Alcohol Recovery

I Have of Late Lost All My Mirth

(I dedicate this article to all those who live in the dark world of chronic sadness and depression. Although I don’t address the issues of clinical depression, I believe that many of us have what I call a “depressive personality.”

My comments in this essay address that kind of personality. They are not meant to support the world views that many with that personality trait share. They are merely an attempt to understand the ebb and flow of those attitudes and world views that depressive personalities share.

And I would like to make it very clear that many of us with that depressive personality type are not consistent with our dark world views. There are days when those views dominate. And there are days when the world gives us every reason to want to go on living.

With the help of a twelve-step program and twenty-nine years of sobriety, I have gradually, but sometimes reluctantly,  moved over into the world of chronic happiness. But, as the saying goes, “old habits die hard.” Namasté) Continue reading

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Holding On

A very well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyäm Trungpa, wrote a book entitled, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. It is a book that warns its readers not to become overly attached even to our spiritual journeys.

Trungpa recognized that, given human nature, people will sometimes dive into their spiritual practices and journeys with the obsession of an addict for their booze, their sex, their food, their relationships, their cars, their houses, their clothes.

In doing so, spirituality then becomes nothing more than an out-of-control passion for some material good that will always give the first-fervor rush of satisfaction. But then, in the case of an excessive spiritual practice, the satisfaction often morphs into ritual and self-preserving affirmations divorced from any real transformations. Continue reading

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The God Question

God as Metaphor of the Ineffable

God has been around a long time in Alcoholics Anonymous. For some, He remains the brick and mortar of the program. For that same group, He is the only Higher Power, a power that can, literally, move mountains.

For others, like myself, God is a metaphor of the ineffable. He or She only becomes the ultimate etiology of reality when nothing else can explain the mystery behind the mystery.

We are here. We are the effect of what came before. And something came before that.

But, at what point, does all cause stop at the door of the Ultimate Cause, the Cause that has no Cause before it? That, my friends, is the stubborn question that will not yield an answer. And, in my judgment, the door will never, ever open to that answer because Being is itself: it has no Ultimate Cause. It just is. And always has been. Continue reading

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Feelings Do Matter

“Feelings,” I have been told by many of the old timers in the AA rooms, “don’t matter.”

Emotional Detachment

I have always struggled with that notion because, as a kid, I learned very early in the game that I needed to be a silent observer in my family. If I weren’t, if I decided to confront my siblings or my parents, I would pay the consequences—a smack across the face, a sarcastic remark, or worse, just indifference.

In this early family environment, it would be safe to say that I had learned to shut down, not just as a defense against negative reactions from my family, particularly from my emotionally unpredictable mother, but as my way of surviving.

I thought for a long time that being detached from my emotions was, of course, a far more superior form of living than those in the muck of emotional tantrums. (I might add here, that I used to think that any strong emotional reaction related to joy, grief, or rage was a reaction “out of control.”) Continue reading

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Transcendence, the “God of My Understanding”

Theism as a Cultural Heirloom

As a non-theist, it is often difficult to talk about the God of Western culture without offending someone. Even if individuals aren’t theologians, there is a tendency to fall back into a default mode with any discussion about God.

In that mode, some go on the defensive trying to protect what is considered sacred and allegedly timeless, not because they are necessarily connected to a specific sky-god theology, but because the culture has committed itself to a belief in an exterior anthropomorphic deity.

Inside of this mind-set, any discussion of God can descend into a defense of a Western cultural norm, a societal commitment that must be protected because traditionalists often believe that a culture will lose its integrity if it gives up its theocentric beliefs. Continue reading

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That’s Just “The Way” it is

Expecting Different Results

Insanity, some tell us, is doing the same things, over and over, expecting different results.

But what about expecting different results from other people, situations, or events—a brother-in-law saying something kind; a Verizon tech person avoiding jargon; an American movie not bleeding into sentimentality; morning commuters driving with less rage; a politician not speaking from an ideology; a cable news show understating a news flash; a doctor faxing a prescription on the same day; a bank mortgage department answering the phone with a real person; a muffler replacement being under three-hundred dollars; a teen-age son not saying “whatever.”

