Thursday, December 31, 2009


This Yuletide I received a number of books as gifts. But the best present of all was Aporia that I received by Royal Mail from my English friend and exciting author, Sarah Turton, aka Selchie.

My taste in books ranges all over the map: from the contemporary to the historical; fiction to non-fiction; political to farce; tearjerker to humorous and comical and especially the spiritual that stir the imagination and creativity. I love to be invited to see the world, "purple shaggy cows and all"through a different pair of eyes. Aporia is all of these, it's a feast and I'm only half way through.

Thank you Sarah


Monday, December 28, 2009

Wings Of Life

Found this poem in my archives the other day and decided to dust it off. Certainly I'm the product of all my yesterdays and the early years, one through twenty eight, were the "fill dirt" necessary in preparation for the foundation of building my new way of life. It clearly was the "what it was like" however I found myself writing a poem that represents the "what happened and what I'm like now."

By late twenties,
my life in tatters,
ego wings shorn bare
by the constant hacking of
addiction's cold blade...
a slithering caterpillar
I became,
heaving and scuffling across
life's stony ground....then..

in early thirties,
crawled into bondage,
a humbled hostage,
mired in a casing
crafted from the soiled fabric
of my past.

Time did pass and
in late thirties
released from murky darkness
tasting freedom's light,
by God's good grace
was gifted wings
set free

at long last took flight.

In my forties and fifties
letting complacency slip in
the light flickered and dimmed.
No longer did I see clearly.
Caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly
all but disappeared..but lo and behold
in their stead across my sight
two intimidating birds
took flight.

A hawk, dauntless and bold
circled high in the sunlit sky
keenest of eye, deadliest beak,
flight swift and sure.
Then in the blink of an eye
I saw yet another bird.
An owl, crafty old hunter,
head horned, eyes fierce,
moonlight drenched, so wise,
so focused and cunning.
So now twice feathered
flexing sharp talons and
hunting wings
my mind darted this and that
stalking my fortune.

Then in my sixties and beyond
when I pause I hear
the voice within my soul declare.
Yes, at times you've been
caterpillar, cocoon, butterfly,
hawk, owl and ..more.
aglow in life's twilight
on wings tempered
by all these
I see a peaceful old bird
soaring in the wind.
james frederick m


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Leftovers

Merry Second Day of Christmas.
I started this post yesterday early in the am before family arrived. But as all well laid plans of mice and men I didn't get to complete and post until now, Saturday evening. Since I stated this yesterday I won't start over from scratch. Hope you're not sick of holiday leftovers because you're getting some now.


Merry Christmas and Blessings to all of you on this and all your days.
I've been busy the last couple of days enjoying friends and family. Although not Episcopalians we went to Episcopal Services last night; our closest friends were there. All and all ti was an hour and a half of wondrous music, song and celebration. Add in the candles lining the main aisle and surrounding the altar, the Poinsettias, priest , choir , nativity scene and friends it took me back to the magnificent Catholic Midnight-Mass of my youth .

I grew up in a little town just south of Chicago. The town was primarily a French-Catholic community. Our parish like the Italian, Polish, Jewish, Greek and Irish parishes the church and schools were the center of each parish. The sermons as well everyday communication within the various families was in the mother-tongue. The teachers in our schools for all the grades were French Nuns from Quebec.

Having given you a little background, if you may, join me for the frosting on those midnight Christmas cakes; the crisp winter air on the two block walk with family to Mass. Snow piled high on each side of the walk, the mystery and enchantment of the deep dark winter night, the Latin mass, God as baby and the Virgin birth. The thrill of not having any answers nor having any need for the answers to what the evening contained.

It was the awe and the mystery that was the cherry on top of the icing for this little boy. As a boy my imagination was like the freshly fallen snow untouched for that enchanting time before the thaw and dirt covered slush of age.

Today by walking the walk with you hand-in-hand through the years on my over four and a half decade spiritual journey I have been given the grace of reconnecting with the awe and mystery of this, the God of my understanding. Just like the little boy of my youth I don't have the answers and the beauty of it I don't have to have any answers.

Thank God for I'm still in awe of the mystery of how an alcoholic who is incapable of giving or receiving love can become lovable and loving.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Gate Of The Year

Yesterday my wife and I finished off the last of our Christmas and year end/start greeting cards. Inserted in each card is a short letter bringing our friends and relatives up to date of the blessings we have received during the year.

The following is a short version of the letter.

Our blessings have been many but the most significant ones in our lives are:

Our special friends in AA and other groups of old friends who have seen each other through the bitter and better in our lives. To realize how loving their help and support has been we have been in recovery 47 years.

We have a belief in a Higher Power and the means to grow spiritually through AA, Alanon, Recovering Couples Anonymous, spiritual growth group and weekly contemplative prayer groups.

We are in good health. Both of us are active in sports, tennis and other. Even so our Medicare cards show signs of age related wear and tare.

We have been together for 56 years; fantastic since there were times when we didn't think it would last 5 or 6 more days (hours/minutes).

I have found writing, poetry and blogging with coaching and support from Cyn (she is an ex professional writer and teacher).

We try to give back what we have received (never catch up): me, in volunteer board participation, chemical dependency treatment and writer guild; Cyn by continuing to see clients in office each week and we in our recovery groups.

Family is the icing on our cake, they are what makes it all worthwhile. In our lives we have children, grand-children, great-grandchildren. All except our oldest in San Diego are within a an two hour drive from us.

I have shared in this post with all of you our blessings because there was a time in our lives when we were lost and wouldn't have given you two cents for it. It was only through your help, a compassionate Higher Power and in spite of ourselves that the promises have come true.

We ended the letter with this quote by Louise Haskins from King George's 1939 address to his people.

The Gate of the Year
"I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. And he replied," Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be better than light and safer than the known way."

Merry Christmas from Tennessee, 2009, we wish everyone a peaceful, blessed and healthy new year.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Newcomer

My thought for today. Hey I had one! So I thought I better write it down.

My friend and I look forward to each day because we share common blessings. We agree that most days we're like kids on Christmas morning. Okay everyday is not Christmas but we still get gifts and we act like kids tearing the everyday wrappings off.

Now and then we receive a special gift. They most often bear no resemblance to a gift. The gifts we're talking about and cherish the most are usually the one's clothed in shame or/and guilt, loneliness or/and fear, that try to hide their nakedness and denial with a tattered ego. These gifts are the newcomer.. and especially the newcomer within us. We call the newcomers, gifts, for that is what they are to us. Gifts.

We agree that it's our Higher Power's way of presenting to us the very person or the shadow of ourselves' we need in order to learn something new; The timing is always right and it's always valuable. He nails it every time. We never need to exchange it. It's always a perfect fit or just what we need.

We also agree that the best of them all: are the gifts that are attending their first meetings:that call on us late at night; when we would rather not be bothered; we think they would be better off if some one else carried the message to them or they are most troublesome, demanding a lot of our energy and time . This last category of gifts are really special......they usually are the gifts that truly keep-on-giving.

Keep them coming God, I mean the newcomer, both in the flesh and in the shadow. It's the way we can become the person You created us to be.


Friday, December 18, 2009

God, You pick em up.....

Where I live it's all hills so from the moment I leave my front door I have to begin the first of a number of climbs. Of the five miles, half the run is uphill. Over the years the strain on body has gotten more difficult, so as my legs have lost their youthful spring I have come to focus more and more on the mantra.
God , You pick em up, I'll lay them down

It's my favorite mantra next to, Not my will but Yours be done and the Serenity Prayer. The three prayers are the core of my life; they are the "truth" of my daily existence. On a daily basis I pray all three: in traffic; in relationships; for coping with any number of global and personal happenings; for doing the things I don't want to do. The things in my life can be big , small, aggravating, pleasurable or even mundane.

For the most part the Serenity Prayer and Turning My Will Over serve me well. However it's the times when everything looks uphill and I've just about run out of steam that I find myself also praying to God to pick them up. The times I speak of are when I am at the end of my rope and have allowed HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired) into my life.

