Q&A Part 7: Why me? Why now?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part six of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

If I could have the world and all it owns
A thousand kingdoms, a thousand thrones
If all the earth were mine to hold
With wealth my only goal

I’d spend my gold on selfish things
Without the love that Your life brings
Just a little bit more is all I’d need
Till life was torn from me

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees
Your grace provides for me

Why me? Why now? Those are the questions we ask when tragedy strikes. Why God? How could you let this happen? Did I do something wrong for you to do this to me? Why me? Why now?

It’s been a year since I wrote https://acceptinghardships.wordpress.com/2017/07/26/celebratebraddog/. I know it’s been a year not simply because my blog tells me when things were written but because my children turned one last week. And if my twins just celebrated their birthday, then it has also been one year since my friend Jason and his wife Amy lost their eldest child, Brad.

Why me? Why now? Why, on the very night that my children entered the world, were my friends struck by such unimaginable circumstances? Why do I get to hold my babies every night while they shed tears and laughter over memories of what was and what could have been? Why do we have to go through the ups and downs of life never knowing what tomorrow has in store? I don’t know.

That’s just part of it. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody else does, either. We can speculate and postulate until we’re blue in the face, but sometimes life just happens.

I’m tired of trying to explain everything. I’m tired of overthinking and second guessing and grasping at straws rather than trusting that God is in control. God’s got this. Does that mean that God wanted Bradley to die in a tragic accident? No, of course not. That’s not part of God’s plan. That’s not part of God’s justice. But God’s got this. God will provide. God will help us make the most of a lousy situation.

Why me? Why now? The questions make me sick to my stomach. Things happen in our lives that break our hearts. Sometimes we have to deal with the feeling on a recurring basis that our hearts are breaking over and over again. If we’re lucky, we realize that it’s a phase – it’s a season – we’ll get through it. But that’s hard. Knowing that God is in control makes it easier, but it doesn’t make it easy. We will get through it. Things will be better. If not now, eventually.

So we batten down the hatches. We weather the storm. We come to understand that even though things will be different on the other side, there is another side. We’re stuck now, but we’re not stuck here forever. Life goes on. We adjust to a new normal. We don’t have to like it, but we’re short on choices. And if it comes to trusting in God or relying on our own strength and abilities to get through, there’s really only one viable option.

My best thinking, my best laid plans, my desire to be in control, will be knocked down and thwarted every time. Temporary success is still doomed to failure if we aren’t willing or capable of turning things over to God. Why me? Why now? Cause that’s just the way it is, but everything in this life is temporary. Life with God is abundant and eternal.

Let’s stop asking why me and why now. Let’s start asking what’s next.

If I should walk the streets, no place to sleep
No faith in promises You keep
I’d have to way to buy my bread
With a bottle for my bed

But if I trust the one who died for me
Who shed his blood to set me free
If I live my life to trust in You
Your grace will see me through

I’d rather be in the palm of Your hand
Though rich or poor I may be
Faith can see right through the circumstance
Sees the forest in spite of the trees

If I could have the world…

– Alex Walker

Check it this post from our longtime friend, Chad. Sorry for not giving you anything new recently. Life get’s crazy sometimes.

Addicts are masters at lying. They are better at it than people who are not addicts not because non-addicts don’t lie (they do) but because addicts get more opportunities to practice their craft. And as the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. Why do we lie? Yesterday I read a post hosted by our […]

via The Lie about Lying — Desire Mercy

*Disclaimer – There is a chance that you may find this post to be anti-12 step philosophy. I ask you to set that aside and practice the principle in the familiar motto: take what you need, and leave the rest. Too much truth lives in this post for us to merely disregard it based on where the author was mentally at a certain point in his recovery journey.

Keep It Simple

For some of us, overthinking things is easy. Getting caught up in our thoughts and living in our heads comes naturally. Besides, the longer I spend thinking about things, the more time I am able to dedicate to not taking action, not doing anything, not stepping into new/different/uncharted territory, not making a change.

I can, with very little effort, go around and around on something in my head for so long that what I’m pondering on could have been dealt with already. It could be behind me. I could be stepping outside my comfort zone and working toward a better life, but instead, I’m living in my head.

Part of the reason we live in our heads, part of the reason we refuse to take action, has to do with being comfortable. We’re comfortable in our chaos and confusion and poor choices. They are familiar. They might hurt us and they might hurt people around us, but it’s easier to continue living this miserable, comfortable life than it is to venture into the great unknown. There’s a reason we fear the unknown – it’s unknown.

Who in their right mind wants to journey into a place where nothing is familiar? Where life is uncertain? It’s a crapshoot. There are risks. But there are also rewards. We’ll never figure out what those rewards are, though, if we don’t take the risk of doing things differently.

And don’t tell me you don’t fear the unknown. Yes, I hear you. Some of you don’t fear the unfamiliar, per se. You’re perfectly fine taking a new job or moving to a new city or leaving your friends and support group behind, but the one thing that goes with you wherever you are is YOU.

Change your surroundings. Change your job. Change your people. Buy a new car or a new outfit or an entirely new wardrobe. Change every circumstance of your life if you want, but real transformation is never going to occur if you don’t change yourself. And that’s where fear of the unknown kicks into overdrive.

I don’t want to get better because I don’t know what I’ll be like without drugs. I don’t know how to go to work everyday without my liquid courage. I don’t know how to enter that boardroom and give my presentation without relieving the anxiety and the pressure before I step into the room. I don’t know how to watch the big game without knowing who I’m supposed to be rooting for based on they payout I might receive.

This crutch that I’ve lived with for so long helps me be who I am. It defines me (because I let it define me). I rely on that fix just to get through the day. How am I ever going to get through the day without it? How am I ever going to know who I am without it? How am I going to hang out with my “friends” if we’re not busy chasing the next hit? (You’re not! Sorry, not sorry). What do I do when I don’t recognize myself anymore?

