Serenity and Peace

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We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.  AA Promises

I have never felt comfortable with notions of “happiness” as being some sort of end goal.  I prefer the comprehension of serenity and knowing peace.  I take this as a contentment and satisfaction with where I am at today at any point in time.  As a baby boomer and social activist, I struggled with this concept early on as a sort of giving up and withdrawal into self – a sort of ignorance is bliss and everything is wonderful or the more religious variation is that it is all God’s will, so just accept it.

I have come to view this promise differently today.  I often end my meeting shares with “I have not a complaint in the world today” which I can say quite truthfully.  Or when I am not at peace, it is because of what is within and not the world out there.

To all who have come to follow this blog, I will be heavily engaged in some other stuff until August 12 and will resume postings at that time.

Peace

Ask, Seek, Knock

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Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10 & Matthew 7:7-8

This is one of my favorite and most personally meaningful references in a sacred scripture.  When I walk into a church on Sunday and note this is one of the readings, I look forward to hearing the preacher’s take during the sermon.  Such was the case yesterday.  The above reading was coupled with Abraham’s back and forth negotiation with God in Genesis over the number of “righteous” individuals necessary to prevent the destruction of Sodom.

I see this as all very different from the bargaining, scamming, and exploiting I tried for years to avoid taking responsibility for my own actions as a practicing alcoholic.  But in recovery I have experienced the power of asking, seeking, and knocking.    To me these actions are the very essence of the first two steps of AA – an admission of powerlessness and seeking outside ourselves for a solution for which we are ultimately responsible.  What had kept me in my active addiction even after recognizing my powerlessness was my refusal to truly ask, seek, or knock.    From the very first time I truly and desperately asked, sought, knocked – August 4, 1984 – I have remained sober.

As I have posted before, my spiritual belief is not about a man with a white beard dispensing judgement and gifts like Santa Claus. Yesterday, the preacher said that one thing that will keep us from asking is thinking we have to first earn the right.   He noted that like Abraham, we see results by our persistence in asking.  He noted that this shamelessness of persistent asking is like a death to the false self.

The preacher’s comments about false self particularly resonated with me.  Recovery includes getting out of my “self-will run riot” per AA parlance, and being in community with and responsive to others.  I know that when I do not ask, the reason is often because I want to go back into my addictive behaviors – they are familiar and I know what to expect.  Self-loathing, insecurity, anger and resentment then become a primary response.  Truly asking, seeking, knocking entails a confrontation between the false self and true self.

The asking, seeking, knocking in one way is like a magic button, or a shift in worldview.  Those actions require getting out of a worldview framed by addiction and moving into a worldview framed in recovery.  If I truly ask, I am making a decision to be willing to seek living into the solution.  I have consistently found in recovery, that such a decision, made with the persistent and shameless negotiating skills of Abraham, is a road worth traveling.

Regrets of the Past

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We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  AA Promises

About two years ago I had occasion to get reacquainted with my best friend from high school that I had not seen in nearly 40 years.  In an email to me he basically said something like ‘I know this is your address, please reply, as I have been trying to track you down for years.’  I responded and explained that for a long period of time I had been profoundly embarrassed about how I had treated people during my active drinking days, including him.   Although we live hundreds of miles apart, we have gotten together a half-dozen times for an evening visit and that very past has made our relationship stronger today.

About fifteen years ago I got into my head the understanding that – if every breath I have ever taken has gotten me to sitting right here today, I would not change a thing.  As I write these words this morning, that sentiment remain true to me.

Working with others and sharing my experience, strength, and hope is an obvious way that this second AA Promise works today in my life.  However, I had an experience a bit over a year ago that revealed to me the depth of this Promise.

