This Website will be devoted to essays and insights related to recovery, personal growth, politics, film, cultural values, old age, and book reviews.
I also include many of my poems that I have written over the years.
Enjoy the ride!
The Higher Power as the “Spirit” of Transformation
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
That power for me is the power of transformation arrived at through service, self-reflection (4th and 10th steps), shared recovery stories in the rooms, silence, human connections, trust, surrender, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, community, listening, surrender, and humility.
Silence can take the form of meditation, or for traditional believers, it can be whatever kind of prayer works. My form of prayer is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of “tonglen,” which is a breathing exercise of breathing in somebody else’s pain or suffering (even my own) and breathing out relief and kindness. It is an altruistic, humanitarian, compassionate extension of love.
When I’m at a meeting where the Christian “Our Father” is recited, I stand silently to absorb the mantra-like connection I internalize from the group in that prayer. I find it very nurturing.
And I say the “Serenity Prayer” to remind me to balance my behavior between doing the right thing and acceptance when I can’t change the inevitable, an outcome, or somebody’s behavior ( I”m right now in the middle of trying to accept somebody’s need to proselytize and control in a group I’m in)
That acceptance is also a form of surrender. But I have to know that surrendering to dysfunctionalism, tragedy, or the inevitable doesn’t mean I get off the hook. I have to also surrender to the pain that comes from that surrender.
Surrender can also mean I can’t always control some of my faults and inadequacies. Sometimes I need guidance from others and/or a counselor. And I also need patience in accepting the process of an active Step Program and sponsorship to do their “Refiner’s-Fire” work on those faults.
That power greater than myself I often refer to as the “Spirit” of transformation. In my experience it is expansive, loving, engaging, and inclusive.
Family Screamers, Icy Silence, Sarcasm versus Saintly Calm
I grew up in a family of screamers, duckers, fighters, and scramblers. If that didn’t work, my family withdrew into icy silence.
If that didn’t work, we could always go to plan B: smart-ass sarcasm.
At the same time I was watching the pro-active survival skills of my siblings, I was being taught in Catholic elementary school that saints suffered quietly
They accepted their lots in life with passive surrender. And many quietly walked the gauntlet of martyrdom with angelic resignation, assured of a first-class room in the heavenly kingdom.
In my little elementary school mind, Christ was the icon of emotional stability. He may have thrown the gambling rabble out of the synagogue in a fit of rage, but his life seemed more about waiting his turn in the queue of acceptance and surrender. He was the gentle fisherman, the quiet shepherd. Not the raging truck driver or the sweaty faced hockey player, fists thrashing the air.
In my childhood, adolescence, and throughout my adulthood, I constantly pursued the “key” to sanctity. At one time, I thought all I had to do was go to mass, receive holy communion, confess my sins, and read spiritual books. The world, over time, I thought, would adapt to all the higher spiritual goals I had set out for myself. Or, on my journey to sainthood, I would be above it all.
- The guy sleeping in a small entrance cove of a store, at two in the morning, with a near-empty wine bottle tucked inside his stained trench coat.
- The guy, with blood-shot eyes, standing in front of a seven-eleven, asking me for loose change so he can “buy a piece of pizza.”
- The guy, with hands trembling, sitting on the steps of an urban church, stopping passers-by telling them he needs gas money to visit his mother in hospice.
- The barroom story-tellers spinning out their lazy-tongued tales of resentments against a boss, an ex-girlfriend, or all the corrupt Washington politicians in bed with Wall Street.
(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
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
Free from desire, you realize the mystery
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
The Temporal and the Eternal
Okay, I think I get it. The opening poem (or chapter) of the Tao Te Ching is telling me that there are two worlds: the temporal, where words (names), “manifestations,” and “desire” exist; and the “eternal” where the “nameless,” the “mystery,” and serenity (free from “desire”) inhabit.
Just when I think I have nailed it, the Tao then tells me that the eternal and the temporal come from the same “Darkness,” or, better still, “Darkness within darkness.” Continue reading
“Feelings,” I have been told by many of the old timers in the AA rooms, “don’t matter.”
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
During my active alcoholic/addiction days, I vividly remember believing that if I descended into the booze enough, I would somehow come out car-wash clean. My repressions would be lifted. I could be my real self. I wouldn’t have to hide. I would be diamond-cut perfect. And, of course, I would have a winning style and personality.
What is it about this “descent” thing? Dante certainly believed it. Buddha had to go through his moments with his demons. Christ had his Gethsemane and his desert temptations. And soldiers have their foxholes.
No pain, no gain, as the saying goes. Continue reading
(This is another blog post on addiction and may help non-addicts understand the many-layered world of addiction, a world I once inhabited and continue to recover from. Because addiction is an equal-opportunity emotional and physical derailment, I purposely shift between the pronouns, “he” and “she” to avoid the impression that men have a monopoly on the world of addiction).
My drug of choice was booze. But the behavior and emotional patterns I exhibited could apply to all addicts. Each addiction obviously has its own uniqueness, but, in working with cross-addicted individuals, I have found many of the emotional and psychological traits to be the same. Continue reading