These are valid questions. They have answers. Many of the answers will come only when we face life without our disease riding shotgun (or, more accurately, when we make it stop driving the car). Some of these answers will be found in the experience, strength, and hope of others who’ve gone before us. They’ve been giving us these answers in meetings, if we’ve been attending them. Chances are we just haven’t been hearing them because we weren’t yet ready to hear them.

One of the other big pushes for not addressing our own crap is that it’s so much easier to tackle the flaws which are SO apparent in others.

Jesus said it like this: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a long in your own?…Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3, 5

The Big Book says that, “we are there to sweep off our side of the street, realizing that nothing worth while can be accomplished until we do so, never trying to tell [another] what he should do.” – 77-78

What it ultimately boils down to is actually quite simple. There’s nothing we desire more than to be in control. Fear of the unknown is about control. Our inability to cope is about control. All of our addictive tendencies and our inability to give them up can be linked back to control. We want control, or at the very least, perceived control. But when we have the power, when we are in control, our lives go horribly wrong.

That’s when we need to turn to the steps and turn to God. I know it sounds crazy that the solution for getting control of our lives rests in giving control over to a higher power, but look at where you are now. You’ve given control to your addiction – to your disease – to something outside of yourself which isn’t capable of making you happy. Perhaps it’s time to give control to somebody who can make you happy.

And so we turn to the first three steps. If we fail to understand and achieve the first three steps, we will ultimately fail to master any of the subsequent steps. These steps are about coming to a place where we find peace with God through the disciplines of submission and conversion.

When we live into these steps we have the opportunity to move from powerlessness and brokenness into honesty. From self-reliance, doubt, and shame to dependence on a power greater than ourselves and hope for the future. From playing God in our lives and the lives of others to letting God be in charge of our lives and trusting that God is more than capable of making our lives better if we’ll let that happen.

These steps are the basis of a program of change, of transformation, of surrender. We work these steps not only to discover who God is and what role God can and should play in our lives but also to figure out who we are. And then, as we progress through the steps and work to live a new life, we reflect on these three steps in our morning meditation and whenever hardships arise. These three steps act as a simple reminder of the order life should take.

I can’t.
God can.
I think I’ll let him.

That’s it. In their simplest form, those are the first three steps. Those are words to live by.

Whenever life is overwhelming. Whenever you’re faced with more than you can handle. Whenever you don’t know what to do. These things will all happen – more frequently than any of us would desire. When they do, rather than turning back to unhealthy coping mechanisms and diseases which keep us wrapped up in a warped sense of reality, turn to that simple mantra.

It won’t fix everything. It’s not magical. But it is a good reminder that my own best thinking has been the bane of my existence, and it’s high time that I recognize my inability to effectively control and manage my life.

When life seems unmanageable or confusing, many of us unknowingly complicate matters even further by trying to anticipate everything that could go wrong, so that we will be prepared to respond. [Keep it simple] reminds us that we can’t control every possible outcome to ever situation and that trying to do so makes our lives more difficult and more stressful than they already are…We can relax and try to be more gentle with ourselves, trusting that by putting one foot in front of the other, we will eventually get where we are going. – How Al-Anon Works, 66

Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6

I can’t.
God can.
I think I’ll let him.

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 6: How Long?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part six of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

How long does it take?

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!”
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.

Psalm 13:1-3

How long will I have to be in rehab? How long will it take me to get sober? How many meetings do I have to go to?

When faced with the prospect of sobriety, time suddenly becomes a priority. Out of nowhere, time miraculously becomes valuable to us like it never has before.

You see, in active addiction time was important, but it had a completely different value. All I wanted to know was how long I had to myself because knowing that would allow me to maximize my priorities and minimize my necessities. Let me explain.

In active addiction, my propensity for and proclivity toward procrastination paid off tenfold. I figured out how to wash dishes or do laundry or run errands as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to not raise suspicion and allot the most time possible for acting out. Everything was about how much time I had to feed my addiction. That was more important than anything, and it only mattered minimally to me what suffered as a result thereof.

My need to seek and gain approval from others helped to keep some of that caring in check, but it’s fair to say that most, if not all, of my ‘free time’ was consumed by addictive and compulsive behavior. It would be difficult for me to quantify the hours, days, weeks, or months (at least) of my life that I sacrificed at the altar of escape or gratification or seeking something different or self-pity or affirmation or whatever.

And then, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a place where we’re seeking help. We want to change. We want to be different. Maybe someone gave us an ultimatum, or we watched one of our friends die, or we’ve lost everything. No matter how we got to that point, we find ourselves there – often wallowing in feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, and a milieu of other overwhelming emotions. And we want to know how long it’s going to take to get sober.

Never mind that time wasn’t a priority while I was getting high. Time wasn’t a priority when I was drinking to blackout on a regular basis. Time wasn’t a priority when I was neglecting my relationships, my job, my obligations, my health, and anything else in life that got in the way of my next hit.

No, all of a sudden my job matters more than my sobriety. My ability to hold onto a failing relationship or step into a new relationship matters more than my sobriety. My kids getting to bed at a reasonable hour or having me at home with them suddenly matters more than my sobriety, but it didn’t matter at all when I was out on a bender or running out to buy or bingeing until the sun came up. Can you imagine how far along in recovery we’d be if we spent nearly as much time and money and effort working on our recovery as we did working on getting that next fix?

Many of us come into recovery with the idea in our heads that any habit can be broken in 21 days. That’s part of our sickness – the desire to find an easier, softer way. Well there isn’t one. 21 days is barely enough time to get clean, let alone sober.

The 21 day theory was first postulated in the mid-twentieth century by a plastic surgeon based on simple observation. First of all, what he actually said was that “it requires a mimimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.¹” A new study indicates that it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit (or behavior) to be formed.

