced myself to not isolate. I practiced being honest with myself and others. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror every 5 minutes, quick glances to see how depressed I looked and what might be visible to others. That, of course, would be total self-centeredness in full bloom. I listened to others that I trusted and I did what they said. I knew that my perception was off and that I was telling myself every possible thing that was bad and untrue. I went back to AA. I bought a new Big Book because I threw my last one out when I graduated myself from AA, the second of three times. And then I and started to read.

“Selfishness – self-centeredness. That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.

So our troubles, we think, are of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it will kill us!”

Excerpt taken from page 62 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Copyright 1939, 1955, 1976, 2001 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. All rights reserved.

Pain and suffering motivated me to take action. I am grateful for that.

When I first got sober I went to 90 meetings in 90 days. I went to four, sometimes five AA meetings a week during my first two years of sobriety. Putting in the time in early sobriety gave me the foundation and the solution to address my recent troubles. I am now into the solution and humbled once again. I am happy and str living in the present.

OK, the honesty test. Did you go for the instant gratification, skip the post and go right to the gift?

The gift. Google ‘sobriety calculator’ and bookmark this useful tool.

Happy Holidays!

Hi. I hope that your spirits are soaring today or at least pointed toward the sky.

I was in Seattle last week and experienced an impromptu Christmas walk and gathering of gifts. I had set out to go “shopping”…ugh! But, I enjoyed a completely different experience. I was staying at the downtown Sheraton on 6th and had some free time in the morning. I decided to walk down to Pike’s Market. Among the bustle of he morning and all the people scurrying about, I became more and more present in the day. It was just something about the energy in the market that morning. I say that like I’ve been there a lot. I was there once before. The year that Vancouver hosted the world’s fair. It was 1986..I’m thinking!

When I returned to the Sheraton the hotel seemed completely different. I slowed my pace down, for the first time in 3 days, as I walked by the Gingerbread House display. I took the time to look into the children’s faces and see their excitement. It moved me. It really made my Christmas complete. I have no expectations for the next couple of days that are upon us. I want to look into the faces of those that I will be with and I want to see their joy, their sadness, and whatever else they are experiencing. I know I will have lived in the present if I do that. I know i will have experienced life! And, I know that its OK to not be afraid, that something bad is lurking just around the corner. I know that it is OK to be a “part of” because to be a “part of” is a basic human condition, a desire…a daily want.

I have presents. But I didn’t go shopping. No, I walked through Pike’s Market and all these wonderful (and reasonably priced) gifts just presented themselves. Perfect matches for those that I will give them to.

On Thursday, I attended a funeral service. Our neighbor’s 89-year-old mother had passed. Life?…yes! Celebration of a life?..yes! Bad timing?…yes! But whose to decide when our chronological time on earth is over. Not us! Perhaps the God that we are about to celebrate!

Our neighbors will unwrap gifts that their loved one wrapped just a few short days ago. That will be sad. But, the greatest gift that their loved one ever got, was them. Hope they realize that, in kind, that is the gift that they open today. Memories of a friend that they deeply loved.

Their grandmothers favorite refrigerator magnet had the saying which was “Friends are a present that you give to yourself.” Our neighbors really don’t have to open any presents today. They loved the incredible friendship of their grandmother, mother and mother-in-law. And they all spoke about it in heartfelt words.

I love this saying from the inspirational messages, assembled in “45 Lessons in Life”. Number 38 is “All that Truly Matters in the End is that you Loved”.

Merry Christmas my friend!

Cheers!

In 45 Lessons in Life, published by He Yan in November 2009, number 38 is the one that followed me off the pages and has hung around in “my head” for the past year. Its simple. You could easily blow right by it in favor of some of the more bold proclamations that are on the list. For me, it is ethereal depth of a few simple words, arranged in perfect order.

“All that Truly Matters in the End is that You Loved”.

My wife and I went to a benefit jam that a good friend of mine was hosting. This is a grassroots effort that my friend started 2 years ago. The recipient this year was the Orangewood Children’s Home.

