Monthly Archives: November 2017

Pray About Everything

Part of living into the recovery lifestyle is developing the program. That word gets tossed around a lot. Program.

It means different things to different people – with good reason. While many elements of the program are basic and ubiquitous, it’s not uncommon for everyone’s program to look a little different.

After all, every recovery program includes specific direction for the individual who is implementing and following it. And even though general elements of the program will likely remain the same across the board, how those elements are lived out day by day might vary greatly.

A typical day might look something like this:

Every Morning

  1. As soon as your eyes open, get down on your knees and pray.
    1. Thank God for giving you another day.
    2. Ask God to help you stay sober/drug free that day.
    3. Ask God to show you what he wants to do through you.
  2. Pledge again that you will not use today.
  3. Read the elements of your program.
  4. Ask yourself if you want recovery and life or addiction and death.
  5. Remind yourself that:
    1. You are not in control. Your life had become unmanageable.
    2. Your God has the power and the desire to save you.
    3. Try to turn your life and will over to God as you understand God.
  6. Read the Bible.
  7. Read aloud the words of the step you are working on that day.
  8. Review your progress in working the steps, and continue that effort.

During The Day

  1. Avoid the people, places and things that may lead you to use.
  2. Remember your commitment to recovery.
  3. Carry on an ongoing conversation with God, praying often.
  4. “Change the channel” if you begin to think about using.
  5. Call someone if you feel that thought turn into a temptation.
  6. Attend meetings whenever possible.

Every Evening

  1. Review your progress in working the steps and continue that effort.
  2. Read the Bible.
  3. Get down on your knees and pray.
    1. Thank God for helping during the day.
    2. Ask God to help you stay sober/drug free tomorrow.
    3. Ask God to show you what he wants to do through you.

A few things about this daily routine immediately jump out at me: God, the Bible, and prayer.

It may seem to the newcomer like the goal of the program is to become sober and that such a goal is reached by attending meetings, working the steps, and maintaining a relationship with a sponsor.

Those elements are definitely necessary, but sobriety is merely a byproduct of the program. The primary purpose of the program is to achieve transformation, but not just any transformation – spiritual transformation. The steps, if worked well, should result in a spiritual experience – an awakening, as it is often referred to in the twelfth step.

And the only way for such results to come to fruition is by maintaining a relationship with God. We do that the same way we carry on a relationship with anyone else – talking and spending time together.

That’s why daily meditation is an integral part of successfully working the program.

Meditation is not a scary word. Meditation doesn’t have to contemplative or follow any eastern traditions. It can, but it doesn’t have to. Meditation needn’t use mantras or repetitive vocalizations or the lotus position.

Meditation simply requires that we spend time deliberately studying and reflecting on God and the lessons we need to learn to make through another day.

Just like the church and Christian authors put out daily devotions that include scripture, motivation, and inspiration, the recovery community does likewise. They may not be called devotionals, but they serve a similar purpose.

Narcotics Anonymous, for example, has a book of daily meditations for recovering addicts called Just For Today. As the schedule above indicates, we can also use our morning and evening times of meditation to read the Bible and other recovery literature. Working the steps, for instance, is not a one and done experience. We should always be working our way back through one or all of the steps. I mean, there’s a reason steps 10-12 are called maintenance steps, after all.

Just for Today reminded me this morning that the NA Basic Text tells us “that our Higher Power will take care of us” (58). This, as is often the case, pulled me to a reading from my home group meeting this week. My Monday night SA meeting is a literature study in which we’re currently working our way through the White Book (think the Big Book, but for sex addicts).

We’re currently working our way through a section on steps 6 and 7 dealing with character defects and taking ownership for the wrongs we commit. We learned in step 3 that it was necessary for us to turn our life and will over to the care and loving concern of God. The author says that when he did that, “it really worked. All [his] emotional, spiritual, physical, and material needs were being met, one day at a time” (121). He goes on to ask why we aren’t also giving all of our wrongs over to the God of our understanding.

Clearly we will suffer under the weight of our wrongs until they kill us if we simply attempt to hold onto them. Many of us have tried, unsuccessfully, foisting them off on others. What would happen if we gave them over to God?

This is what happened for one man who tried just that. “Every time [he] surrendered a wrong…it worked.” He didn’t do much. He didn’t go into a great amount of detail. he didn’t have to because God knows our hearts and minds. God just wants us to trust in the provision that we will be taken care of. So whenever he wanted to give something to God he’d say something like this: “I don’t want to bear this; I want you to bear it for me; I cast in onto you” (121).