The common denominator for me is the assurance that like breathing, God's breath enters my lungs, my part is to exhale.

The picture is Roger Bannister, he broke the four minute mile, the quote or prayer is sometimes attributed to him


Friday, December 11, 2009

Put A Cork In It.

This has been some kind of a week. Lot of unexpected but necessary changes to my daily schedule. Talked to a friend of mine and his wife. We all agreed it's a bit of a bitch playing the back nine of our lives. Yet we are all very grateful. We're all still very active, with tennis, the Y, family, friends, writing and living each day to its fullest in spite of being interrupted by visits to doctors and hospitals.

Yes we're all healthy in mind body and spirit. No doubt about it, we are. However the various body parts if not failing are showing wear and tear. No complaints (okay. hardly any), it's a given something has got to hurt if you've come this far around the course. It's not the amount of doctor's appointments nor how they probe and prescribe. No, the glitch is the time spent filling out the forms and subjected to the blasting TV in the waiting room.

Sounds like we're complaining. Not really. We feel so damn grateful that we can access such good health care. That we have Medicare and that we can afford the secondary coverage so that we don't have to go without food and other essentials or sell the house to pay the bills.

Now that I've got that off my chest it reminds me of the story of the guy on the airplane.

From the moment he sat in his seat he complained about: the line through security; then the wait for the flight seating; the wait of fifteen minutes on the tarmac for take-off and now he was bitching about the lousy few minutes he had to wait for Internet connection so he could make his call to his business partner 3000 miles away.

As the volume of his irritation increased he became unbearably loud and obnoxious. The man sitting next to him had had enough so he turned to him saying.

Put a cork in it.... Here you are sitting in a chair 30,000 feet in the air, traveling over 500miles an hour, and you're bitching about the few minutes you have to wait to call and talk to your partner 3000miles away?

I need (no, cross that out) I choose to daily "put a cork in it", and be grateful to God that I have the best "coverage" ,( that no one can take away from me), except me, for the disease that can destroy and/or kill me.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Something to Learn Everyday

Woke up to a beautiful morning. Should say special. Everything is laced in over an inch of fresh fluffy snow. Actually I can savor the beauty ( it's in the thirties now) knowing it all will be melted by mid morning with the temperature in the fifties.

Having lived in most of the Midwestern states until the late seventies I moved here to the south to escape the over-my-head snow drifts, the cold and the dirty, slushy thaws.

A couple of years after moving here the area received a 12 inch plus snowfall with the temperature below freezing for several days afterwords. With all traffic at a standstill (no plows down here) and most industries, all schools closed there was nothing else to do but sit back and enjoy it.

Ha, except for all the neighborhood kids. They were out with makeshift cardboard and plastic bag sleds as we have plenty of hills here in southeast Tennessee. Seeing this I put on my "mothballed northern thermal underwear, gloves, etc" and pulled the three man toboggan down from the garage attic.

From my driveway there is a quarter of a mile downhill straightaway with no traffic.... perfect! The moment the kids saw the toboggan I was their hero. They knew immediately that it was a sled of sorts even though they had never seen a toboggan before. They inspected it like the invention of the century and asked me what it was. I said, "toboggan."

They all laughed; thought I was kidding. "Nah, what is it really called mister?" I repeated, "toboggan," then I caught on. Here in southeast Tennessee they call a winter cap a toboggan.
Having cleared that up they proceeded to wear me out pulling the toboggan back up that hill all day with only a short break for lunch.

I learned something that day from those kids. One man's (kid's) cap may be another man's sled, but that's OK. No matter what you call it, we can agree to put aside our differences, learn from each other and have a ball doing it.

Sorry, but I guess great memories never grow old.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hallowed Place

Hi all
In life's madness it's great to have your own special place,
safe with peace and joy knowing you're special
to your Higher Power.
Here's mine.

Canyon Run

It all started with an easy stretch,
my first steps slow,
legs and torso not quite awake.
Then as if on queue I quickened the pace
from straightaway to climb
as muscles and joints did what they do.

With jog giving birth to sprint,
I settled into a rhythmic stride
through prickly forest, with coyotes,
snakes, ass and deer
haunting my heels.
Exposed, alone, my meager guile
and swiftness put to the test
I felt a humbled guest with
no more than flimsy threads
hiding my nakedness.

The path wound back and forth
over and across the winding creek.
Under foot earth and scrub
all crackling dry,
stones at times sharp,
at times slick and round
the only water flowing,
rivulets from my brow.

Upward, upward with shortened stride
each breath straining
to grasp the thinner air.
My soul at one with rock and sand
carried my body the final way.
Muscles straining through the pain,
at last just steps around the bend
the summit and a sight.

Lying in the waking light
a vista so beautiful
all breath escaped when stunned
by nature's feral show,
for far out beyond my limited scope
spread a royal multi-hued banquet.
An experience beyond belief
as though God had created
a glorious feast just for me.

He did....
for heart, body and soul overflowed.
So downward I flew,
at times playful, brimming with joy
knowing I carried
a treasure secure in my heart.

How many times
as my hair has turned
from brown to gray
have I with savoring gait
run through that canyon
to that mystical height
to set heart, body and soul right.

Sabino Canyon Run
Tucson Az.
Sunrise 1979


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wind Beneath Our Wings

Hi all

Here I sit, it's 4:45am, the room is dark except for the vigilant nightlights and the hum of the air exchanger. I'm sitting upright on a cot that the considerate nursing staff set up for me. My wife is sleeping with only her head exposed but I can follow the tubes from under the sheets to the IV stand and all the other flickering life sustaining and monitoring machines. The red LED numbers and messages calm or increase our concern.

A couple of posts ago I painted a scene, true to life, of our family thanksgiving. I was eager to share our (thanks to each and every one of you)health, happiness and the fruits of 12 step life. Life goes on. Things, people and everything changes, no exceptions, that's Life. Change is inescapable and inevitable.

My wife had surgery yesterday morning, CT's and all indicated possibly cancer. I'm happy, relieved, grateful, thankful (un-express-able) to announce all is well, no cancer, she should be back playing tennis in about five weeks. Knowing her, she'll be back before then.

Change is do-able now as you all help us to get our (me especially) exaggerated egos out of the way. That you support and get us safely through our fears, out arrogance and our need to control. iThis support and sharing over the last several hours through the phone calls, cards, prayers been so essential and have humbled us the most.

I've said all that to share this. Early this am I went down to the hospital cafeteria to have breakfast. I sat with a man I recognised from the surgical waiting room the day before. He like me had stayed round the clock at our wives bedside. He looked beat with his head bowed as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

After sharing the status of our wives, He immediately spewed out the details of his wife's surgery and most importantly his anguish of not hearing from nor having visits from his church friends, nor his minister. To add to his anxiety he was an out-of-towner from a small tight knit community.

As we talked I said a silent prayer of thanks to my HP for how different the last 24 had been for us: for the gift over the years of so many friends and that we are not ever alone. You truly are "the wind beneath our wings".

Willingness To Take Action

I read the prayer for the day (24HAD book) a few days ago. "I pray that I may have eyes to see..." After my meditation it was a fitting prayer. I had meditated on a reading from the book, Shadow Dance. The passage urged us to " face our fears and to acknowledge and expose the shadow,(shortcomings and defects) within ourselves.

I'm happy that this insight is only parceled out to me as my HP deems me ready. I could not handle in one big gulp the full truth. Thankful that it is a process, granted to me one day at a time, throughout a life time. Sometimes it comes in big doses and at others in tiny spoonfuls.

In order to bring about this "face off" I have to reach in to the Serenity Prayer and pray for "...the courage to change the things I can." This courage,(faith in my Higher Power), to look into soul and receive in-sight. Insight into my true self, the person God intended,(created) me to be.
I need to put the words into action. Get off the bench and into the practice.