A) That’s an average. It took some people as little as 18 days and others as long as 254 days. B) We’re not really talking about breaking a habit. We’re talking about a lifetime journey. We’re talking about rewiring your brain, restructuring the way you think, reprogramming the wants and desires and neural pathways that take us back to our drug of choice time and time again. That’s not gonna happen overnight, it’s not gonna happen in 21 day, and it’s not gonna happen in any set amount or length of time.

How long does it take? It takes however long it takes. We are not cured or healed or changed significantly over a specific length of time. It takes time, but it also takes hard work and dedication. It takes a good network of support. It takes a relationship with our creator. It takes an understanding of self-worth – knowing that you matter, you have value, you are loved.

“Well, I don’t know. Will a 28 day stint in rehab get me sober?” No. If you’re lucky, you’re gonna come out of short-term treatment clean, but you won’t be sober. 28 days or 30 days or 60 days isn’t going to cut it. That’s the start; it’s just the beginning. That graduation certificate you received upon release from treatment is bunk. It means nothing. You finished a program. Good job. You worked hard, maybe. But you also had limited choices. You had limited options. You could either finish the program or drop out and continue making bad choices.

But how many among us go right back to using after a stint in treatment? How many people do we know who’ve been to treatment a half dozen times or more because they don’t really want to change? They’re just going to appease someone else. And they know all the right things to do – the right things to say – so they get through with flying colors only to come out and head straight to the liquor store or trap house.

It takes however long it takes. Courts and recovery programs recommend 90 meetings in 90 days because early recovery is a critical time for most people. Those meetings are places where we find support, hear our story from others, give of ourselves, celebrate early milestones, and instill recovery principles. Going to regular meetings also helps to foster the idea that meetings are a priority.

Just remember that you didn’t become an addict overnight. Getting sober takes time and effort and dedication. Most of us slip, stumble, and fall along the way. Do not be discouraged. Just don’t expect immediate results. Instant gratification is a huge part of what got us into this mess in the first place.

Patience. Patience is something a lot of us don’t have in spades, but it is a huge part of being successful in recovery. I understand as well as anyone that once you’ve made the decision to get sober, you want to do it right now. Take your time. Be responsible. Know that sobriety requires sacrifice. Sobriety is hard. The success rate is lousy. Some of us are still going to die.

But stepping into a new life. Being around for friends and family. Learning to love again. Discovering who you really are. That’s all worth it. Overcoming fear of the unknown is difficult, but it’s worth it. With the proper support group and spiritual grounding, it gets a lot easier over time.

How long does it take? I don’t know. But I do know that “if we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.²” I know that we only accomplish any length of sobriety one day at a time. I know that if we spend less time focused on how long it will take and more time focused on doing the work, the work of the program will help us make progress. That’s all we’re shooting for: progress, not perfection.

So give it your best shot, stop worrying about time, and start stepping into the first day of the rest of your life.

– Alex Walker

1. https://sobernation.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-break-a-habit/
2. The Promises – AA

Trained Monkeys

It goes something like this: You’re browsing YouTube looking for clips of kitty-cats for your grandchild, catching up on the latest clips from late night or realty contest television, or trying to find instructions for how to actually operate your newest whatever when, all of the sudden, the video link you click on hits a dead end. Instead of laughing through Fallon’s lip-sync battle with JGL or Emma Watson, you’ve been hit by – you’ve been struck by – a 500 Internal Server Error.

The error message apologizes that something has not gone according to plan and goes on to inform you that “a team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.” You chuckle at the cute message, curse your luck, and keep trying to access that one clip of cats responding to errant cucumbers until YouTube gets their act together or you get ticked off and move on to something else.

While the idea of monkeys operating behind the scenes at Google to fix server issues at YouTube is a fun distraction when the site goes down while you’re trying to watch a video that will help you assemble your kid’s new bike at two in the morning on Christmas Day, it nonetheless plays into the ‘everything’s better with monkeys’ trope. And whether it means to or not, this television (and general visual media) trope serves as a reminder that monkeys can be trained.

Look no further than the other side of the world where the Chinese army has enlisted monkeys (you can’t make this stuff up) to work on at least one air force base in Beijing. Apparently, migratory birds have been incredibly problematic in the area, and the monkeys have been an odd, yet effective, last resort for destroying nests and scaring off birds. They work on command, walk on a leash, and only need an apple slice as an award for a job well done. Talk about low maintenance – just as long, of course, as you don’t mind cleaning up after your soldiers and dealing with their often unpredictable temperaments.

Of course, trained monkeys are also a key feature of that classic Americana production known as the circus. Under the shining lights of the big top, generations of circus goers have oohed and aahed in amazement as monkeys, elephants, lions, tigers, horses, seals, and many other animals have performed anthropomorphic tricks at the beck and call of their trainers. Of course, it’s come to light that the treatment of these animals has at times been far less than optimal, but the ability of the animals and trainers working together has resulted in some fantastic showmanship.

Those animals (we’ll stick with monkeys as a representative of the trained animal community) have spent countless hours under the direct supervision of what was most likely one human trainer. For better or worse, the monkeys have formed a bond with that trainer. They will respond to the visual and vocal cues of that individual. If someone else were to step in and try to run the show, chances are that he/she would fail miserable. Now, things may or may not go well were the monkeys simply left to their own devices, but that depends on how well they were trained and how well they know their routine.

Point being, the relationship which is established between a trainer and her monkeys forms a special bond. On some level, the give and take of relationship exists there. Even if the roots of the relationship rely on a system of punishments or rewards, there’s a certain level of trust which is necessary for those monkeys to be trained and to perform on command.

You or I would likely not walk into a circus tent and attempt to work with the monkeys, so why do we feel comfortable doing so when it comes to other peoples’ lives? I’m not comparing humans to trained monkeys, per se; however, it does seem to me that we often have trouble establishing and enforcing proper boundaries in our lives.