It can be that simple. Short. Sweet. To the point.

We don’t get bonus stars for using flowery language or having the right thing to say in prayer and supplication because there is no right (or wrong) thing to say. We just have to say something.

The author of the White Book concludes this section by telling us that this practice has never failed him. Not once. Every time he took to opportunity to surrender a defect to God, God graciously took it from him.

The only potential problem with this theory is that we, as addicts, are not incredibly sane. Even if we’ve had the experience that God will take something from us when we make such a request, we have difficulty believing that we’ll receive the same result another time. So we hesitate. Or we don’t ask. Or we hold on until we reach our breaking point.

But we don’t have to.

This is why we check in regularly – with God, with our sponsor, with ourselves.

If there’s top shelf stuff, we need to find a way to deal with that. Not later. Right now.

But as for God, we don’t need to worry about what God can handle. God’s got this. So don’t hesitate to take whatever temptations, resentments, or fears you’re holding onto and turn them over to the God of your understanding.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

– Alex Walker

Disturbed

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but once in a while as I’m reading recovery literature my eyes see the words on a page and my mind goes, “What the hell does that mean?”

I think this happens to many of us, especially early on in our recovery during our first read through of material. If we’re in a healthy relationship with a sponsor or accountability partners, we might ask questions. The rest of us would suffer through our ignorance if not for a lovely little thing called the world wide web. I don’t trust everything out there, but it can definitely be a valuable resource.

One of the phrases that can be found in many of the basic texts for multiple anonymous groups goes something like this: if we are disturbed, there is always something wrong with us.

So, what they’re saying is essentially that if someone makes me angry or pisses me off or shares something that I find to be triggering, it’s not their fault.

Well, no. Not exactly.

Just as “we can no longer blame people, places and things for our addiction,” we can also no longer blame people, places, and things for our reactions. While it’s easy to blame someone else for the way I feel, I’m making a choice in each of those situations and circumstances.

It may not always seem like that, but it’s true. Someone explained it to me recently like this: instead of responding like an adult, I am responding to a person or situation or stimulus like a child.

Now that makes a lot of sense because, in many ways, our addictions and compulsive behaviors have allowed us to become trapped in our childhoods or adolescence. We kept aging physically, but our emotional capacity and faculties were suspended when we began acting out. In recovery – in true sobriety – we are picking up where we left off and learning how to react and interact on a level more equitable with our physical development.

We are slowly but surely maturing. We are becoming real adults.

And adults take responsibility for their actions and reactions rather than blaming others.

The White Book of Sexaholics Anonymous quotes and expounds on the 12&12 by saying that “no matter what wrong the other party has done, if we are disturbed, there is always something wrong with us. Especially in the area of attitude.”

That in no way absolves the other person(s) of their wrong, but we have to come to a place where we realize and understand that nobody else is responsible for the way we act. The onus for my attitude, unfortunately, rests squarely on my shoulders.

I’m reminded of the old cliche that says something along the lines of ‘whenever you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.’ We want to deflect. We want to redirect. We want to blame and manipulate and control and manage. But growing in recovery requires that “we must face our problems and our feelings.”

My attitude, my demeanor, can definitely be influenced by others. If you know me at all, you know that I have a tendency (and perhaps an inability not to) wear my emotions on my sleeve. If I am disturbed, it’s hard for me to keep that in check. and I don’t always think to call my sponsor, give it up to God, or share it with someone so it’s out in the open. Sometimes I just wear it – proudly even – practically daring people to knock the chip off my shoulder.

But what I should do is recognize that I’m disturbed, address it, and move on.

It’s the 12& 12 which tells us that our role in our disturbances is a spiritual axiom, but the Big Book does a phenomenal job of explaining what it looks like to come to a place of acceptance.

When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Dang, that hits hard. “I can find no serenity until…” Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Don’t we say that Serenity Prayer at every meeting and countless times in between?

So next time you’re stuck in traffic behind someone going 25 in a 45, God bless ’em, you have the opportunity to choose whether to curse them out and raise your blood pressure or to say a little prayer and move on with life. For that matter, ask yourself why you’ve only allowed just enough time to get from point A to point B. You could build in commute time. I promise. It’s possible.

