This week marks an anniversary of sorts. For the past 365 days, I have written a card and mailed (USPS snail mail or hand-delivered) to someone about something. My reason for launching this project was because I wanted to let folks know how much I appreciated their role in my life from family members, friends, and colleagues. Importantly, I wanted to include the clerks and service workers we engage with every day. As the year went on, I added public officials and civic leaders to express my concerns over local and national issues. Lately, a number of my daily notes included a recent round of 9th Step amends.
In the first 100 or so days of the process, I was reluctant to admit to anyone what I was doing. I did not want to be taken as grandiose or holier than thou for stopping to thank folks. As well, I didn’t want the recipients to perceive the notes as a part of an experiment or my need to come up with someone to write to on a given day. I was pleasantly surprised that I never ran out of people to write!
Over time, I have come to view the note writing differently:
- From a selfish perspective, I know that my relationship with many has been enhanced by the simple note.
- I am more mindful to consistently thank folks on the spot for service issues – bank, car repair, stores since writing the notes.
- A relative I wrote expressing my admiration for her dedication to her family responded, telling me how much the note meant as she was filled with self-doubt about her role as a parent. I thought about how today criticisms so often exceed the affirmations of our worth.
- My expression of thanks to others for their contributions has on several occasions brought about a mutual reflection of our time together professionally. Importantly too, in a 9th step way, the notes to colleagues and friends allows me to clean up my side of the street.
- I enjoy just being in relationship with people, going to the Post Office to see the stamps available and to the bookstore for cards to personalize my notes.
What I have gotten most out of this process is having an enhanced attitude of gratitude for the people in my life and taking an active step to build those relationships. Although distance is bridged in the virtual world, and perhaps this reflects my age, but I find a handwritten note a qualitative leap above an email or Facebook post. Apparently many of my recipients feel the same.
Sobriety is self-serving to my very existence, but so too sobriety allows me to grow in community, relationship, and responsibility to the world. In the same way that being of service, carrying the message, offering support to those in need allows me to be in community with those in recovery, that service, message, and support reaches beyond the fellowship to everyone in my life.
I have an intense “attitude of gratitude” for my recovery over the past 30 years. The gratitude is the reason I write this blog. The gratitude is the reason for the past year I have written and mailed the notes. You have to give it away to keep it. I am truly blessed.
The Sunday School session I attend at my church is called The Wilderness. We discuss books and topics from a more social activist and progressive end of theology. I was a slightly put-off when the title of our current study book was first announced Happy: What It Is And How To Find It by Matt Miofsky. Each of the four week’s of study is accompanied by a 10-minute presentation on the week’s chapter. I got past the title to learn the book is really about finding serenity in our lives – albeit what I perceived as a rather basic discussion. I must confess to a smugness because of what I perceived as my advanced training in this area after 30 plus years of sobriety through the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Steps.
But this past Sunday’s chapter Beyond Circumstances particularly intrigued me as of late I have been dealing with my own particular circumstances. The classmate who led the discussion this week passed out pieces of paper because in reviewing the video presentation for this chapter, the author provides a list of things of which we might want to take note.
Here is the list the author suggested in the video for not letting circumstances adversely impact your serenity and peace:
- learn to live in the present
- change your perspective
- live a life of gratitude
- keep track of what I am grateful for today
- let go of control.
Now anyone with a modicum of familiarity with the 12-Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous has heard all of these list items hundreds of times in the meetings they attend, the literature they read, and the steps that they work!
The discussion in our class was far-reaching and insightful. Out of the 20 or some folks in the room, only three kept a gratitude journal. There was a rich discussion on the conflict of letting go of control in a variety of situations.
I am incredibly grateful to the 12-Step Program for the peace and serenity in my life today. And as Step 12 suggests:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics (or fill in the blank of other addictions/issues), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
What an incredible gift of sobriety!!
Looking from my back porch this morning.
Today I celebrate 33 years of continuous sobriety. Last year I completely forgot about my 32nd year anniversary until someone reminded me. I had been overseas working for a month and spent August 4, of 2016 navigating a 15-hour travel schedule back to home in New Orleans. This year I have been thinking about my 33 years of sobriety a reasonable amount. Some of the reasons include:
- Over the past year I have been very actively engaged in regular Step Work, spending several weeks on each step, writing, thinking, discussing, living, and reincorporating the 12 Steps into my day-to-day existence. Although every day in sobriety I have remembered that I am an alcoholic in recovery, over the years I have also done more intensive refresher courses, as it were, to continue to grow and travel along my recovery road.
- This heightened sense of recovery in my daily existence has also led to an increased sense of gratitude. I am 65 years old. Without question, and with no intent for dramatic impact, were it not for my decision to follow a 12 Step program of recovery, I would have been dead long ago or locked up in prison for some alcohol related offense and living a life of forced sobriety. I know that I am not tough enough to be that stereotypical skid row drunk, and that was my trajectory before sobriety.
- I am also fully aware that everything – from the dog laying at my feet, to the back porch of my family’s home in New Orleans where I sit, to my formal retirement last year from a successful career, to my continuing professional activity today – none of that would be possible were it not for recovery.
- After I was sober for a couple of years, my mother asked me why I still needed to go to meetings and maybe I could just have a beer occasionally. Therein lies one of the greatest gifts of recovery – the 12 Step Program from which I will never graduate. Re-doing my Fourth Step a few months ago brought insights about my character of which I could not conceive when doing my first Fourth Step in 1984. Those insights allow me the opportunity to travel a recovery path today more aligned with a true self. That process never ends. As I proclaim in the title of this blog, recovery is truly a process and not an event.
- I have the opportunity to travel paths that my “contempt prior to investigation” in active addiction would never have allowed. My previous post is one such example.
- And today, I truly have a choice. I am no longer like the ball in a pinball machine after taking that first drink. Today, I can choose to prioritize how I spend my existence, living intentionally and with meaning.
I long ago resigned from the discussions about whether AA is cult, alcoholism is a disease, etc. etc. Those issues have no relevance to me. As I am fond of saying “If every breath I have ever taken has gotten me to exactly where I am today, I would not change a thing.” Today August 4, 2017, as I sit on my back porch in New Orleans and type these words into my laptop, 33 years after I checked myself into a detox center in Cincinnati, Ohio, I still would not change a thing.