Addiction is Addiction is Addiction, Again

UFOI have been very intentional in this blog to focus on recovery in general and less on specific addiction, whether food, alcohol, drugs or other behaviors.  The longer I am in recovery, the more I am convinced that for me, addiction, is addiction, is addiction.  My two primary addictions are alcohol and an eating disorder.  Sandwiched between are nicotine, workaholism and perhaps a host of lesser knowns.  I recognize today that I can use all of those substances/behaviors to avoid living life on life’s terms.  I can equate every experience/rationale/consequence/thought process with alcohol in a very direct parallel with food.  Within the past couple of weeks I experienced the same hangover and remorse feeling from a sugar binge as with alcohol in the past.  In going through some boxes earlier this week, I came across something I wrote in 1978, six years before I got sober, noting the need to do “something” about my use of alcohol, tobacco, and food.

A response often heard in Alcoholics Anonymous goes “I came here to get sober, not holy” or “no one every got arrested for driving while under the influence of food” and so forth.  While I question the overall wisdom of such sentiments in general, the logic is flawed for me as well.  Fact is, today, I have no desire to pick up a bottle of any alcohol or what are typically termed “mind altering substances” such as narcotics.  However, I know that compulsive overeating remains a constant issue for me, and although I have not used nicotine in over 15 years, smoking pops into my head occasionally.

I think these latter addictive substances raise their heads as possibilities precisely because, for better or worse, I do not identify them as my primary addiction but do use them escape.  As anyone who identifies an eating disorder as their primary addiction, might also engage in secondary addictions.  A close friend in recovery from an eating disorder e-mailed me last night about their difficulty in the past year and noted they are concerned about “. . . slipping into bad habits too . . . I think I drink too much.”

For me, this all comes back to either moving in the direction of recovery or moving in the direction of relapse/active addiction.  Am I moving to live life on life’s terms or trying  to escape reality by anesthetizing myself.  I don’t see this as a matter of “getting holy” as noted above.  For example, gambling an addiction for many folks is a behavior that has never resonated with me.  In my life, I have sat at a slot machine less than 10 times.  Gambling does nothing for me, though I appreciate for others it is their primary addiction.

That understanding is one of the benefits I thoroughly enjoy about the process of recovery – if we are rigorously honest, we are able to see how various substances/behaviors move us in the direction of active addiction and its consequences.  For me, engaging vs. abstaining from a high stakes or low stakes game of blackjack is meaningless.  But a pint of ice cream . . . that is a different story.

 

 

 

The Spirit in Recovery

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Most of the time, our human tendency is to want to grasp, to command, to bring about, to do . .  . but when dealing with the spiritual, the attempt to control or manipulate makes that which we seek, that which we hope for vanish.  We might as well try to capture soap bubbles with a fork.  Awe and control are impossible bedfellows.   – Experiencing Spirituality by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, p. 12

After a brief time in recovery, I began to make peace with the fire and damnation religion of my youth.  But for many years I have tried to figure out how to get my hands around spirituality – What is it I believe? What is my Creed? But my experience with the Spirit is much more in line with the above quote.

For example, about 15 years ago, about once per month I traveled north along a two-lane road between Clayton and Sicily Island Louisiana.  On one occasion, there was something about the stretch of road, the time of day, the sun beginning to set over the stubble of picked cotton fields that set me into a euphoric experience of the spirit unlike anything ever achieved in a church or with alcohol or drugs.  The same experience occurred the next month at about the same spot on the road.  This time I pulled over and marveled at the experience of which I am still uncertain.  I called the place Magic Land.  The next month, I came prepared.  I had my 35 mm camera and a cassette tape recorder (pre-digital days) and was ready to fully document the experience.  But nothing happened.  The road was just the road and the cotton field was no different from any other.  Magic Land never occurred again on that drive.  I have come to wonder how many Magic Lands at other places along the road I missed because I was so fixated on experiencing the one between Clayton and Sicily Island.

A few Sunday’s ago was Pentecost – taken from the Jewish tradition of Moses getting the Commandments on Mount Sinai and in the Christian calendar when the Spirit filled the Apostles.  I occupied my normal seat when attending church on Pentecost – centered on the pulpit, about ten rows back.  The preacher, the Rev. John Sewell, preached a sermon that particularly resonated with me that day – in part:

Let us, before this Day in 2015, strain to hear God’s spontaneous call, as the Spirit moves, broods in the risky places of life, of Memphis. Let this Day one year hence find us doing something we would never have dreamed possible.  The Spirit moves in the risky places.