Attributed to being a Polish proverb is this phrase you may have heard before: “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys.” I find myself saying it, out loud, on a fairly regular basis.

What does it mean? Well, let’s take that another route. What does it NOT mean? It does not mean that I am, in any way, shirking my responsibility. It does not mean that I am being a bad friend or colleague. It does not mean that I am calling anyone a monkey. It does not mean that I am dismissing the fact that there is a situation at hand which needs to be dealt with; I’m just not the right person to deal with it.

Just because someone has come to you – just because they want your help – does not mean that it’s appropriate for you to jump right in to start putting out fires. If it is your circus, if it is your monkeys, that’s a different story, but it’s not your responsibility to fix everyone or save everyone or jump into every sinking ship to try to bail the water out before it goes under.

Put simply, the phrase is a way to say that whatever situation has presented itself to you is not your problem. This is a way of saying that I am not the ringmaster here. I am not going to attempt to repair something that wasn’t mine in the first place. Besides, I have plenty of my own things to worry about.

I think this is especially true in situations where people want to be bailed out or find someone else to handle their problem. However you look at it, the phrase has great potential in serving as a reminder that I don’t have to get caught up in someone else’s drama. Regardless of whether they’re trying to suck me in or I’m overstepping my bounds and inserting myself into their junk, this idiom may be the way out.

Certified health coach Karen Ann Kennedy has come up with a great list of questions to help us figure out whether a situation truly requires our knowledge and expertise. She says, “When you find yourself getting sucked in to another person’s circus, stop and ask yourself this:

  1. Does this situation really involve me?
  2. If the situation doesn’t really involve me, what is my motivation for getting involved?
  3. What will it cost me to get involved? We’re talking time, money, stress, etc.
  4. Can I really bring something to the table that will help all parties get to a better resolution?
  5. What will happen if I decline to participate in this situation?”

She goes on to say that the bottom line is this: “If getting involved causes you to lose your peace of mind, step away. I guarantee you there are other ringleaders out there who would be happy to jump in and take your place.”

It’s okay to say no. Take the hard pass. If you need permission, you have it. Let people figure out their own junk. Chances are good that if a third party is actually needed and you don’t jump in, someone else will. Don’t feel bad about it. There’s more than enough on your plate already. Focus on your circus, your monkeys.

Ask [God] in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with [God] is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others.

Big Book p.164

As for what’s going on over there – not my circus, not my monkeys.

– Alex Walker
Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy 

5 Common Misconceptions About Recovery

How much do people outside of the recovery community really know about what happens within the confines of programs and rehabs and therapy and meetings? Most of us are only exposed to perceptions of recovery which are displayed in media, unless someone in our circle of influence has personally dealt with addiction recovery. That means we’re faced with typified caricatures  in television and film or the latest tabloidization surrounding the Hollywood elite. While many myths abound regarding addiction and recovery, we’re taking this opportunity to dispel a few. If you have thoughts, questions, concerns, or ideas, we’d love to hear from you.

1) No one will understand me.
We have a tendency to believe, for some reason, that we are unique. Clearly it is an impossibility that anyone has experienced what I have experienced it the way I have experienced it. No other person has been through the same circumstances I have. In the program, we refer to this notion as being terminally unique. It’s called ‘terminal’ because, just like terminal cancer, this type of thinking will kill us. It keeps us sick. It convinces us that nobody understands, keeps us in denial, and pushes us right back into the outstretched arms of our addiction.

Typically presenting in completely dichotomous fashions, we tend to believe that others cannot help us because their circumstances are so vastly different than ours. This ‘all or nothing’ taking it to the extreme thinking is typical of addicts. We tend to either see ourselves as superior to others or inferior to them.

Superiority says that “I never went to jail, lost my home, lived under a bridge, etc. I’m a high-functioning alcoholic and successful businesswoman. What could I possibly learn from ‘those people?'” Inferiority, on the others hands says, “They’ve never been to jail, lost their home, lived under a bridge, etc. How could they possibly understand my situation or help me?”

The reality is that, for those of us in the rooms, our stories are the same. Seventy-five to eighty percent of our stories are universal. We have the same struggles. Our situations and circumstances may not be the same, but our problems are. Our brokenness and pain unite us in ways that nothing else can. And the healing that comes from walking the journey will only be heightened by the friendships we form along the way.

2) Substance abuse treatment is a quick fix for addiction.
First of all, I want to be clear that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to recover so long as the method you choose works. I’m personally going to advocate for a Christian, 12-step model of recovery and aside from that promote 12-step models in general because of their religious nature, but other methods exist. If you need to explore them, please do so.

Likewise, there are different treatment centers and options available. Where you go might depend on your financial circumstances ans insurance situation, but real help can be found regardless of your present financial situation. Having said that, a highfalutin, luxury treatment center and a no-nonsense, free to you, work program treatment facility can both work for you, as could anything in between. The key to a successful treatment program is not the facility or the staff but you. Your willingness to learn, grow, and work will, more than anything else, determine your level of success or failure in treatment.

Treatment is not a quick fix for addiction and my not be a fix at all. Twenty-eight days is an insufficient amount of time to achieve sobriety. Sixty days is an insufficient time to achieve sobriety. Am I saying that you should spend 90 days or 6 months or a year or more in treatment. Yeah, maybe. Inpatient treatment is one option, and plenty of people need dedicated inpatient treatment for a longer period of time. There’s also intensive outpatient treatment and halfway houses and Oxford houses and sober living facilities and meetings, meetings, meetings.

Treatment is not the end all be all; it’s not even the end. Treatment is the beginning. That piece of paper they give you at the end for “completion” or “graduation” is nothing more than a sheet of paper. Treatment is the beginning. Treatment is an opportunity. Treatment is a great place to get clean short term and begin the journey into long-term sobriety.