Next time your coworker uses that same pat phrase or plays with his stapler or blows her nose or uses their pencils as drumsticks, you don’t have to react. You can respond. You can let them know that you find their behavior obnoxious or annoying or unprofessional. Or you can choose to ignore them. You can choose not to get angry. You can choose to tune them out or turn on some tunes to drown them out.

Life comes in a series of moments. Those are what we live in. They’re known as the here and now. We don’t have the luxury of living in the past or languishing in the what if’s of the future. We get to live right now, and right now we must learn to accept that, even though things aren’t exactly as we might like them to be, we don’t have to allow that to get us down.

In the Grapevine in 1958 Bill W. wrote an article on emotional sobriety. In said article he stated that “if we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy demand.”

This leads me to the question I think we should spend a great deal more time asking ourselves – what is ymotivation? I think we should ask ourselves this question time and time again in practically every situation, but this query is an important one when we’re disturbed. Or more accurately, when we react to a disturbance.

But when we learn to examine our disturbances in such a way that we are led to identify our defects, only then can we ask God to do something about them, and only then can we make the conscious choice to knowingly do things differently.

One final thought, and it almost seems silly to address it at this point, but I never talked specifically about what it means to be disturbed. I guess, perhaps, that’s because we all understand, in our own way, what it means when we are disturbed just as we understand what it means when we are triggered. In much the same way as triggers, disturbances can be positive, negative, or neutral.

So, when you find yourself reacting, recognize that what you’re reacting to is some sort of disturbance. Identify it. Put it in the light. And make a choice. You can choose to keep reacting just as you always have. Or you can choose instead to respond.

– Alex Walker

Oh, because you’ve gotten this far and it’s such a wonderful cover, here’s Disturbed singing Sounds of Silence.

Q&A Part 1: Whose fault is it?

Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in a series called 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.

“Hi, my name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi, Bill. We’re glad you’re here.”

“I’ve been drinking pretty much every day since I was twelve years old. I remember that first sip of beer. It was awful – tasted like stale horse piss, but the feeling it gave me before I threw up was incredible. I’d finally found a way to escape the way I felt, the way he made me feel. He used to come into my room at night whenever he spent the night with my brother. I knew it was wrong because it didn’t feel right, but he threatened to kill my dog if I told anyone about it. While I used to thank God that boy drove me to drink, drinking has caused me more grief than he ever did. That’s really as much as I want to get into right now. Thanks for being here, and thanks for letting me share.”

“Thanks for sharing, Bill.”
“You’re in the right place.”
“Keep coming back.”

This is a familiar script for those of us in recovery. We introduce ourselves. We share our story. We step back to let someone else take the spotlight.

We don’t dive too deep right out of the gate, and we don’t dawdle. The more time we spend sharing, the longer the focus is on us. The longer the focus is on us, the less comfortable we get because we’re more likely to share real truth and real brokenness if we keep talking.

But as we sit and listen to other people share their experiences, we hear our stories. We come to realize that we are not alone. There are others like us. We are not terminally unique. As a matter of fact, we are so alike in some ways it’s uncanny.

For instance, we all have a desire, and therefore a tendency, to blame. You see, my drinking or drugging or acting out in whatever manner I see fit is clearly not my fault. I will latch onto anything or anyone in order to place blame squarely outside my realm of responsibility.

Unlike a lot of other games, the blame game is not something we play for fun. It’s something we play to survive. It’s something we play in a desperate attempt to cling to our sanity. It’s something we play to make sense of decisions we’ve made which would otherwise be inexplicable without some sort of excuse.

It’s natural to place blame. It’s natural to want to place blame. But that doesn’t make it healthy.

While there are plenty of things we could (and have) blamed for our addictions, there are only a few risk factors which are commonly accepted as actually to blame (so to speak) for the addictions in our lives:

  • Genetic predisposition to addictive/compulsive behavior
  • Early exposure to/use of maladaptive coping mechanisms (drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, relationships, etc.)
  • Social environment (the culture one was educated or lives in & the people/institutions with whom they interact)
  • Mental illness (conditions affecting thinking, feeling, mood)
  • Childhood trauma (or a traumatic experience later in life)

Embracing the above issues as risk factors requires a certain level of acceptance in the disease model of addiction. According to WHO, “a risk factor is any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease.”