IN THOSE AREAS OVER WHICH WE HAVE NO CONTROL = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS CREATIVE

The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of Chaos.  For many years I have observed this in Alcoholics Anonymous – what can’t be controlled, or be willed into being true, CAN by surrendering to the Holy One most present in that very place, brings that very thing into being. It’s called recovery.  The Holy Spirit is perhaps most creative in the places over which we have no control.

I was not expecting that message but welcomed the challenge.  I am committed to finding myself “doing something we (I) would never have dreamed possible.”

Today, that all works for me as the Spirit in recovery.

 

Thinking Outside the Box vs. Making the Box Bigger

may7eA while ago I participated in a MOOC offered by David Owens, a Professor in Vanderbilt’s School of Management. He presented the course Leading Strategic Innovations in Organizations  (By the way these courses are free and a new session for Dr. Owens’ starts on July 1, 2014.)  I got a lot out of this course for both my personal and career development.  Here is one idea that really resonated with me.  Professor Owens said something like “It is not a matter of thinking outside the box, but making the box bigger.”

What I got out of that statement was that it is not really so difficult to think or operate outside the norm.  In so doing, I can have all the irrelevant “outside the box” experiences that I want.  I can equate this to being anesthetized with my addictions when I am apart from the world, basking in my grandiosity of oblivion.  However, making the box bigger, so that I can fit inside of it allows me to be true to myself but also be a part of the human experience – to take responsibility for myself and be responsible for the contributions I can bring to the table.

Even though I am living in recovery and not actively living in my addictions, I can too easily become isolated away in my own little world.  The challenge is to claim my place at the table where I can live in harmony with everyone else but also stay true to my path in life.   I liken this to a luminous web of interconnectivity.

I consider making the box bigger a challenge and an opportunity in recovery.  And like all else in recovery a true process and not event.

Doing Things Sober for the First Time

bikeFolks seem to agree that different aspects of recovery are often unique to each individual.  Some folks immediately are able to abstain from their addictive substance with little problem from the very start.  I had little desire to drink alcohol after the first year of sobriety.  However, for the first 15 years of sobriety, I continued to use nicotine in the same way I had used alcohol and other drugs. I struggle with my eating disorder today.  I actively practice(d) all of those addictions toward the same end.

I find addressing what are often called “character defects” is truly a long-term process.  Understanding issues such as anger, self-centeredness, accountability, self-respect – the list goes on – these are all long-term developmental processes that I did not achieve just because I quit drinking.

I think of this developmental idea in terms of handling something as simple as grief.  When my beloved maternal grandmother died in 1978, I drank and felt nothing.  I was sober for quite a few years before I went to her grave to begin the grieving process.  When a good friend died just a couple of weeks ago and I was physically and emotionally present in a true celebration of his life.  I will remember that experience forever.  I remember nothing of my grandmother’s death other than leaving the funeral home, going to a bar, and calling up my girlfriend to commiserate with her on how stupid funerals were.

I have come to believe that participating in all such human experiences for the first time sober makes me better able to participate more fully the second time.  Such a statement seems obvious at face value, but as addicts we are often quite fearful of the first holiday sober, the first vacation sober, the first time with difficult relatives sober, and so forth.

A line I often quote is from the epigraph to the book Demian by Hemann Hesse, that goes: “I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.  Why was that so very difficult?”

What I get out of this statement is that coming to understand and discovering our true selves is a lifelong process.  For my first 30  plus years of life I spent it anesthetized without even trying to understand who or what was my true self.  I could not really expect that on the first day of sobriety, all would be revealed.

Understanding that recovery is truly a lifelong process and not a singular event is a very exciting realization.  For me, that includes the recovery of true self.

Wisdom Learned Through Experience

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The governor resigned his exalted office and came to the Master demanding to be taught.

“What is it you wish me to teach you?” asked the Master.

“Wisdom,” was the reply.

“Ah, my friend!  How gladly would I do that were it not for one major obstacle.”