It’s also important to understand that going to treatment, or sending someone to treatment, is not a guarantee that someone is going to be “successful” in achieving sobriety. Some people need to go back multiple times. Some people need to try other options. Some people die. This is the world we live in every day.

3) Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can recover.
In a lot of ways, this goes back to media portrayals of addiction and the need to define a term. A lot of us are just confused about what it means to hit rock bottom. Rock bottom does not mean one thing which can be unilaterally applied to all addicts. Rock bottom is personal. Rock bottom is the place where and individual finally comes to the conclusion that he/she is sick and tired of being sick and tired. But that point is going to be different for everyone.

Popular depictions of rock bottom display people who have nothing to live for. These people have lost everything, and it took them realizing that to take the necessary steps to get help. While that’s true for some people, others have different bottom moments. Some people only hit rock bottom in a manner that leaves them six feet under. Others arrive at bottom after losing very little but simply realizing that they’re in trouble.

One struggle of popular portrayals of bottom is that these stereotypes actually lead some people deeper into their addiction. Some addicts won’t accept that they have a problem or that they need help because they feel like they haven’t suffered enough. Ultimately, it does seem that addicts tend to hit rock bottom before they recovery; rock bottom is just a different place for different people.

4) Relapse is a normal part of recovery.
Unfortunately, this myth is one that we as a recovery community have taken to perpetuating. We give this advice readily to newcomers not because we see it as an easier, softer way but because for many, relapse is a reality. But relapse doesn’t have to be part of recovery. What some people hear when we tell them that relapse is normal is that they now have permission to relapse because that’s just part of the process.

The truth is that some people relapse early in the program and go on to enjoy long-term sobriety, whereas others somehow manage to find and maintain sobriety without relapse being a stop along the journey.

In the same vein, relapse is not the end of the world. It’s nothing more than an opportunity to learn from a mistake and move on. Don’t see every relapse as a chance to deconstruct everything that led up to it; instead, use it to once again admit your powerlessness and remember how important it is to stay away form that first drink just for today. The potential for growth is not found in falling but rather in getting back up.

5) Recovery is boring.
How could I ever have fun sober? Well, have you tried it? Maybe you haven’t, or maybe you don’t remember the last time you were operating without your addiction or compulsion of choice. Let me ask you a better question. Are you having fun now? Do you actually enjoy your life as it is, or are you too busy chasing the next high to know what’s happening around you?

If the primary goal of recovery is sobriety, we aren’t supposed to merely achieve and maintain sobriety but rather meant to enjoy sobriety. The amount of free time recovery uncovers which used to be consumed with chasing the next high and acting out is full of endless possibilities. Try new things. Figure out what your passionate about. Explore the potential opportunities presented by friends and family and program people and life in general. In recover it’s almost like there are suddenly more hours in a day.

There’s also this idea that I’ll never be able to go out with people anymore. I can’t be around alcohol anymore. Certain people, places and things are simply off limits. While that may be helpful for a while, and it is important to avoid anything that might be a stumbling block; we don’t actually have to give up going places where liquor is served or stop hanging out with people who do drink. Remember that it’s not our surroundings or circumstances which cause us to act out but something internal.

As such, it is the recommendation of AA “not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there” (Big Book, 101-102). The Big Book goes on to say that before entering into a scenario which might be somehow questionable we should ask ourselves this question: “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for gong to this place?” Our social lives don’t have to be crippled by the errors of our past as long as we have a firm spiritual foundation and are capable of sussing out our motivations before entering new, different, or murky waters.

– Alex Walker


Q&A Part 5: Once an Addict…

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part five of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

Is the common adage “Once an addict, always an addict” an absolute?

Let’s begin with some definitions. It’s not fair to assess the validity of a statement without first breaking it down to ensure that we understand its parts.

To be absolute is to be universally valid. In other words, something absolute would hold true as the ultimate reality. So the question at hand is whether or not this phrase (principle) is true for all people and in all circumstances.

Likewise, to label the turn of phrase an adage means that a certain amount of veracity is already being ascribed to it as a short statement expressing a general truth.

But I think the heart of the matter rests not in how the phrase itself is described but rather how it is defined, and I’m afraid there may be no simple agreement as to the exact meaning of the phrase – intended or otherwise.

To some, the phrase is a pessimistic doormat over which every addict will continuously stumble for the remainder of his/her life. For those who read it this way (some might say misinterpret), there’s an underlying message that the addict – or the addict in your life – will never get better. These readers are convinced the phrase means that the addict will always be addicted – to something.

Along the same lines of thinking is the perception that the addict will always be just as susceptible to relapse as they were upon first beginning the recovery journey.

Another issue some people are going to take with this turn of phrase is that it comes with a label. It makes the addict wear the proverbial mark of Cain. “Hi. My name is Joe, and I’m an addict.” A lot of people get caught up in the negative connotations associated with such language. That’s why some of us in the rooms have morphed our language. We say that we’re ‘recovering addicts’ or ‘grateful recovering addicts’ or (in some ultra-progressive, perhaps detrimental, that’s a conversation for another day but we’re kind of already having it) ‘recovered addicts’. But you will notice that even those who describe themselves as “recovered” still ascribe to the ‘addict’ label as well.

Of course, you will find people who “used to be addicts,” and I can’t definitively say whether or not they’re at greater risk for relapse. That really depends on how much work they’ve done and whether they’re in denial or consciously aware of their past.

That’s where this phrase comes into play: “Once an addict, always an addict.”

To be fair, I don’t think the phrase is intended to discourage people in recovery. I’m biased. I own that.

The other side of this coin is less about whether one’s identity is found or wrapped up in the term addict and more about existing as a gentle reminder of how things used to be. We’re supposed to learn from our past, not live in it, but it’s impossible to learn form something if you ignore it.