It's reassuring that I don't have to depend simply on my own weakness. That my HP is my strength is available, all I have to do is reach out and claim it. Bottom line my part entails reaching out to my HP and then to follow up with my friend Alan's tag to the Serenity Prayer; "and the willingness to take action."


Saturday, November 28, 2009


Ah, that's what I love about this new way of life that y'all are helping me live. Y'all have help me to swing through the high wire gamut of emotions with the help of a spiritual safety net. Since that grace-filled day in '61 I've been lifted to life's mountain top and then dropped into hellish bottomless moments; neither has killed me. I've come to believe through experience what I was told early on. "What doesn't kill me will only make me stronger."

My life now is a life in full color. The necessary splats of dark and the light mixed together by the master- mixer to produce, in His good time, a harmonious pattern. Neither labeled good nor bad. Both have been essential to form a dynamic tension. A tension necessary for my growth. I have to admit it's better than a "two-by-four" up the side of the head.

Sometimes in the tension's pain I've been heard to lash out and snarl "enough already, back off, I don't want to grow anymore." Its at times like this that I hear your "nagging but loving" voices chime in with, "Hey Jimbo, serenity and peace is not the absent of conflict but the ability to cope with it." In other words, live with it and learn from it.

I write this as we come off turkey day. As the our children and grand children, now parents gathered the conversation ebbed and flowed on family, health, new adventures started, old completed and the new antics of the under nine great grand children.

The subjects ranged from tearful laughter to tearful grief. It was wonderful as we all felt that peace and happiness that surpasses all understanding. Over the years we have been akin to a family that has suffered shipwreck and the pain of the survival process together.

Our gifts today are that we are all healthy, together and can share equally in the gift of sobriety, not to mention the love and playfulness of our children and our grandchildren.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Promises Do Come True

After yesterday's post this post goes to the lighter end of my emotions and feelings.

A week ago I spent the day at the Aquarium with great grandmother (wife,ageless), granddaughter (mommy, 30's), great granddaughter (GGD,5), and great grandson (9).

One of the top moments(days) of my life started at the Otter exhibit. Petite blond haired, blue eyed GGD grabbed my hand. With me in tow she pulled me into her magical world..hers and the otters. We dove, flipped onto our backs, brushed noses,zoomed from one end to the other of the otter world like daredevils foolishly skimming boulders and thick vegetation.

The magic continued as we were carried through the penguins frigid setting into the tropical air of the butterfly garden. I challenge you to find anything more innocent and beautiful than a five year old blond blue eyed bundle of awe whispering to an attentive butterfly perched on her index finger.

Then out into the street to a horse and carriage ride. Passing strangers tossing smiles to the waving giggling little girl.

All of this capped off by a satisfied double-dip strawberry ice cream smeared face.

If you don't believe me ask a certain giggling little girl if Sobriety isn't the greatest.
God is great.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Rest Of The Story

Yesterday started out with a nicely defined schedule. Slept later than intended. wiped out from tennis, hot tub and little sleep the night before. By nine my laid back schedule would be tossed.

After "quiet time" and coffee I went to our local paper's website. Only do this about 3 to 4 times a year. Clicked the obit tag by mistake. Scanned the names. As I scrolled a familiar name peeked over the bottom of the page. I pulled up the entire obit. Couldn't believe it, hadn't seen the young man for over ten years. Had to rush get to the funeral home in time.

His father was a friend of mine. His son 47 y/o died in Texas. Alone. Parents, children and the rest of the family lives here in Tennessee. The obit was short, compact, it listed: next of kin; military service; Union membership; along with age and local schools attended. It added favorite activities and sports to round out his character.

When I mentioned "familiar" above I was referring not only to the name but to how similar the obits for my son and for for both (yes two) sons of another friend who was sitting next to me at the service and at the cemetery.

I think you know where I'm going with this. All the obits failed to mention the "rest of the story." The history of alcoholism in the family, the jails, accidents, broken relationships and overall destruction in their shortened lives.

My pew-sharing friend's boys were murdered on the same night in the same apartment a few years ago. One was in college and the other a father with a young daughter. The police were unable to establish a motive. They were in their twenties.

The young man today had been wounded while a marine in Beirut. He had broken his back in a fall in Texas a few years ago. He fell while entering a building through a third story window. From his wheelchair he called a few days ago. He was incoherent and had been drinking. Later the same morning the family received the call that he had died.

My son was shot and paralyzed in 1984. He lived through a constant hell of hospitals, morphine and brief periods of sobriety until his death in 2005. He died alone in a Tampa emergency room.

Yes all three of us cried and hugged. Me and my pew-friend held hands during the eulogy. We grieved not only because our sons had experienced the violence of alcoholism or as fathers: we grieved the deeper grief; that for a another alcoholic.

My wife had a dream a week after our son's funeral. Mike was running in the surf laughing, waving his hands and shouting "Look mom I'm free!I'm free!"

I like to think of this ending as truly "the rest of the story".


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just For Today

Daily Leaven

He's at it again
that wise ole' baker
kneading the dough
wheat along with chaff
firing my daily loafs.
Some light, some dark
some marbled through and through.

While I sleep, in my pantry
He'll stack my daily ration
so when I awake I'll find my
four and twenty rounds,
no more no less, He's exact.
Some half, some fully baked,
some sweet, some vile.
Some a mix of
both smile and frown.

Would be a shame if
these rounds of the day
were miserly hoarded,
not shared by me,
in tight-lipped
fear of future pains
or memories of a wasteful past.

In gratefulness to
my wise ole' Baker,
I will not gorge, starve,
waste of hoard.
I'll sate my appetite
while I enjoy
the bounty of my daily
four and twenty rounds.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Voices --Benign and malign

As Bill W. wrote "...we have two authorities which are far more effective, One is benign, the other is malign."
At the noon meeting today we discussed the two within us. They manifest themselves within as the addictive self and the recovering self. The other is ego driven, wanting to keep us in our addiction. To not only remain sick but to kill us in the end. The benign One wants us in recovery, wants us to heal. To become healthy and to live.
In the early days of my recovery I was almost driven out of my mind from the constant jabbing in my head for my soul. The benign and the malign seemed to be poles apart, all black and white, all or nothing. Had a real problem making out which one was which. I thought "Man, Jim, you are crazy. Don't let anyone know that you're having all these conversations. They'll lace you into a straight jacket and take you across the river to the funny farm."
When I could no longer stand it I reached out to my sponsor. He explained "Jim you've came in with a drinking problem which you no longer have; you now have a living problem. The confusion and the hassle between your ears comes from not knowing how to live life without a drink in your hand."
"Your in-head arguments are between the drinking guy and the sober guy. The old drinker, when confronted with a life situation will automatically want to run, kill himself, flip out or drink. The new sober-self will stand there dumbfounded at first, then run around in circles trying to find an alternative solution to the situation.
"Since you're a novice at sober thinking I suggest you keep it simple. Accept that your first reaction is probable wrong (old alcoholic thinking); stop;call on your Higher Power and simply do the opposite (to the initial reaction). Just doing it this way your batting average for doing the right thing is bound to improve."
"As you add days to your sobriety the next level of coping will be to accept the voices, the arguments and their contradictory rantings as too powerful for you to control; call on your Higher Power; invoke the Serenity Prayer and if the situation demands, call your sponsor for his opinion."
Over the years the voices have become more sophisticated and shrewd and less annoying and obvious. However they are still lurking in the deep end of my mind pool waiting for me to become complacent. I have to remember that the addict in me wants to kill me. Thank God the same simple tools that were given to me in the first days of sobriety are as powerful and effective on each given day as they were then.