“What?”

“Wisdom cannot be taught.”

“So there’s nothing I can learn here.”

“Wisdom can be learned.  But it cannot be taught.”

cited in Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, p. 2

 

The above makes sense when I think about the important lessons I have learned in both my active addiction and recovery.  I learn by doing.  I recollect early on in recovery – I read a great deal about the disease concept of alcoholism – genetics, twin studies, and so forth.  I had thought when I first checked into detox that some sort of blood test would determine if I had the “disease” of alcoholism.  So I had lots of facts and figures in my head.  But I believe that I truly learned about alcoholism by experiencing my active addiction and then recovery.

For example, I could have read the personal stories in the AA Big Book or countless other tales of addiction.  However, through my own direct experience I relate to those stories and learn about alcoholism.  I believe the same is true in recovery.  Stories of sobriety are made real by my own experience on that road.

Direct experience in the learning process seems a reason why rites of passage often include vision quests and pilgrimages.  The process takes on a personal meaning when there is a personal experience involved.  I have come to see how this approach spills over into my role as an instructor in the classroom.  I don’t give tests.  Rather, I evaluate students based on their creation of real-time projects and their responses to real-time applications/situations.  I recall in my coursework as a student, when I took statistics from the Mathematics department, I failed miserably.  When I took statistics applied to my field of study, concepts began to make sense (though math is not a strength for me, at all) because I could apply them to my experience.

So in hindsight, I understand my need to consume all the substances I did to learn from my experience that I am truly an addict.  My experience in early recovery showed me that there is an alternative to active addiction.  My experience in both active addiction and recovery to date provide me with the foresight to know that if I continue on the recovery road I will continue to receive the wisdom to live life on life’s terms, and thoroughly love that process.

Humility & Grandiosity

may7dHumility was the topic at the AA meeting I attended last night.  I am amazed at how too often my grandiosity can start running the show in my life.  On the one hand, I completely recognize today that every aspect of my existence is the result of living in recovery.  I am fully and completely aware that with the first drink, life as I know it today goes down the drain.  However, if I am not properly acknowledged and compensated, by the standards set in my head, then I feel slighted.  I am too often confronted with the feeling of righteous indignation.

But I am grateful today that I even consider the need for thinking about humility and grandiosity.  During my active addiction, humility was never something I ever gave a thought to – because it was ALL about me and what everyone was doing to me, the poor victim.  I appreciate in recovery that I have the opportunity to sit back, reflect, and assess living life on life’s terms.  When so doing, humility and gratitude for the totality of my existence are the result.

I appreciate too that through time in recovery, I am better able to live life on life’s terms.  My decisions are based more in gratitude and less in grandiosity and self-will run riot.  I am eternally grateful that recovery is truly a process, not an event – progress, not perfection.

Change & Recovery

squawcone2Here is one of those lines that has stayed in my head for many years – a sure sign that the concept is meaningful and meant to be remembered.  My counselor in detox, Joe Iverson, said something like “Addicts don’t want change.  They seek an unchanging life, like a flat line.  The problem is the only time you have a flat line is when you are dead.”

I relate to that concept in understanding what I really wanted from alcohol and drugs was just to be anesthetized with alcohol so I did not have to live life on life’s terms but only exist.  Recovery has shown the opportunity for so much more in life.  Change has meant:

  • when I change and choose to truly live and respond to life, the opportunities are tremendous.
  • when I change to stop blaming others but become accountable for my actions, I no longer restrict myself to playing the victim role.  Such change is very empowering in living into my true self – who am I really meant to be on this earth?  what are my responsibilities? my talents? my passions?
  • when I change and take risks, the rewards are great.  There is the paradox of sorts: if I go through a situation drunk, I pretty much know the results from the start.  If I go through sober, there really is a risk – a risk of exposing true self, of being in community with others.  In recovery, there is a risk of truly experiencing an event or situation to which I will need to respond.  If I am drunk, I likely will not even remember the experience except for the shame and guilt.

Although my recovery  is tied to a core principle of not engaging in the active addiction, whether food, alcohol, drugs, or resulting behaviors, the real recovery process remains an ever-changing landscape of challenges and opportunities.  As Joe noted a bunch of years ago, to think otherwise is to act as though we are dead.