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Denial is not a River in Egypt

I visited a therapist five days before I walked into my first AA meeting. I had been to this lady a few months earlier for help to quit smoking. I thought smoking was my problem. I hated myself for smoking. I was able to quit with her help and an addiction to Nicorette gum. But my life didn’t improve. I continued to wake up every morning with an ache of fear in my gut. I had no interest, energy or enthusiasm for looking for work or much of anything else.

I had just finished a book about men my age undergoing mid-life crises. I figured this was my problem. This must be the reason I wasn’t looking for work; this must be the reason I had no interest, energy or enthusiasm for much of anything; this must be the reason my life felt so heavy. I fully expected the therapist to confirm my diagnosis, comfort me and give me a new coping strategy.

She let me whine about my life for a good thirty minutes, then she said something that shocked me. She said, “I don’t think I can help you, Jeff.” She said, “from what I know about you, I don’t think you have an ounce of humility in your whole body; your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking you can’t get any clarity on your life; and you seem to have the emotional maturity of a thirteen-year-old. I don’t think I can help you but maybe the treatment center up the street can.”

The voice inside my head was screaming, “you can’t let this bitch talk to you like this, Jeff.” But somehow, I was able to keep my mouth shut. Then she looked directly into my eyes, like she was looking at my soul and said, “you’re in trouble, aren’t you, Jeff?” The voice told me not to admit anything to this woman. I looked down at my shoes for a long moment. Finally, I whispered, “maybe.” It was the first time in my forty-seven-year-old life I admitted there was something I couldn’t handle. Apparently, my half-assed admission of powerlessness cracked the thick wall of denial just enough to let the light shine in.



Acceptance

A year or so ago my girlfriend gave me a bracelet that says, “it is what it is.” I rarely take it off. It’s a great reminder to accept whatever is showing up in my life. I don’t have to like what’s going on. I just must accept it for what it is, God’s will. I suffer whenever I am unable or unwilling to accept God’s will because, in essence, I am arguing with reality.

Acceptance for me is not resignation. It is not giving up or giving in. It is simply acknowledging that God placed the person, event or situation in my life to help me grow. The experience may not feel good. It may be tragic. It may scare the hell out of me, but somehow every experience is necessary for my spiritual growth. I can’t hope to benefit from any experience until I first accept it.

I am much better at accepting God’s will today than I was when I began my spiritual journey in Alcoholics Anonymous. Back then I had no choice but to resist any experience that didn’t jive with my insane belief system about how life should work and how other people should behave. I had no choice but to react in fear and resist any kind of change. The longer I resisted God's plan for me, the more painful my life became. Today I look at these painful experiences as gifts. I'm grateful for the pain because there is no way I could have traveled from where I was to where I am today without them.

Through the years, AA and the Twelve Steps melted away much of the self-centered fear that kept me a prisoner to ego-mind. Most of the fear that walked through the doors with me is gone. It has been replaced by a faith that works in all conditions. Today I have the faith that I’ll be shown the way through every painful experience and I’ll come out the other side a more peaceful, happier and contented person. Acceptance is the first step.

Staying in Today

I was a couple of weeks sober and sitting in the sharing circle in the out-patient treatment center. When my turn came to share, I said, "I feel so good, I'll never drink again!" The short, round woman who ran the center, an ex-heroin junky from New York, snapped back, "That's just ego bull shit Jeff! We don’t say crap like that in here. You'd better just do everything you can to stay sober today and pray it's enough.” This was a great lesson for me.

Today, right now, I’m OK. I’m safe. Sure, I have challenges, but I’m OK. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong tomorrow, or next week or next year. My life is unmanageable in the future. The only time I have a fighting chance at a great life is today. Now.

Anytime I feel restless, irritable or discontented it’s a sure sign my mind has catapulted into the future. I worry about all the things that can go wrong. Trying to push these feelings under the carpet with alcohol and drugs never worked for long. The key for me is to pay attention to these negative feelings when they arise and take some action. I need to pick up one of our tools and get back to today. Picking up the phone and calling another alcoholic usually does the trick for me.

Living in tomorrow separates me from God. I lose conscious contact, cut off from the source of all power. Ego tries to tell me it doesn’t need God, that it has my life handled. But this is a lie! Without the power of God flowing through me I have no chance for a life that is meaningful much less happy joyous and free. Without the power to act in my own best interest, I’m back to sitting on the couch in my messy apartment drinking cheap wine and smoking expensive marijuana twelve hours a day. There, I’m all alone and dead inside.

Even after a few twenty-fours, my mind continues to try and slip into tomorrow. The difference today is I’m aware of it sooner. Then I can take some action to bring it back into today.

Growing or Going

I quit drinking as an experiment after my first marriage broke up in 1989 after three years. I blamed alcohol for our breakup. After all, we drank throughout the evening, argued incessantly, and often went to bed angry at each other. I was sober for a week or so when a friend recommended AA.  AA sounded too drastic. I asked him if there was anything else. He said some people go to ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). “What’s that?” He told me in AA I had to admit I was alcoholic, and I couldn’t drink, but in ACA all I had to do was admit my father was an alcoholic. Perfect!