Monday, November 16, 2009


Bunch of things swirling around in my head. But like most days I don't know where to start. Oh well that's probably the problem. I should sit back, get out of my head and into my heart.
I love writing especially since I had to start from scratch a few years back; didn't know an adverb from an asterisk. Well not quite that bad. Thank God I only had to to dictate or write notes to an "executive assistant" for most of my letter writing life. To my credit I knew my limitations, I always saw to it that they were very well paid.
Since those first bubbling days I have won a award for my writing and have been published, all of which have fanned my ego and kept me returning to the book I am in the process of writing.
Almost from the first days of my epiphany in the early sixties I have been concerned by relapse and especially the folks who relapse repeatedly. In so many cases they don't ever get into sustained recovery. Why? The most popular and common answer is " they don't want it bad enough." Hearing this only drives them deeper into their shame and conviction that they are really broken and will never get it. Yes wanting it is a key factor, but not the only factor. If "they" don't want it bad enough then why in the hell do some keep knocking themselves out trying to get it.
In the first years of my sobriety two of my best relapsing buddies put shotguns into their mouth (Paul) or stomach(Don) and pulled the triggers. Paul died, Don ended up in the hospital one floor down from me. I was in for a dental operation. I visited him only for a few minutes. His stomach was so shattered and blasted open that they had to repair and do reconstruction bits at a time; it took weeks.
It was during this visit that I first got "the tap" on my shoulder to to do what I could for the relapser. With a few exceptions I have always sponsored the relapser. In the last nineteen years after retiring from my day job I got certified to professionally counsel the relapser. I found out that in addition to relating as another addict I could identify and address their core issues. Core emotional and mental issues planted in deep seated shame.
So why do I want to improve my writing? I believe with my years of experience both personally and professionally I can carry a message of hope, God willing, whether to one person or to many folks who relapse.
I am writing, a memoir , it's a compilation of stories I share about my first five years of sobriety. Most important the tome lies open the constant battle of my addictive self and my recovering self "between my ears." Yes five years as it takes time, for some longer, some shorter; its a process that can't be rushed. They were the "foundation years" for my new residence in sobriety.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

God's Will

As usual I picked up my 24 Hr a Day and began my quiet time. I've had my 24hr book since the first year of sobriety. Over the years I have made notes of the events of that date, sometimes adding attitude feelings etc. It's like a family bible with births, deaths, firings, promotions graduations.
On today's date the margins were cluttered with such happenings. Over the range of events and years I entertained feelings and attitudes that ranged from loneliness, depression, anger, fear to joy, gratitude and immense love. All recorded.
The difference in feelings and attitudes were directly dependent on me. When I pout and react like a spoiled brat my ego has been bruised. I want the answer and I want it now, I want to control the situation and the outcome. I god.
However in those times that I experienced love, joy, gratitude, and peace of mind I had let go of the situation, event, person whatever and let God. I didn't need the answer, I did not have to understand the reasons nor see the outcome; just make (and continue to daily make)"...the decision to turn my will over...." like in the following poem.

The Weaver
My life
is but a weaving
between my Lord
and me.
I cannot choose
the colors
he worketh
Oft times
he weaveth sorrow
and I
in foolish pride
forget he sees
the upper
and I the underside.
Not until
the loom is silent
and the suttles
cease to fly
shall God
unroll the canvas
and explain
the reason why.
The dark threads
are as needful
in the weaver's
skillful hand
as the threads
of gold and silver
in the pattern
he has planned.
Author Unknown

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Turning Points

Patience and persistence. I'm back after being away for a couple of weeks. Lot of stuff in my life changed. Couldn't muster the time to post. As in the past it was a time to back off. Get back to the simple things. Take an inventory. Share with others. Pray and meditate. Then take action. It's time to return to writing and sharing.
As I was looking for a kick-start I thumbed through my "book" file and ran across this little piece I wrote and discarded a number of months ago. It's a little something on my last day of drinking and the first days without. Somehow it seemed appropriate although nowhere as desperate at this time as a starting point.

The Waterfall
The last frightful months of my drinking sped by with all the unchecked craziness of a rampaging torrent. Carried along under the influence of my alcoholic monster everything in my havoc-ridding path had been mindlessly crushed and discarded with all the other debris of my life. Steeped in denial I had been unaware of the fiercely stoked pace by which I was racing toward my inevitable fall.
Having fought the current I was exhausted an unable to break its selfish unbridled fury. It overflowed all the banks and dikes of my life. In desperation I had tried to divert its destructive course, but had to give up. Resentfully I conceded I was powerless and no longer able to resist its overpowering hold on me . As I reviewed the tattered remnants of my life I was forced to accept the insanity of my efforts.
I was boxed in; time and options seemed nonexistent. There was no way to escape the inevitable. The course and the outcome were out of my hands. Looking ahead scared the hell out of me. If the shear terror of being swept over the fall didn't kill me, then either the sudden impact or the whirlpool below would do the job.
I surrendered! I admitted I was addicted to my polluted and turbulent course. I had tried again and again, always promising, "This time will be different." It never was. I always failed miserably. I conceded I didn't have the power to harness of change its fury. In the past I was constantly on the verge of ending up like a drawing rat. On my runaway voyage I was occasionally dumped onto the shore, safe and sound: only to insanely jump back in foolishly thinking I could master it.
This time was different; I admitted I was whipped. I let go and accepted the consequences of the baptismal waterfall. My only chance of being saved now was to hook up to something bigger than myself and pray that it would guide me away from the rocks and through the swirling water below.
As I crested the fall, reality hit my cerebral hold-button freezing my life in a single collage of shameful scenes. Crushed by the ugliness of the past and stunned with fear for the future I became aware there was no turning back. I prayed the moment would never click away. I didn't want to go forward nor did I want to go back. Only whining thoughts escaped my momentary lapse.
Why me? God why me?
Why did it have to come to this?
Do I really have to go through this?
There's got to be another way.

Alright, alright. You've stripped me.
I'm nothing.
Nobody wants me.
I don't want me.

They say You'll take me.
So take me.
I surrender.

I awoke downstream alive, disoriented yet intact except for the damages incurred while immersed in the current of my drinking. Scared, my only thought was.

What the hell do I do now?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Turning Point

In my 24HAD book the following line reminded me of a poem I had written a few months back. "...We can find the Great Reality deep down within us. And when we find it , it changes our whole attitude toward life."


Blind sided by
midlife's dawning or stunned
by an inevitable crisis
our tinseled world crumbles.

Our denials unseated
our vision clears.
Life till now a hoax
our bare existence exposed.

Our desolate soul adrft
in this it seems
a barren hour
without hope.

Our self so false
we've dug a pit,
no exit to be seen.
Seems hopeless and lost
this troubled scene.

Deadly ballast
pride and ego
twin charlatans
we're humbled to toss.

Having scanned
our collage d'noir
and errant will exposed,
imagine the confused relief,
when counseled.

Surrender and accept
your Higher Power's
forgiving grace.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thank God for This Mess.

Over heard from a newcomer. "I'm confused, my mind is racing and won't quit. I don't understand this program. It's all a whirl."

As I Thought about my first several weeks in the program, I found myself happy for the man.
"He's into the solution." He into this "mess" called change.

I recalled. My sponsor Johnny strongly suggested that, "If everything else fails, live like you're the only Big Book somebody might read." It ticked me off. Easy for him to say. He had over seven years of sobriety. Me I had only a few weeks. He didn't have all the problems I had. Besides everybody was out to get me. He suggested if I had trouble figuring out the right thing to do that I was to do the complete opposite from what I was thinking. He also reminded me that my best thinking got me here.

He was a good teacher. He(#2) like Billy(#1) my other sponsor, yes it took two of them plus Lee(#3) to lift me out of my self-made gutter. Their "suggestions" always ticked me off a bit. My reaction usually came in the form of, "I'll show the old SOBs."

Actually I owe my life to them, they had me figured right. They suggested that I start to practice applying the steps each day. They were very explicit, I was not to analyze them, I was simply to take them at face value. Like a novice tennis player, practice getting the ball over the net we'll work on form later. To start they gave me a small card with the 12 Steps on one side and the Serenity Prayer one the other.