This was also the first date night for my wife and I in 10 plus years. Two of my close male friends have urged me to court my wife again to win her back. The idea sounded old fashion and awkward to me, but I really would like to have the love again that my wife and I once shared. So, carrying bags of clothes, several toys and cash from a quick dash to a Liquor store ATM next door to the Pub, my wife and I commenced upon our date night.

I was happy to unload $100 for raffle tickets because it was going to the right place. Equally, it also flared my gambling ways of late. Announced shortly afterward by our host, anyone buying $25 or more of raffle tickets would be eligible for a poem, commissioned from one of his friends in the crowd that had the gift of poetry. All we had to do was tell him a few short snippets about our life.

When I walked over to introduce myself to Mike, I blurted out that I am here tonight courting my wife. Over the loud pitch of the music that had begun to play, Mike looked a little bewildered because he thought I had said “I am here tonight to divorce my wife”. When we cleared up that communication and I provided a little background and the link to my blog site, I eagerly awaited Mike’s poem. The poem arrived yesterday. I told Mike that, whatever he wrote, I would post his poem into my blog. Here is what Mike wrote.

We could be a father, mother, husband, wife, child or only a friend
Sadly you have no ideas if we will cross and become a member of the one in ten
Very little warning of even of when
Only the stark reality of chaos we send
We affect one in three or maybe one in four
As we quickly descend to lower and lower floors
Whether by social and emotional pressure or genetic design
Either sooner or later we cross the line
As fortunes, family, honesty is quickly lopped
Too late, so difficult to recover to try to stop
It is a fatal cunning disease, new lepers of the day
Sad, sad, when you see the stumble and sway
All the more reason to applaud and cheer
When you meet an open man who has given up the wine and beer
Alcohol burns very intense, lights up the sky
But romance, honesty, integrity snuffed out, linger and then die.
In a world of days, 5 years merits the designation of ace
To kindle the trust and love, romance and grace.
A brave man opens his heart to disclose
A wife coming back to be the recipient of an honest rose.

Michael P. Ridley aka the Alaskanpoet
2011 ©

I leave on an early flight to Seattle in the morning. A rose and a poem await my wife downstairs.

The Giving Tree

I want to post Shel Silverstein’s tale here, because it reminds me of the fragility of both children and nature. A theme that my last post addressed to a degree.

The Giving Tree is a tale about a relationship between a young boy and a tree in a forest.

The Giving Tree, first published in 1964 by Harper & Row, is a children’s book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. This book has become one of Silverstein’s best known titles and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Once, there was a tree…
And she loved a little boy.
And every day the boy would come
And he would gather her leaves
And make them into crowns and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
And swing from her branches
And eat apples
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree… very much…
And the tree was happy.

But time went by,
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then, one day, the boy came to the tree and the tree said:
–”Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy!”
–”I am too big to climb and play” said the boy. “I want to buy thing and have fun. I want some money.
Can you give me some money?”
–”I’m sorry”, said the tree,”but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in city. Then you will have money and you’ll be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.
And the tree was happy…

But the boy stayed away for a long time… and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back, and the tree shook with joy, and she said:
–”Come, Boy come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy.”
–”I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy. “I want a house to keep me warm”, he said. “I and want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?”
–”I have no house”, said the tree. “The forest is my house”, said the tree. “But you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy”.
And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time…
And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.
–”Come, Boy” she whispered, “Come and play”.
–”I am too old and sad to play”, said the boy. “I want a boat that will take me away from here. Can you give me a boat?”
–”Cut down my trunk and make a boat”, said the tree. “Then you can sail away… and be happy”.
And so the boy cut down her trunk
And made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy…
But not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again.
–”I am sorry, Boy”, said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you – My apples are gone”.
–”My teeth are too weak for apples”, said the boy.
–”My branches are gone”, said the tree. “You cannot swing on them”.
–”I am too old to swing on branches”, said the boy.
–”My trunk is gone”, said the tree. “You cannot climb”.
–”I am too tired to climb”, said the boy.
–”I am sorry” sighed the tree. “I wish that I could give you something… but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry…”
–”I don’t need very much now”, said the boy. “Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired”.
–”Well”, said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down… sit down and rest”.
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy…

The end.

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