Recovery is about developing tools and relationships that help us deal with the things in life which baffle us. When stress and turmoil strike, we should be able to lean on those tools and people and higher powers to overcome life’s challenges instead of falling back on the detrimental coping mechanisms we used to rely on. Through our recovery journey, we should be addressing the psychological, spiritual, emotional, and physical wounds which underlie our desire to act out.

What recovery does not and cannot guarantee is that we will always use and rely on the tools and relationships that were forged throughout the process. There’s a reason that we work diligently to “live one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time.” Stepping actively into today pushes us to strive for living in the moment rather than stressing over the past or the future, but it also reminds us that most of us cannot and should not drink again or take another hit or make another bet, etc., etc., etc.

Some people may never have the desire to act out again. Some people may have been delivered from their addictions, and that’s Awesome. It’s just not normative. But even those people who haven’t had or desired a fix in over thirty years know that just one could be more than enough to push them over the edge. Too many times have I seen someone with long-term sobriety or someone who was convinced they were cured go back to acting out. The lucky ones end up in jail; the rest end up in the ground.

One final thing I’d like to say about that phrase and the label that comes with it is that it’s rare for those who are struggling to find a great deal of help or solace from somebody who hasn’t been there. I’m not saying we need to wear the title like a badge of honor or forfeit our anonymity, but the 12th Step calls us to spread the good news to those who still suffer.

And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that being a missionary or evangelist requires stepping out of our comfort zones.

I’m an addict. It’s not a label that I wear. It’s simply a part of me. It does not define me. I accept that I am an addict, not that I was an addict. It is this acceptance that set me free. It is this acceptance that allows me to continue to deal with my junk. It is this acceptance that liberated me and provides me the opportunity to help others find their own freedom.

So, is “once an addict, always an addict” absolute? I guess that depends, but at least now you have a few more thoughts to help you think for yourself about it.

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-9

– Alex Walker

God-Inspired Irascibility

Easily provoked to anger.

To say that I struggle with anger would be to putting it mildly. I’ve struggled with anger my whole life, but I tend to reserve my worst fits of rage for those people who love me the most. While that may not make sense at first blush, it’s actually a quite logical manipulation of human emotion. You see, those closest to you are also those most likely to forgive you after an emotional outburst – at least in theory.

We’ve all experienced anger. We know what that feels like. It’s a fairly basic, normal, commonplace, and even healthy emotion.

And yet, many of us still have reservations about admitting that anger is part of who or what we are.

It comes as no surprise, then, that people have mixed emotions (so to speak) about anger as it applies to God.

One of my favorite questions to ask a room full of people (which should tell you a thing or two about me) is, “Is it okay to be angry at God?”

Responses to that question are far from unanimous. I did, one time, have an entire room full of people shout a resounding ‘NO!’ at me in response to that question. Their righteous indignation was overwhelming. In their minds, of course it wasn’t alright to be mad at God. Most rooms spit out a smattering of responses from all along the spectrum.

I get it. It’s not an easy question.

But the reality is, whether or not its okay to be angry at God, plenty of people are. Annoyance, displeasure, hostility, belligerence – God is familiar with being on the receiving end of all of those since time immemorial. That’s the real basis of agnosticism and atheism. Those people are angry at God.

But what about the rest of us?

Well, the Bible doesn’t shy away from expressing the full range of human emotion. There are plentiful examples throughout the Bible of people being angry with God, perhaps none more ubiquitous than the psalms.

The psalms are writings, typically sacred songs or hymns, that can be found in the first half of the Bible, know as the Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures. Another way of looking at songs is to see them as poems. Lyrics expressed in verse form are typically an external replication of the emotional chaos which dwells within the hearts and minds of their creator.

One classification of psalms, psalms of lament, deal with anger. These verses of text encompass the sorrow and anguish of a people who want nothing more than God’s intervention. Of the 150 psalms contained in our biblical text, somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of them (depending on source) are psalms of lament. That’s a lot of text dedicated to crying out to God.

The vast majority of all psalms are attributed to a guy named David. This is the same David who was an unknown shepherd boy until, with a slingshot and a stone, he was credited with defeating the giant, Goliath. In one fell swoop David when from being an average, working class nobody to being the person who single-handedly defeated the Philistines. This is the same David who God appointed to be the first king of Israel. This is the same David who came to be known as a “man after God’s own heart.”

And yet, this is also the David who spied on Bathsheba while she bathed. Who took Bathsheba into his bed while her husband was out fighting for the nation. Who went on to have this husband, Uriah, placed on the front lines to face certain death. The same David who got drunk and danced naked in the streets. There’s good and bad in us all, and God desires that we express that in our prayers.

That’s really what the psalms are. These songs and hymns in the Bible were written to be sung or read as a part of communal worship. And what is worship if not an opportunity for us to lift our voices up to God?

There’s a practice in the church that has been practiced during Lent (a period of 40 days and nights leading up to Easter) or simply as a way of learning how to pray which says that we should pray through the psalms. These psalms teach us how to have have and maintain a conversation with God. They let us know that it’s okay to express the entirety of human emotion when talking to God.

Prayer is more than asking for what we want or thanking God for that which we already have. God wants our first, our last, and everything in between.

So when I’ve found myself questioning God – when I’m not sure what’s next – when I have doubts, fears, insecurities – when I find it difficult to trust the process – I have used those opportunities to tun to the psalms. I don’t always know what to say to God. I don’t always know how to express my thoughts, my wants, my desires, my demons, so I turn to the scriptures.

Initially I was praying this psalm alone. At some point I started praying it with my wife. The psalm itself transformed for me. I went on to share it with a church at a weekday prayer service. Not long thereafter, I shared it with the board of that church.

This is that psalm. It is a psalm of lament, of sorrow, of challenge, of abandonment, of enough, of hope. It’s all that and more. Ultimately, I came to the place where the psalm itself is a story of God’s redemptive power. It’s a story of hopelessness and restoration. It’s a story of doubt and faith, lost and found, death and life.