They phrased it that simply. They knew how confused I would be for the first several weeks. They knew that the angry insidious voices of my addiction would be blasting in my ear refusing to let me listen to the sane voice of sobriety.

My chances of making it through the day let alone the next hour were slim to none if: I had to stop and think about admitting my powerlessness; submiting to my disbelief that anything could change or that my will alone could handle any situation

I was not to think about taking others' inventory but take to my own inventory: not isolate but call my sponsor: take time to pray and be quiet; start the amends by "simply " attempting to be a father and a husband: to admit when I was wrong: take an inventory at the end of the day and to not say no to helping others.

Like it says, everything had to change. It's a tall order but thankfully I had all three of the guys to follow. They were my role models (later hero's), and my hope. At first I would snarl "If they could make, damn it I can too", and "what would the three of them do." I want to clarify that I did not put them on a pedestal. Actually it was their imperfection that gave (continues to this day) me hope.

So "Thank God for the confusion cause it means I'm in the solution."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Serenity and Peace

Been gone a week and sick a week. I've had many opportunities to practice patience and tolerance. Came done with a sinus cold on the last day in Florida. On return flight, a normal direct flight of 1-1/2 hours took almost nine. Delays into/out of and in the Atlanta due to bad weather.

Got to play in the surf and run(?) on the beach. What a wonderful relief after more than a month of torrential rain and dreary dark days in Tennessee. Sunshine recharges my soul.

Reminds me of my journey in recovery. Of each lesson to be learned. I compare it to a trek across the desert. After days of irritating sand and blistered skin from fear, lack of patience or ego, there comes the relief of the oasis of serenity and peace.

While in the lesson time seems to stand still, the homework unrelenting; I can't stand the waiting. I want instant relief but if I hang in there, no cut and running, it finally comes, in HP time. What a relief.

I feel alive, humbled, I made it. I stayed the path putting my foot down step by step, now more convinced than ever that it was HP picking them up.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Look to this day"

I wrote this last Sunday, been a busy week, WIFI not always available.

I sit in our local commuter based airport. Less than fifty people in the whole terminal. The planes are still asleep with their wheels chocked. Of course the engines are are silent, cold and lack any semblance of energy. I watch the gray sky turn pastel pink then magically light up into a cool summer blue.

My last sponsor, Dick's, favorite greeting was. "Great to be here." To which he would quickly add. "Of course it's great to be anywhere at my age." Dick had 46 years sobriety, 88 years belly-button. Played golf every week until the end, after having both knees replaced at age 82.

I moved through baggage check, shoes off realizing that all my so-called worldly essentials fit into one plastic tub; kind of an eye-opener. Afterthought, grateful they can't make a big enough for the real essentials, God, sobriety ( AA ) and my family. Baggage check sounds like AA, the process is an equalizer for all the travelers.

We'll be boarding soon; the crew is circling the plane making their safety checks. I'm on my way to Vero Beach tp attend a retreat. It's all alcohol and addictions related. Supposedly some fine minds and souls in the addiction field will be there. I think I've been invited to carry bags, get coffee or their token senior citizen. I agree to attend these conferences knowing I can speak their language as well as the the program that got me here.

The meeting will be a far cry from the days back in the early seventies. At that time the governor of Ohio selected myself and a small group of mostly alcoholics (AA) to put together plans for a treatment, detox and county outpatient in Akron and the surrounding seven counties. The treatment complex was one of the first of the Federal Funded public programs. We staffed each of the centers with volunteer and paid recovering AA members. Today it's a much different story. Have to have a ton of credentials.

Yes, like Dick I'm grateful, to be anywhere: especially waiting on a plane to take me to a new learning experience and in some way possibly help the still suffering alcoholic.


Saturday, October 10, 2009


After a meeting the other day a friend of mine commented. "You sure quote your sponsors a lot. Come on Jim, the sponsors you refer to, Johnny, Billy and Lee have been dead for over 10 years. Hell they were your first sponsors, yet you make it seem like you talk to them on a daily basis. That was years ago and in another state, right?"

"You're right, those three jokers have been dogging me ever since I asked them to be my sponsor. They've been in my ear on a daily basis in the worst of times and in the best of times. They've never failed to show up. Of course there have been times that I thought they were full of s--t and have tuned them out; but I have to thank God that they have always been patient. They've let me make my mistakes, knowing that being stubborn I can't always learn the easy way.Sometimes I have to get my nose bloody before I get it."

"You mean after all these years you still hold conversations with them?

"Certainly, in my life, they were there when at 28 years old I was less than zero . I couldn't hit my butt with both hands. I didn't know anything about living. About being a father, husband, honesty, staying away from a drink, or about loving and being loved. These three took me under their wings and guided me into being all those things and more."

"Of course I've accumulated a few more sponsors over the years but the Three Wise Men found me when I was a lost ball in the tall weeds. They're the ones who cleaned me up and put me back in play. This sicko is eternally grateful for their nurturing me into health and to the God of my understanding that they helped me find."

"Yes, we still talk on a daily basis, their messages are still clear. Yes I still argue with them but I usually end up listening to them."

In another posting I'll introduce you to them.


Friday, October 9, 2009


Found this old poem I had written a couple of years ago. I needed it this morning.
Thank God I can accept my imperfection and for the grace to start all over again each dayor if need be, each hour or each minute.

I've run the path
escaping, pursuing
what or where
at times
I do not know.

I've ziged, I've zaged
to a fancy here,
a dead end there.
To make amends
my step I must retrace
to find the path again.
Then pleased, I pride myself
to be a tad bit smarter.

However my ego
will have its way
despite for guidance
I thought I prayed.
My plan,
to not stray again.
Yet many times I have.

The further down
life's path I trod
maybe, just maybe
I need not zig nor zag,
if simply I'd pray.
God grant me
the grace to be
a tad bit wiser.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Spiritual Retreats

In my "quiet time" this morning I was reading The Sign of Jonas* by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. As I read about his rounds on "fire watch" throughout the monastery I began to reflect on my visits to the monastery and the retreats I have made there over the years. Each in their own way have been significant in my life.

It all began on a frigid February night. It was closing time. Glued to my favorite bar stool I sat nursing my beer as the owner cleaned up. Interrupting his chores he asked. "What the hell are you mumbling about?"

"I'm thinking about being a monk. I don't seem to be able to live in this world without ending up on a bar stool at 2 o'clock in the morning. My life is crap." I didn't bother to tell him about the blackouts, the suicide attempts, the blotched milestones in my life nor the deep-down loneliness.

"I've decided. Tomorrow I'm going to see a priest and find out what I have to do to become a Trappist. monk. I need to be in a monastery away from the world." Bob laughed. "Oh bullshit, you can't be serious."

After spending a few days at Gethsemane, a monastery in Kentucky, I met with the Abbot who instructed me to return home, put my personal affairs in order and return as soon as possible.

Long story short and true to my alcoholic reputation by the time I got home I forgot about becoming a monk. After a few beers and within twenty-four hours after arriving home in Illinois I sat on a bar stool in Detroit accepting a football scholarship to a local university. No need to ask, I'm sure you can follow the alcoholic logic.

Ten years later, almost to the date, after marriage, four children, Korea, and drinking that literally wiped me out I returned to the monastery. I attended my my first spiritual retreat with fellow AAs and I was hooked. It was the start of a routine of attending at least four retreats a year with my sponsor. Our favorite place was Gethsemane and since I moved south it has been the almost identical monastery at Congers Georgia.

The retreats in early sobriety were key in giving my spiritual life a kick start. Especially true for a guy who had reduced God down to a God if the is a God. Even my first visit in '52 was significant. Like Francis in The Hound of Heaven I ran away from God for ten more years until exhausted I collapsed and let God catch me. Years later I was informed that had I returned to the novitiate in '52, Thomas Merton would have been my Spiritual Director.