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The Shroud of Fatalism

So, you have  a great day at school. Your teachers laugh at your jokes. You get a 95 on your math exam. You talk to one of your teachers during lunch. They tell you are a remarkable young man. You leave the school at three and walk home. You’re in high gear. The world is your oyster.

Then you walk through the front door of your home. Your mother is screaming at your father. You duck as a frying pan comes flying across the kitchen. She’s yelling at your dad, “you took Janet to the drive in, didn’t you? I saw the popcorn in the back seat of the car. You’ve been sleeping with her again.” Janet was  my red-headed Brenda Star look-alike aunt, my mother’s sister-in-law.

That was the daily routine: Great day at school. The Inferno at home. Kids, of course, learn to make connections, as irrational as they may be.  When they are nurtured in one place and are dragged into the emotional muck in another, they begin to believe that, not only are there no guarantees in life, but that life cannot be trusted to offer any permanent security. They will always ask themselves, “when is the other shoe going to fall off?” And they  view happiness as an occasional blip on the machine of life, more often than not, set on disappointment. Continue reading

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Psychobabble and AA Principles

I was at an AA meeting recently when someone criticized what he considered to be the psychobabble at meetings.

For some of us in the rooms, such criticism is often a back-door way of hiding behind the literature of AA in order to avoid being honest about our our motives, our rationalizations, our hidden agendas, our imperfections, and, of course, our strengths and virtues.

Accusing others in the room of “psychobabble” can be a convenient way of avoiding any journey that might take us deeper into ourselves. It can also be a way of remaining stuck, safe, even smug. Continue reading

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Owning Up, Part II

This is the second part of a two part series on “Owning Up, Emotional Honesty.” In the first part, I discussed the confessional-box tradition I grew up in and my many years of therapy.

In this part, I discuss the importance of what twelve-steppers refer to as the “rooms,” the meeting places where we go to “share,” as they say, “our experience, strength, and hope.”

Those of us in peer-group recovery programs like AA, NA,
OEA, and SA know very well the importance of hanging out in “the rooms.”

They are often cold, damp church basements with concrete walls that have been painted over so many times they begin to look like melting taffy. But they are the rooms where I go three or four times a week, if not more, to learn how to live in the real world.

As a recovering alcoholic of over twenty-six years, I take great consolation in knowing that others in these church basements are struggling with all the issues that normal, earth-people deal with every day: money, relationships, anger, a boss, an adolescent child, a new job, or Verizon tech support. Continue reading

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Owning Up: Emotional Honesty

This is a two-part series on owning up, honesty, and emotional transparency. In the first part, I discuss my confessional-box heritage growing up as a Roman Catholic. I then go on to cover the contrasting role of therapy in helping me to be more honest about myself.

In the second part of this two-part series, I will discuss the significance of recovery meetings in opening me up to my daily emotions and behaviors and my on going relationships in sobriety. As they say in the rooms, “it ain’t over until it’s really over.”

Governments will often hide its dirty little secrets behind the mantel of “national security.” Corporations and large institutions (including churches) seem to like silence because they fear a customer backlash, a class-action suit, or media exposure. Or they often cover up a questionable ethical policy with public relations departments which have mastered the art of linguistic subterfuge.

And, in the world of advertising, truth is often enhanced with glowing images of a product or service in order to dull the minds and senses of a potential customer.

Closer to home, families often hold on to their own white-elephant-in-the-living-room secrets to protect a family member or to defend their we’re-just-a-happy-little-family public image.

So, when do we learn to “own up” to our own truths? I’m not talking about a factual transcription of a mortgage transaction or a detailed “and-then-we-did-this-and-then-we-did-that” description of a cruise to the Caribbean. Or a lengthy machine-gun rant about how a husband “ripped me off of my alimony.”

I grew up in a Roman Catholic confessional-box culture. I was taught, as a child, to “own up” to my sins, to tell on myself in a dark box of a room with only a punctured out plastic window divider between me and the priest. And I was always in the kneeling position, my hands held in prayer resting on a small shelf as I weekly went through the “bless-me-father-for-I-have-sinned” Saturday afternoon ritual. Continue reading

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