My father and I had a long and rocky relationship filled with the all of the dysfunctional family stories.  We were not close, and although I visited on occasion, we had gone many months or even years without a visit since my teenage years.  He died in February of 2013.  I had dutifully driven the 600 miles for a couple of false alarms to visit prior to his death.  A visit that January was clearly going to be the last time I would see him.  I wanted to have some sort of reconciliation with him, but I had a hard time figuring out what to say.  Then I thought that today, I have no complaints in the world about my existence.  I do not regret anything in the past as it all got me to where I am in today in life where I find complete contentment, meaning, and serenity.  My father had been instrumental in creating many of those experiences, particularly in the distant past, so I could be thankful to him for putting me on the path to where I stand today.  So how that concept came out with just the two of us in that hospice room was me saying “I just wanted to thank you for everything and tell you I love you.”  He seemed dumbfounded, so I repeated the words.  I said what I needed to say and my father heard what he needed to hear.  The hospice nurse came into the room to do something and told I would need to leave for a while.

My father and I had a couple of phone conversations after that hospital room meeting where we talked about baseball games of my youth, my next road trip, and other things I cannot remember.  We never spoke again of our final words in the hospital room.  Of importance, those words were true and a recognition of the Second AA Promise.

I find that this example shows the Second AA Promise is not just a self-serving “no regrets” type of condition, but rather an end of denial and an acceptance of the whole self.

Freedom and Happiness

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We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  AA Promises

The freedom of Promise 1 comes in a couple of different ways for me.  First, in giving up and surrendering to my powerlessness over alcohol, I am freed from the struggle and pre-occupation for the next drink, the insanity, and the remorse/guilt/regrets.  The other side of that freedom is the ability to engage with life on many new levels.  Today, when advising students, it often comes up that during my first try at college, I earned a whopping 0.7 GPA.  Fifteen years later when I tried college sober, I earned a 4.0.  I recollect how I carried a brief case during my first try at college but it only contained bottles of alcohol, speed, and a checkbook – a rather telling statement on what controlled my academic pursuits!

Over the years, the freedom in Promise 1 has evolved in different directions.  I recollect when I was in grade school at my Great Uncle’s wake, seeing the bottle of Johnnie Walker Scotch and the happy figure on the label walking down the road and thinking, “that’s what I want” and making a commitment to alcohol.  That bottle quickly became my prison.

Recovery has led me to think of freedom and happiness in a whole new way.  In recovery, I have come to appreciate the concept that I would rather try something and not have it work it work out, than to not have tried, and regret making the attempt in the future.  I consider this the freedom to begin to discover true self.  Such an approach was not possible when under the influence of my active addictions where I had an abundance of people, places, and things to blame for being in whatever unsavory inescapable circumstance I found myself.

Recovery has allowed me the freedom to live proactively, to take the road less traveled, or the one more traveled – recovery has given me the choice.  Life in active addiction was making the choice to be in a pinball machine where alcohol and drugs controlled the flippers.  I am somewhat perplexed by the “yeah, but . . .” heard when folks explain why recovery or choices in recovery work for others but not for them.  My experience is the opposite.

Today, Promise 1 of AA is a guiding reminder of the realities and possibilities of recovery.  To the point, when I was laying in the detox bed those years ago, had someone “promised” me my existence of today through recovery, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.  I don’t make a lot of money, but I have a family, a career, a life that I chose.  When in detox, I could not even conceptualized my reality of today when freed from the bondage of alcohol and drugs.

The AA Promises

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If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.   AA Promises

I have long believed that the AA Promises are where the action is at for me in recovery.  I first thought about this in a serious way some 10 or 12 years ago when I was asked to give a lead at a particular AA meeting.  I suppose I had listened to one too many 45 minute leads where it was 40 minutes of what it was like, 3 minutes of what happened, and 2 minutes of what it is like today.  So in my self-righteousness, I decided I was going to do something different.  I was going to focus on recovery.  I had always been rather partial to the AA promises.  The copy I have carried around in my wallet for these past 25 plus years is in pretty bad shape – now it’s more of memento than something to actually read as half of the print is gone.