In '62 when I did return, sober if not a little nuts the retreat-master for the weekend was Father John Doe.** This was a significant to me since I listened to his records (78s) at my sponsor's insistence every day during the first few weeks of my sobriety. On this retreat he helped me with my mental and emotional problems by sharing his own.

*The Sign of Jonas, Merton. A spiritual classic being written while I was there in 1952.

**Fr. John Doe was the first Catholic priest in AA. He is the author of
The Golden Books, Sobriety and Beyond and Sobriety Without End. At the time of the, 1962, he had been diagnosed with a "neurotic" condition. In '62 neurotic was a catch-all for the people not needing hospitalization, the "walking wounded." Italic

Monday, October 5, 2009

Practice These Priciples

My experience.

A few days ago I heard a newcomer lament. "my sponsor tells me I'm not ready for the Third Step because I haven't satisfied him that I've done a good job of completing the Second Step."

Wow, what a far cry from what I heard from my first sponsor Billy. After one of my first meetings he caught me near the door. My mind was racing a hundred miles an hour. I was utterly confused. All I knew was I ha d to suit up, show up and face life the next day. Life consisted of: a wife at the end of her rope, four children; two failing businesses and I was in over my head in financial and legal trouble. I whined. "I don't get it, how am I going to make it?"

I couldn't get my head to stop long enough to hone in on what the Steps meant. The only thing that got through all the chatter was.
What the hell do you do now? You can't drink. So what do you do now that you can't drink?"

Billy said. "Kid, you're going to be fine. You've admitted you can't drink; that your life is a mess and now have some blind hope, after sharing our stories with you, that this insanity could stop. You also told me you've pleaded with God, God if there is a God take my life 'cause I don't want it and it seems nobody else wants it either. Sounds like you've taken the first three Steps and hit on a number of others without realizing it. You had to or you wouldn't be here tonight."

Putting his arm around my shoulder he went on. "You have just been given a tool chest filled with Twelve valuable tools for living. They're important since you've just traded your drinking problem for a living problem. They come with a lifetime guarantee to work. However there is one condition; they're yours for only one-day-at-a-time. Each and every morning from here on you have to report in to your HP and check them out for the next twenty-four hours. Of course the choice is yours."

He gave me a little card with the Twelve Steps on one side and the Serenity Prayer on the other. "Welcome to the big leagues. As long as you're here you're going to have to practice everyday. Keep the card in your shirt pocket. Show up for practice tomorrow morning. Ask your HP to stay away from that first drink. Practice living your life using these simple Steps."

I shook my head, he went on. "Don't worry we all started out the same way. You're going to be all thumbs and you'll be awkward as hell at first. The best way to learn is with hands-on experience and practice, practice, practice."

He saw the puzzled look on my face and continued. "At first they will look like they are written in a foreign language. Believe me, don't look for any hidden meaning in them. The meaning you'll get out of them will be sufficient for today. Simple follow their directions. Any translation you'll need you'll find by praying, meditation and experience. Call me. I'll stick with you as long as you want me to. Remember we're going to a meeting tomorrow night."

Going out the door he added. "KISS...Keep It Simple Stupid. You've just started on this spiritual journey. Don't worry you won't ever get it perfect but you'll will learn more about living the Steps as each day passes."


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Good Orderly Direction

A few weeks ago I was out of state attending a conference with AAs from all over the country. Wanting a meeting six of us, over lunch, agreed to meet in front of the hotel at 7:30p. Bill had the rental SUV, Jim had the directions and the other three of us were along for the ride.

Bill pulled up, we all jumped in. Bill asked for the directions.

"OK Jim give me the address. I'll plug them into the GPS."

"Here, we're to go to 1300 East on Twenty-first street, take a left, the club is the second or
third building on the right in the first block. Address is 2020 Heritage."

"Damn, I'm not use to this GPS, give me the address again."

Jim went through the directions for the second time; again Bill couldn't get the GPS to come up with its magic answer. After two of move failed attempts with the clock ticking and Bill getting more frustrated it was suggested.

"Forget the GPS. Since we're at 10 hundred south on Main Street. Leave the hotel take a right onto Main Street down to Twenty-first Street, take a left, go east thirteen blocks to Heritage then take a left. Bingo we should be there."

Great reminder for me.
Most often Good Orderly Direction doesn't need an analysis, just a decision on my part to
follow it.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Day At A Time

I just email Bill, an old friend, living in Idaho. It's amazing he's going to run his eleventh marathon this weekend. In my Twenty-Four Hour A Day book I had noted meeting Bill for the first time August 10,1966. He moved west to Idaho and I moved south to Tennessee. We lost track of each other over the ensuing years but renewed contact this year on the same day.

I mention Bill because when we hooked up we both agreed that we have repeatedly told pet stories about each other over all of the years. I tell the one about his ill fated fishing trip and he tells the one about how I misjudged the reason for my wife's tears.

My much repeated Bill story:
"I'm worried Jim how the hell I'm going to make it through my annual fishing trip with the guys this year? I have the camper, they're depending on me to take them."
Confidently I said.
"Don't worry about that now. Take it one day at a time. It'll work out. Leave it to your HP."

It sounded good but to a new comer like Bill it was a little shallow. So for weeks, every night we went to a meeting or simply talked on the phone he kept bringing it up.
"If I go it'll be a disaster. The mainstay of the trip is the beer drinking."
I listened then repeated my same line.
"Leave it up to God. He's given you the grace today. He will do the same when the trip comes up. Remember, it's just for today".

Late in the afternoon of the day prior to departure Bill called. He was ecstatic.
"Jim, you won't believe it. I was driving along the MLK highway construction zone when the backhoe they were using swung around into my lane and busted up the camper. It's damaged beyond being usable. I won't be able to go on the fishing trip."

The sequel to this story is Bill's trip without the guys. The fishing and the streams were more than he could have hoped for.

I'm sure Bill will agree his belief in God's Hand in his sobriety was definitely given a boost that day. I know I learned a lesson that has served me well over these many days.
I must be honest. Over the years the streams he fished got clearer and the fish got bigger. But hell they had to, to keep pace with the value of the lesson learned.
Thanks Bill

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Principles Before Personalities
I was reminded of the following story as I sat in a meeting the other night with some "personalities".

William's Burg, Fall 1970

I was on job interview in a small town about twenty miles outside Akron, Ohio. This was my first night away from my home in Illinois. I needed an AA meeting, so I drove to the local police station and asked.
"Where can I find an AA meeting or do you have a number I can call?
The desk sergeant gave me the once over.
"We have a number you can call."
I called.
"You'll have to go down to a little burg out in the country, about ten miles from here if you want one tonight."
I paused so he asked the obvious.
"Don't know where that is, do you?"
"No, need directions.
Leaving the main highway the narrow back road wound up, down and around the rolling hillside.
The fog got thicker, the visibility was now almost zero. With eyes glued to the windshield I did a double take; I caught the flicker of a bobbing luminous red decal, it was hardly moving. I hit the brakes, regained my composure then cautiously passed the horse and buggy with a bearded old man in black hat and coat with rains in hand.
As we crested the last of the hills we caught a sight out of the past. There below lid the lights of a picture postcard village scene. Only the white church steeple pierced the wispy fog. As we pulled into the church's parking lot we found to our surprise that it was filled with a number of horse and buggies.
"This must be the place;only little white church around. The lights are on in the basement."
As we started down the storm-cellar stairway to the basement we were greeted by a wizardly old man in a black suit.
"Welcome brother. If you're looking for an AA meeting you've come to the right place, my name is Mose."
" Hi, I'm Jim and this is my wife, Cyn.
We entered the basement meeting hall filled with more black suited men: the meeting was ready to start. My wife was led into a back room to an Alanon meeting by women in bonnets and long dresses.
It was a typical Ohio lead meeting with a twenty minute speaker followed by a "pop-up" comment session for the balance of the hour. As the meeting continued I became aware of they quoted someone they referred to as a fellow member they called William.
Curious, I asked Mose.
"I presume William isn't here tonight but I sure would like to meet him. He sounds like he has a good program."
With that said Mose jumped out of his seat laughing. Pointing to me he announced to the group.
"Our new friend James here doesn't know William."
Then the whole room exploded into laughter. At once it dawned on me.
William, William, they mean Bill, Bill W.
For anyone, especially William wanting to be away from the publicity, the meeting out in this small village in the countryside amongst the Amish was ideal. In this "little burg" with these men I learned a valuable lesson. One of the most valued mainstays of our program; the simple, honest "principles before personalities" fellowship of AA.
The Guest House