This is from Eugene Peterson’s biblical paraphrase, The Message: Psalm 13

1-2 Long enough, God
    you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
    long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
    lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
    have looked down their noses at me.

3-4 Take a good look at me, God, my God;
    I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me
    or laugh when I fall on my face.

5-6 I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—
    I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
    I’m so full of answered prayers.

This is what it’s like to be lost, lonely, and broken only to be rescued by walking directly into the outstretched arms of  a God who loves us despite ourselves. What other God has so willingly walked into the middle of our junk and loved us just the way we are?

So next time you’re angry at God, shout, scream, cuss, and throw whatever hissy fit you deem necessary, but don’t stop there. Take your anger to God. Be open. Be honest. Be bold. Be direct. And if you can’t come up with the words to express your anger, that’s not a problem. Go to the source.

If you own a tree book version of the Bible and not an e-book, finding the psalms is usually pretty easy. Just flop it open to the middle and you should more or less be there. I guarantee you’ll find something there which does a good job representing the emotions you’re experiencing in the moment.

Read it. Pray it. Believe it.

Our lived experience, while it has changed mightily over the years, is still very much the same. We have a lot to learn from those who’ve gone before us. This is just one way that we can figure out how to use our anger as an opportunity to grow with God rather than run away from God.

So be angry. It’s okay. And take that anger to God with the same enthusiasm you might if you were joyously celebrating answered prayers.

– Alex Walker

Over My Head

Stepping into the rooms…

Walking through the doors…

Beginning the recovery journey…

If you’re anything like me, those words come with a lot of baggage. Emotions and anxiety are bound up in memories of what it was like to begin. The entire ordeal can be a little surreal; it’s overwhelming.

Right now, in an attempt to keep working my twelfth step, I’m serving as the secretary for my 12 step group. That means that all inquiries about the group come to me via email and telephone.

I am reminded time and time again how difficult it is to reach out – to be vulnerable – to be honest – to make an effort – to admit to myself, let alone others, that I have a problem, and this is it.

People with no experience are often scared and feel like they’re going through this all alone.

I remember the first time I walked into the rooms. I dressed in such a way as to make myself feel invisible. Hoodie. Ball cap pulled low on my face. Hood up over the cap. If I could exist in the shadows, maybe I din’t really exist at all.

I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t have an option. I wasn’t really given an option – at least, not one I was willing to live with.

I was thinking a lot of the things many of us probably experience at this point.
“What if somebody sees me? What if somebody recognizes me? What if I know someone there? What if I have to face them at work or school or church or at a sporting event?”

People tell me all the time, either directly or indirectly, that they have no idea how to go about doing this thing. I mean, that makes sense. When we’re just starting out, we don’t know anything. “Do I come alone? Do I have to register? Can my spouse or significant other come with me? Is there a place for them?”

“I’m just kind of lost on how to go about all this.”

Of course, those questions just morph when someone actually starts the program. “Who do I call? When do I call? When can I call? Will you call me? Why not? Do I need one of those books? What are the 12 steps? People keep talking about working the program, working the steps – what does that mean? How do I do that?”

“Will you be my sponsor? What even is a sponsor? What is a temporary sponsor? Why will you only be my temporary sponsor? How do I get a “real” sponsor, a full time sponsor?”

From the get go I was in over my head. Of course I was in over my head. If I weren’t in over my head, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

That’s where trust comes into play. That’s where the experience, strength, and hope of others comes into play. That’s where we have to rely on and borrow from the faith and strength and prayers of others to get through another day, another hour, another moment of temptation.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. This program is not about cessation. It’s not about stopping. It’s about starting. It’s about doing things differently. Change is less about letting go of certain behaviors and more about latching onto new ones.

The first step is the only step that talks directly about our disease. The first step mentions alcohol, or addiction, or lust, or whatever it is we struggle with, but that’s it. The rest of the steps teach us how to take on new behaviors.

In much the same manner, our literature pretty much universally says that  the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop, but then it goes on to say virtually nothing about stopping. The steps build on one another, and with each new step comes the challenge of facing or tackling some new task or thought or idea.

The trick to living life when you’re already drowning is learning how to not bite off more than you can chew. This is why we shouldn’t attempt to go through recovery alone. We walk together with accountability partners and sponsors and a home group and meetings and literature and phone meetings and treatment centers and a whole plethora of resources that are available if we’re willing to tap into them.

I’ve been walking recently with a kid in early recovery, and it hasn’t been easy.

First of all, I know this kid way too well. We’ve known one another for years, but this is different. I’m struggling. I want to do it for him, but I know I can’t.

He has to do the work.

He has to want it.

He has to own his part in all of this.

Watching him go from denial to what could potentially be rock bottom has been hard.

I’ve tried to force it. I’ve threatened him. But in the end I’ve been reminded time and time again by people who love me that his success is dependent upon his recognition and his willingness to do the work.

I’m trying.

I’m trying to just be here for him. I’m trying to let go and allow relationships to form which will help him in the way similar relationships have helped me.

My sobriety and my relationship with God are at their best when my program is the most active. When I have sponsees and others who desire to use me as a resource to impart wisdom and help hold them accountable, I am more likely to seek counsel and touch base with God and my sponsor as a result thereof.

I’m also working actively to get over my desire for strict definition of roles. My mind is quick to say that when I sponsor people, I am supposed to be the voice of knowledge or authority. The reality is that we’re just two people working our way through recovery. And when my sponsees take time to check on me rather than in with me, I should value that and take advantage of it rather than dismiss it as inappropriate. Instead of continuing to see the reciprocity of care as a blurring of boundary of roles, I am learning to let go of the lies that fear and pride tell me.

Today I’m still in over my head, but I’m not alone. No longer do I feel like I’m the only one who has ever struggled with this in this way. I know better. I know that life is difficult for everyone. I realize that everyone I bump into is just trudging through life, and some of us are lucky enough to be “trudging the road of happy destiny.”