The AA Promises have the same impact on me as making a gratitude list, only it’s more in my face.  With a gratitude list, I can be pretty short and cynical if the mood strikes me.  “Yeah I am sober, have a real family, not blacking out, have a job . . . ”  But the AA Promises actually require me to think a bit about specific concepts in my recovery – eleven of them, that have tendrils that lead off into so many directions.

I sometimes think that I am not terribly “painstaking” about my recovery, but apparently enough because I am truly “amazed” today.  Back when I first got sober, if I had just been promised that I would no longer be suicidal, I would not have to wake up and wonder where I had been last night, have that obsession for alcohol and the intense self-hatred at least turned down a few notches, that would have been good enough.  The AA Promises remind me there has been so much more . . .

Power Greater than Ourselves . . .

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Only those who go through something of Calvary and of the descent into hell, not alone but in solidarity with Christ who has been there, can find that life which comes through deliverance from the captivity of the false self.

Kenneth Leech, We Preach Christ Crucified, p. 83, Cowley Publications.

The above is a quote I have remembered for a long time.  Kenneth Leech is a radical Anglican priest of sorts who writes a lot of theology that I don’t understand – and I am not really certain I understand the above quote, but here is how I take it –

I have posted before about my very poorly defined concept of religion/God.  I recollect well the night I checked myself into detox instead of going out after work and getting wasted.  It was a complete surrender to Step One of AA “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.”  Coupled with a prayer/petition on the evening to be relieved of my drug obsession as I began down the road of Step Two “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

After all these years, I still rebel at folks who want to tell me what that “power greater than ourselves” is.  For me today, that “power greater than ourselves” is best defined as a “power greater than ourselves” and I leave it pretty much at that.  As someone raised in the Christian tradition, I am comfortable with a lot of the mechanics, ritual, and moral philosophy ascribed as such, but wear that like a pretty loose garment.  My relationship to Christianity is more a byproduct of where I was born and my cultural background.

But what I get most from the Leech quote above has little relevance to the brand of religion that one practices.  Rather quote speaks of the true and visceral understanding of the need for surrender to the false self and the resurrection of the true self, made in God’s image.  One of my favorite rabbinic sayings is that when a child walks down the street angels walk before and after saying “Make way for the image of God” – that to me is discovery and living into the true self in recovery.

The Process of the Spirit

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To me, one of the truly exciting aspects of spirituality is this – I don’t think I practice a better brand of spirituality today than in the past.  Rather, the spiritual practices of today are what’s in front of me, the next steps on the path in the opportunities of grace.  For me, key to that understanding is the conventional wisdom that I am not a recovered alcoholic but rather a recovering alcoholic.  I view my relationship with my higher power or spiritual growth in the same way.  I do not see salvation and redemption as static events to be achieved, rather, I see them more as verbs or dynamic processes.  What is so humbling about that recovery process is that I could never have predicted or dreamt up the blessings of this relationship.  It is humbling because I know it is not me but being open to that image of God or the spirit in which we are all created.  Regular spiritual practice is an important part of that process.  Practices of piety are necessary to sustain and move forward in recovery.

Here is one of my favorite practices of piety.  Before I walk into a classroom, I stop and think for a moment, and remember this teaching gig is for the students and not for my ego.  Inevitably, if I have that mindful 30 seconds of thought before a teaching session, the class will go well.  If I am rushed, running late, and breeze into the classroom trying to get things in order without that bit of mindfulness and intentional understanding of my role, things do not go so well.  On occasion, when I get off to a bad start, I will stop, excuse myself saying I forgot something in my office, and in that 90-second interval where I go back and forth between my office and pick up a book or piece of paper, I mindfully center on the role of my true self, and resurrect the classroom experience.  The mindfulness does not give me better recall or insights into the seminar readings.  Rather, the act of piety before entering the classroom makes me mindful of my role and responsibility in the process.  Quite a wonderful and productive process.

And here is link on substance abuse and mindfulness