Attended a A/D Treatment Conference in Nashville last week. My wife went along. While I stayed at the Conference hotel she stayed at a granddaughters home. Nothing unusual, knew the city, got to a meeting everyday.
Before the 5pm meeting I called my wife. She felt she needed to stay the night with me at the hotel. I broke a dinner engagement and picked her up.
At 11:30pm she rolled over and asked.
"Take me to the hospital, I'm having sharp pain in my abdomen."
Half asleep I called the front desk for help, all the while praying the Serenity Prayer remindful of Rumi's Guest House..
"We can call for an ambulance or you can take her to a nearby hospital."
We dressed, I got the directions to the hospital and she was admitted to the ER within the half hour. Fortunately the docs caught the internal bleeding before it could turn fatal.
We spent the rest of the night, until 6am, in the ER with CTs, intervenes, and antibiotics.
When the results of the CT came in she was transferred to a hospital room. She is back home doing fine. Thank God.
It's things like this that we have come to expect in our lives as a part of a bigger Will.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness.
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. Rumi


Friday, September 18, 2009

God in my life

After my previous post, The Hitchhiker, I remembered this
simple poem by Jehudah Halevi.

Longing I sought Thy presence;
Lord, with my whole heart did I call and pray,
And going out toward Thee
I found Thee coming to me on the way.

In my own life.

I pray and meditate daily
to make a conscious contact with God,
, practice, practice
these principles in all my (our) affairs...",
I come
to recognize my Higher Power
popping up in the
the people, places and things,
in my life.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Hitchhiker

Winter of 1963
One year sober

One winter night while driving home in a blinding snowstorm I was to be taught a great lesson. It had been a punishing work day and I struggled to keep the truck on the road. The ladders and scaffolds on the roof racks acted as sails in the bitter wind.
As I fought the icy road my only consolation was the safety net of snow-banks lining the narrow road. After working all day running up and down twenty-foot ladders hanging fluorescent fixtures I was dog tired. Working the two man job, alone, had been punishing. After ten hours in an unheated construction site I was frozen to the bone. With hands bleeding from handling the cold steel all day I cried out to God to help me finish the job. God did and I did. The mind chatter began.

Well. You about got our butt froze off.
We hope you feel pure and holy.

For the crying out loud,
how in the hell
can you like this better
than curled up
in a warm cozy tap with a shot and beer?
Oh, shut up. Don’t listen to them.

Pray, pray, go ahead
you can feel good about what you did.
You’re OK.
Don’t listen to them. Listen to us.

As I drove along I thanked God for His help. Feeling grateful I prayed.
“Send an alcoholic into my life, I want
to share what I’ve been given.”

But then I started fantasizing about how my prayers would be answered. Of course I didn’t want just any old common alcoholic. My alcoholic would be wealthy. He would be beholden to me and to express his gratitude he would help me out of the financial mess I was in.

Lost in my self-serving dream, I almost ran over the figure hugging a roadside snow bank. I slowed the truck to a stop a few yards down the road.
“Damn,” I yelled. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere, in god-awful weather fighting waist high drifts, a slick narrow road and here is some crazy jerk, on foot, going who knows where.”

What the hell did you stop for?
You’re lucky you didn’t skid off the road!

Come on. Come on, if you want a ride!
Move it fella. Shit, he’s taking all day.

He caught up to the truck and opened the passenger door. I motioned him to climb in and the moment I did I regretted it. The smell was horrible. Once he was in the cab, his stench almost brought tears to my eyes. He looked worse than he smelled. He had a filthy scarf wrapped around his head over his cap and tied under his chin as though he had a major toothache.
All I could make out was a of pair dark eyes peering over a mangled snot-covered beard. I didn’t ask him where he was going and he didn’t volunteer. He got in and just sat there not saying a word, thank God.

I went immediately back to my little dream.

As we approached the south end of town I asked him.
Where do you want to get off?
He waved his gloved hand and motioned just up ahead. As an afterthought he pointed to the entrance to the state mental hospital.
As I stopped at the gate he turned to me.
“Been thumbing four days; been a long way to get here.” I’m bone tired, hungry, cold and almost out of my mind. “I was about to give up in that snow bank when you happened by and then my prayers were answered. I knew I was in the right place since, against all odds; God got me here all the way from Houston, Texas. I heard that this state hospital actually offers treatment for alcoholics in a ward separate from the crazies. I’m ready to surrender; want to get sober.”

I sat there, stock-still in disbelief. What a fool! Here I had prayed for someone and my prayer had been answered. Totally wrapped up in myself I had ignored the obvious because God’s response was not to my specifications. If I had not stopped and had left him standing in the snowdrift I would have rejected God outright.
The figure disappeared into the darkness before I snapped out of it... I sat there for a while, muttering. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
God had given me the most valuable of gifts and I didn’t like the wrapping. My committee of idiots struggled to regain a toehold in my gray matter.

Man, you’re one hell of an ass!
Ha, opportunity slaps you in the face
and you don’t even recognize it!

Some humble and caring ass you are!

“Shut up. Shut up. Ah, silence.”

Silence, except for One voice whispering.

“…To one of these…the least of your brethren….”


Monday, September 14, 2009

Bondage of Self, self centeredness or just plain selfishness. All three of my early sponsors and each one since have been quick to call me on my obsession with my "I'm the center of the universe" attitude.
Johnny, Lee and Billy all agreed. " You have one hell of a hold on having to be in the spotlight."
I shot back. "Crap, just what the hell do you expect me to do?
I stewed in pity-pot thoughts. All these so called "sobriety opportunities" are happening to me, not you. I'm the one everybody is leaning on. I need instant relief, not more suggestions on what to do about it.
Johnny read my alcoholic mind and suggested my using one of the tools in my "recovery tool box."
" Why not just get off your ass and do one thing,big or small, each day for someone else without seeking any credit for it? In other words get outside of yourself."
Billy suggested a couple of, loftier-to-me, tools.
" Let go of your self in daily prayer and meditation. Pray the prayer of St. Francis.
Lee threw in.
" Use the Serenity Prayer as a mantra all day." and while you're at it start saying this little prayer in your everyday situations and particularly in your relations with others.
God use my heart, my mind and my tongue as an instrument of Your peace.
Knowing the three of them would check my compliance I went along with their suggestions,
Little by little I came to understand that freeing myself from the bondage of self is a process, a lifetime process.
It's not easy but it is doable (imperfectly) one-day-at-a-time. I also came to understand that the whole process of changing requires (for me) one more phrase at the end of the Serenity Prayer.
"...and my willingness to take action." I tend to be lazy, want the easier softer way and am a past-master at rationalizing why I don't have the talent, nor the time, nor the whatever to make the first move.
God bless. JF

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Monday, September 7, 2009

God grant me....

Hi all,
As I enter the backside of my seventies I share the same prayer that Mary Oliver has penned below.

Life is always up and down
or yes, or no
But there is one person who is always a yes.
Though with the usual human complexities.
Lord, give me a few more years
to enjoy such confusion.

