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.