Recognizing and identifying risk factors is NOT a means of placing blame. Recognizing and identifying risk factors provides an opportunity to better understand who I am and what contributes to who I’ve become. People who experience that exact same risk factors are likely to come through them differently. But these underlying risk factors must be addressed if someone wants to gain and maintain sobriety.

How is this different from playing the blame game?

The blame game is an attempt to pass the buck. The blame game offers an opportunity to make excuses, whereas identifying the root causes of our addictions, compulsions, and destructive behaviors highlights the things in our lives which need to be addressed. These are the places we need to work, and oftentimes, we need to work on these things and/or identify them with the help of a professional. It pays off in the long run to recognize that there are simply things we cannot do without the proper education and training. All the personal experience in the world is not enough to plumb the depths of someone else’s underlying issues (which may include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, and trauma).

In life we make choices. I hope we see and understand now that those choices can be influenced by a myriad of unseen and often unrecognized factors. But we also have to recognize that if we’re living out an addictive lifestyle, we’ve made some bad choices along the way. And instead of recognizing and addressing those initial poor decisions, we perpetuated them until we found ourselves here.

But blaming ourselves isn’t going to make us better any faster either. If anything, self-blame may lead us deeper into the spiral of addiction by re-initiating the cycle of guilt and shame. That’s why those of us who struggle need to recognize our roles in acting out and, rather than blaming ourselves, accept responsibility for our actions. Only then are we presented with the opportunity to move forward as a result of our rigorous honesty.

There’s another side of this blame game. No person goes through life alone. Our actions and decisions affect those around us, whether we choose to believe that or not. And it’s easy for those of us whose loved ones struggle with addictions or compulsive behaviors to take that blame and place it squarely on ourselves. This is even more true when the person(s) in our life who struggles is a spouse or a child. We’re supposed to have some responsibility to and authority over those people in our lives. At the very least, they are in our immediate circle of influence. How could their struggles not be my fault?

You didn’t get them drunk, and you can’t get them sober.
Your loved one’s addiction is the result of a myriad of factors colliding, but you did not cause their addiction and indeed are not capable of doing so. Unless you were in some way abusive toward them, chances are you’re not even a contributing factor to their current behavior and mindset. Feeling guilty and responsible won’t make them better; it’ll only make you worse. And with regard to making them better, the only one with that power is them. They might need rehab or accountability or therapy or jail or any combination thereof, but they won’t change until they’re ready.

Alright, what can I do?

Recognize that rock bottom is a bit of an ambiguous term.
Most addicts have to hit rock bottom before they find the path toward recovery, but that looks different for everyone. Just because something happens in their life that you would like to identify as their bottom doesn’t mean that they’ll see it that way. You can’t force it.

Use love appropriately.
Love is not a bargaining chip. If you try to leverage your love for them as collateral for sobriety, you’re going to end up without them. Love them unconditionally; just don’t allow love to lead you into the trap of taking care of them. (which leads us to our next point)

Don’t bail them out.
They will get in trouble. Maintaining an addictive or compulsive lifestyle always leads to headaches and problems. Your loved one will undoubtedly participate in behavior you never would’ve imagined and might not even believe possible. When they do, let them suffer the consequences. Perhaps letting them take responsibility for their actions rather than enabling them will be an enlightening experience (for all parties involved).

Take care of yourself.
Self-care is not selfish – it’s necessary, it’s healthy, and it’s vastly underutilized. The best thing you can do for your loved one is ensure your own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health. Go to meetings. Pursue hobbies. Have lunch with friends. Do what you need to do to make sure that when everything hits the fan, you have the skills and abilities to deal with that in an appropriate manner.

Don’t give up hope.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:8

Well I know everyone that there’s no need to know in this city
I watch them all walk over one another
But we all day it so there’s no one to blame
I mastered myself. I found out all there was to find out
And if I didn’t have bad health I’d have none at all
And maybe we were supposed to be somewhere else
I don’t believe in anything that doesn’t wear itself out unnaturally
I’m falling down the stairs to the beat of second guessing
I can pick it up halfway down on any street and take it home with me
I’m falling fast
I’m low and I’m guilty

No One To Blame
Cheap Girls

“In all these situations we need self-restraint, honest analysis of what is involved, a willingness to admit when the fault is ours, and an equal willingness to forgive when the fault is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” – Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p.91 Step Ten

“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 17-18

And so, together, we move away from a place of blame and into the freedom of peace which comes from a relationship with our higher power, Jesus.

– Alex Walker