I went to ACA meetings once a week and stayed sober for thirteen months. My life began to improve. Not drinking felt good. I enjoyed getting together with a dozen or so other ACA’s and sharing about our parents and our lives. I half-assed worked a few of the steps. Then a new job took me from LA to San Diego and staying sober lost its priority. It wasn’t long afterwards I was sitting for lunch with friends in a beautiful garden restaurant in the bright sunshine. The waitress poured an expensive Chardonnay in our glasses. I didn’t hesitate, even for a moment. I had no mental defense.

What followed was a six-year, progressively more painful, descent into what I hope was my final bottom. Finally, I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me to AA. As I sat in my first meeting, I had the sense I had finally found my way home after a long, painful journey. I loved everything about AA and still do.

I recently made a list of my goals and plans for the coming year and some actions steps. One of my AA goals reads, “continue to grow and change.” I intend to discover some new meetings, work with some new men and explore other spiritual pursuits. My life is better than it has ever been, but I can’t afford to stay the same, to rest on my laurels. I must continue to expand and grow my program. I know what happens to those of us who take their foot off the gas and let up on their program of action.

A Fabulous New Year!

My recovery is nothing I did. It is everything God did. It was God who supplied the willingness to reach out to a therapist and asked for help. It was God that graced me with a moment of clarity and a glimpse of truth about what I had become. It was God who supplied the motivation for me to sign up for the treatment center even though I wasn’t sure I was an alcoholic. It was God that had me walking through the doors to my first AA meeting in 1994. These God Shots have continued for the last 24+ years. If I keep doing what I’m doing, I fully expect them to continue throughout my life.

Keeping it fresh for me is about new sobriety friends, sponsorship and deeper understanding of spiritual principles. Yesterday I had the honor of giving my best sobriety buddy a 41-year chip. I watched him walk through some unpleasant stuff during the past year, but he didn’t drink. Instead he picked up a newcomer and went to a meeting every day. Two months ago, I snagged a willing newcomer. He reminds me of myself when I was new. God supplied me with the desire to get what you guys have had and the power to do what you did. The new man doesn’t need prodding or prompting. He’s enthusiastic about his recovery and he’s beginning to see the benefits. Both men are joys in my life.

My intention for the coming year is to continue to change and grow. I will continue to ask for help from God by attending meetings, putting my hand out to newcomers, practicing principles to the best of my ability and being of service wherever I can. I intend to explore new meetings and make new sobriety friends. I’ll continue to share my ESH with you guys on a weekly basis. I know from experience that my willingness to continue to take the actions you suggested to me when I was new will result in another fabulous year.

The Habit of Sobriety

It was as close as I have ever come to picking up a drink. I was three years sober and had just lost a job I thought was much too good for me. The itty, bitty shitty committee in my head were all yelling at me at the same time. Then the chairman called for a vote. They went around the table: guilty, guilty, guilty…! It was unanimous. I was a worthless piece of crap and would never work again. I had no right to a good life. The fear was excruciating, but instead of picking up a drink, I picked up the phone and called my sponsor. I am absolutely convinced that the habit of sobriety kept me from drinking that day and saved my butt countless times since then.

Besides job losses, the habit of sobriety has seen me through financial set-backs, health issues and the death of my wife in 2014. I moved to Shanghai, China for work in 1997, long before it became the modern city it is today. My sixteen years in Shanghai was filled with frustrations. I didn’t speak the language, the weather was lousy, and the traffic was horrendous. There was great pressure to drink from the Chinese I did business with. Gratefully there were five other alcoholics and three meetings a week when I arrived. It was definitely an AA “light” program, but I didn’t drink. Because I had the habit of sobriety, I made it to every meeting, got a local sponsor (actually we sponsored each other) and kept in close touch with some AA friends in the US by email. I joined ESH and attended our online “meetings” every week.

I began to develop the habit of sobriety right out of the gate. I wasn't a joiner. I was aloof. My heart was completely closed. Left to my own devices I would have stood on the outside of Alcoholics Anonymous, but you wouldn’t let me. You welcomed me with open arms. You pulled me into the center of the herd where I was safe. I resisted your hugs, but you didn’t care. The only thing you seemed to care about was that I kept coming back.

I really wanted what you had, and God supplied the willingness to do what you did.  I took suggestions. I showed up at meetings daily despite the voice in my head telling me I had more important things to do. I got a sponsor and made my way through the steps. I have never said "no" to an AA request. I made coffee, bought the doughnuts and picked up cigarette butts in the parking lot. I became a part of the fellowship and began to warm myself by the fire of Alcoholics Anonymous. My program really took off when a man asked me to sponsor him. I was one of the first Americans to carry the AA message to China where I had many opportunities to sponsor that I would never have had in the US. Today sponsorship is the bedrock of my recovery program. It is a tremendous source of joy for me.

I acquired the habit of sobriety by doing the same things over and over again -- meetings, steps, service. These actions keep my spiritual channel open and God’s power flows through me out into the world. It’s simply a great way to live.