My friends in 12 step fellowships are quickly beginning to outweigh the other friends in my life, and that’s okay because we’re all just people. And we’re all in this together.

We understand one another.

That’s what makes these rooms so invaluable.

Life is, after all, nothing without relationships.

– Alex Walker

Q&A Part 4: From the Outside Looking In

Editor’s Note: Welcome to part four of our series, Questions & Answers. This series will attempt to cover topics and/or questions which have been raised by readers. Feel free to submit your own questions, and we’ll see what we can do about addressing them.

When is the appropriate time to seek healing in dealing with the recovery of a loved one? What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery?

Let’s start with the easy question here: When should I seek help? When should I seek healing? When is it appropriate to take care of myself?

The answer is simple, and it’s always the same: right now. There’s no better time than right now to experience the first day of the rest of your life. There’s no better time than right now to take care of yourself. There’s no better time than right now to realize and understand how impossible it is to be present for someone else if we don’t first figure out what our needs are and work diligently to meet them.

Addictions and compulsive behaviors do negatively affect the friends and family members of those whose lives are consumed by them. As a direct result thereof, loved ones often find themselves facing real loss and real pain. It’s not unusual for those close to addicts to experience financial, physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual setbacks as a result of simply being in relationship with someone whose life is consumed by something outside of their control.

That’s why it’s important to seek help and healing even when the addict in your life is unwilling to do so. Twelve step groups, therapists, religious organisations, and other engaging environments are all means of receiving help and working toward a healthier life. It’s never too early to begin the process of claiming your life and escaping the grasp of chaos and rot that come with the entangled nature of an addictive life.

As for the extremely more difficult question, there is no simple answer. What can I do to help my loved one or friend as he/she goes through the pain associated with addiction and recovery? 

To begin with, recognize that recovery is both a journey and a process. It’s going to take time. We’re not talking about an overnight transportation. Think about how much time over how many years were dedicated to living into active addiction. There is no elixir or overnight remedy that’s going to make all of that go away such that everything is all better now. The addict in your life is going to have to invest a lot of time and energy into working on his/her sobriety. Let them do so. Give them time. Give them space (if they need it, or if you need it). And work on yourself.

Remember this: You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.

What you can do is learn to recognize what role you might be playing in their life. This is not a blame game; it’s merely an awareness that how we act and react to others in our life takes its toll. None of us exist in silos.

Here are just a few models for understanding the roles we might play in the life of an addict:

Al-anon talks about a Merry Go Round Named Denial which identifies four major (types of) players in every alcoholic relationship: the alcoholic, the enabler, the victim, and the provoker. “One person drinks too much and gets drunk and others react to her drinking and its consequences. The drinker responds to this reaction and drinks again. This sets up a Merry-Go-Round of blame and denial, a downward-spiral which characterizes alcoholism.”

“The Enabler is a person who feels he must not let the alcoholic suffer the consequences of her drinking when he can so easily prevent this by a simple rescue operation.” This person may have a savior complex and definitely qualifies as being classically codependent. Professional helpers, those driven by anxiety and guilt, and those in it to meet their own needs often find themselves in this role.

“The Victim is the person who is responsible for getting the work done, if the alcoholic is absent due to a hangover.” These individuals feel that they are helping by covering the ass of their friend time and time again. They are not. Facing real consequences can be a driving force to push people toward recovery.

The Provoker tends to be “the person with whom the alcoholic lives…Hurt and
upset by repeated drinking episodes, [sic] he holds the family together despite all the trouble caused by drinking…Also [sic] called the Adjuster; he is constantly adjusting to the crises and trouble caused by drinking.” This role might best be described as the scapegoat because all of the addict’s bad behaviors find their blame laid here. This person will attempt “to be nurse, doctor, and counselor” but will ultimately fail because doing so does little more than add undo stress to an already stressful situation.

Family systems theory is another model which helps us understand how we relate to the addict in our life. In addition to the addict, this model has five other major player labels within the family: the caretaker (chief enabler), the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot.

The Chief Enabler reduces tension in the family by smoothing things over and believes that he/she is simply being helpful and acting to hold the family together.

The Hero (aka the parental child, superstar or goody two shoes) is the source of family pride and often excels in academic or athletic pursuits, but their successes are driven by perfectionist tendencies rooted in an underlying need to make the family look good.

The Scapegoat tends toward rebellion and anti-social behavior to the point of mimicking the behaviors they identify with in the addict/alcoholic because of a perceived emotional bond with that individual. Often the object of misdirected frustration and rage, this is the person who both holds and voices anger and frustration on behalf of the family at large.

The Lost Child, seeking to avoid conflict, tends to come across as forgettable and shy. A follower not a leader, this person has few (if any) friends outside the family system and has a high likelihood of developing mental health issues.

The Mascot is likable and fun to be around. think of this person as the family clown and the one member of the family nobody has any real complaints about.

For more information on this system and the general qualities of codependency, check out this pdf for the signs, symptoms, and general characteristics of codependency. This document does a good job of helping people identify whether or not they might be codependent as well as speak to what codependency looks like as it progresses.

So, what you can do is recognize what roll you play in the life of your addict or simply in the live’s of the ones you love. Codependency is not limited to those tied to addicts or alcoholics. Codependency can exist all on its own. Let’s remember that the goal of recovery is holistic health for all parties involved, but the only person I can work on is me.

Do what you can, but understand that a lot of what we might be inclined to do is going to do more to keep someone sick than it is to urge them on toward health and healing. Sometimes the best thing that we can do for someone is nothing.

Life hurts.

God heals.

[God] said, “If you will obey me completely by doing what I consider right and by keeping my commands, I will not punish you with any of the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians. I am the Lord, the one who heals you.”

Exodus 15:26

– Alex Walker