How wonderful this sobriety and the fullness of life with the acceptance of all its paradoxes and its contradictions.
How grateful to the God of my understanding for the Steps of recovery and the grace to practice their life giving principles in all the ups and downs, the yeses and the noes, day by day.
Yes indeed how fortunate and all with a degree of peace and serenity.
I flew out to Salt Lake City last week to attend a NAADAC convention. It was a week long conference attended by over eight hundred and fifty alcohol and drug abuse professionals. I mention this to set the stage for a scene I starred in.
We arrived late in the afternoon after a stop over in Dallas where I only had a few minutes to grab a Big Mac before departing for SLC. Upon arriving in SLC I felt nauseous and felt worse as the evening passed.
My friends and I met in the main convention hall of the Grand American Hotel, "the ultimate luxury hotel in Utah" as they promote it. Luxury as I define it by tons of polished brass, thick oriental rugs, built in marble and white granite topped off by a doorman with an air. You get the picture?
As it goes with food poisoning the contaminated food along with everything else in the stomach has got to come back up. Any residue usually comes out the other end. We'll stick with the coming up. As the rumbling in my stomach began I headed for the nearest john. Didn't make it. In the middle of the foyer I caught the first mouth-full in my hands and frantically dropped to my knees at the nearest wastebasket. Still with me?
With my arms around the basket and up-chucking at a convention for alcohol and drug abuse counselors I pictured myself as the old drunk with too much to drink. This conference group would pick me as the perfect poster-boy for that universal scene of a sick drunk "romancing the porcelain." (arms around the toilet for those for those of you fortunate enough to never having experienced such a loving scene).
As relief came I could only let out a laugh through the tears. I know I looked pathetic. With people passing, giving me a wide berth, I was grateful. Happy and grateful that I was not suffering one of my past indignities fueled by too much to drink along with an assortment of "slim jims"and other back-of the-bar-delicacies.
I thanked God that I was attending such a convention as board chair of a treatment center and not the guy of those wrenching wet and dry heaving days.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Overheard at the noon meeting.
"For me recovery is a process, it is not achieved over night. It is not instant nor is there any growth without pain. I can no longer hide in my addiction or run away. I must persevere day by day. I must be able to endure pain if I am ever to experience the joy that comes with growth."

How great to be able to persevere and stay in the pain since I can be assured that in any situation I am never alone. That I can always count of the support of my Higher Power and in most cases the help of both the fellowship and God. I can also rest assured that I am only presented with an opportunity for growth when the God of my understanding knows I am ready for it.

Asked after the meeting to name one of the blessings I'm thankful for today. I replied. " To wake up and to thank God that he has blessed me with an open mind. That I realize that I'm still "wet paint. That there is still a room for growth."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hi all
Sorry about my absence. Been out of town on business, (Salt Lake City), and sick , (food poisoning) for most of the month of August. I'll catch up.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Knowing Jim the way I do he would tell you, "I like Wednesdays, of course I like any day I get up. I also like Tuesdays and Thursdays; my tennis days. Saturdays and Sundays more tennis, occasional church and travel to Nashville to visit the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Mondays are catch up around the house day. But getting back to Wednesday the highlight of the day is going to the noon meeting followed by a meditation group."

The AA meeting and the Contemplative Prayer (meditation) group held in the same church are both spiritual (non-religion bound). Steeped in the way of the Higher Power and God as 'I understand God", Jim and I lean toward simplicity in our spiritual life. We definitely flinch at any religion claiming they have the only true way to God.

After all the churches I've attended and the books I have read since getting to know Jim, I have come full circle and agree to what Johnny, Jim's first sponsor, suggested to him. "Keep it simple, your problem is you think of God as out to get you or that God doesn't exist at all. Why the hell don't you just pray, God if there is a God help me? Then sit down, take a quiet time and just listen and don't be surprised if the voice you hear simply says call your sponsor or get off you butt and help someone else."

Johnny was always eager to share his understanding of God.
" It was in the first weeks of my last drink.(1954). I was standing at the window of my skid row room in Chicago.I was playing in the dust on the window sill waiting for my ride to an AA meeting; thinking how in just these few weeks how my life had changed. I knew my life was finally headed in a different direction. As I formed the words Good Orderly Direction, it became immediately evident to me. This new direction in my life was God; Good Orderly Direction."
Johnny was the product of simple mountain religion, I in turn was the product of thirteen years of formal religion training. Johnny's wisdom far exceeded my education.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Just for today--the long haul

Went out running this afternoon. Ran into Jim as I usually do. Love to run. It's a great time apart, alone with my Higher Power, just flimsy shorts and running shoes. Almost naked before God and man. It's my time for meditation. Good for the soul and pretty good for the body also. Dr. Sheehan, a heart surgeon and running guru back in the eighties and nineties had this to say about his daily routine. " The first three miles of my run is for my body, the second three are for my soul." The good doctor like myself and Jim found ourselves bankrupted, physically, mentally and spiritually in midlife. When he came to that turning point, he recognized how powerless he was, cried out for help, surrendered, changed his life and was running marathons into his sixties. As he went around the country lecturing, his pitch on health and running emphasized that it was a spiritual journey contingent on daily maintenance. He urged everyone to stick with a daily routine as it would serve them well for the long haul. The first time we heard him speak we were hooked. We ran our first marathon at age fifty.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hi all
My wife and I spent Friday night and most of Saturday with friends Bob and Carol, at the their mountain top home. Their home is nestled amongst firs under a canopy of blue sky and a short path down to the lake. The place is a picture postcard of paradise. The only sounds are the cicadas, the birds and the rustle of the trees.
After paddling around the lake we picked cucumber, tomatoes, and green beans out of their garden for our supper on Friday. The next morning with coffee mug in hand we would again visited the garden for our breakfast fare of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries.
We and our friends have much in common. We savor the simple life, the fellowship of AA and our gratitude for our Higher Power and His/Her grace in our lives.
I asked Bob. "How's your son doing?"
"Still sober, going to meetings, has a job and is paying off his court costs and his bills. Been a year now that he's out of treatment. He still has a number of hoops to go through and he turns thirty soon. But....well... we'll take it one-day-at-a-time" We're going to Family Anonymous; it's been great for us."
I agreed. "One-day-at-a-time. My wife and I had felt the same way when our son had returned from treatment."
Our son a paraplegic , age 45 died an alcoholic death in a Tampa emergency room four years ago
God's will, not mine.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

First Half-Second Half-Jim's story

Much has been written about life's journey and our passage through two stages of life. The objective of the first half of life is all about the development of the ego. We sprint into life urged on by society and family to achieve, to succeed. Our collections of top grades, the biggest houses, the fastest cars bear witness that we can do it. We become first rate doers. While we appear to all the world to be successful, why is it we feel incomplete, our life's hollow? We feel there is something missing because we have fed only the ego, the false self. We have neglected the true self, the soul, the being not the doer. For healthy development we need both the ego and the soul which demands the constant practice of maintaining a balance between the two.
We come to a turning point. For some of us its a natural thing, followed by the red convertible, career change or insight into what is important in our lives. For others we need a two-by-four across the side of our head. A traumatic experience of powerlessness over our compulsions and addictions, that our life is a complete mess. We ask for help to save our butts and end up saving out souls. We discover we are not god and so begin the search for a Higher Power.
My friend Jim is one of those who needed the two-by-four.
I'll let him share with you on his journey in subsequent blogs.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Softball and Blogging

I started my blog on Thursday of last week and then drove to Nashville to participate in a Super Seniors Softball Tourney Friday. Played six games in less than twenty four hours. I have a routine of playing tennis three times a week and run but haven't played softball since in my twenties. I came back exhausted, full of bruises and a pulled leg muscle. We finished in second place. On the surface it sounds innocent enough but it begins to sound a bit foolish when I tell you my granddaughter and and my great granddaughter were in the stands cheering me on. The neat thing was being so grateful for such a wonderful weekend and joyful that I have been blessed in order to do so. Now---all brag, I hit safely 18 out of 21 times.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

First Post

This is my first posting. Its exciting and a bit scary, but here I go.
I would like to say I'm just diving in but the truth is my agent urged me
to "start a blog" months ago.
Now that I'm over the first hump I plan on posting at least twice a week.
Hope you will join me.