Wednesday, September 30, 2009
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.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
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."
"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.
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
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, practice
these principles in all my (our) affairs...",
to recognize my Higher Power
popping up in the ordinary,
the people, places and things,
in my life.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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
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
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.
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
"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."