Category Archives: Growth

A 180° Turn Still Keeps Me In The Rut

I’m always amused by the way atheists seem to feel compelled to straighten out all the believers. Seldom does one run across a person self-labeled an “Atheist” that they don’t seem eventually to drag out some ax to grind with regard to religion. It seems to me that if you don’t believe you’d just sort of ignore the issue, but I guess that’s not the case.

I suggest that a 180° turn leaves me in the same old rut, and that if I want to free myself from some perceived bondage I need to strike out for new ground. Otherwise, I’m just letting it — whatever it may be — continue to direct my life, regardless of what I choose to call myself.

It’s the same way with recovery. If I’m continually thinking about booze or drugs, then I need to question my progress. There comes a time when recovery is no longer about drinking and drugging, but rather about learning to live an already drug-free life more skillfully.

When it comes to a higher power, I try really hard to believe.  Sometimes I do better than others.  But I don’t argue about it.  I just say “I don’t know, and neither do you,” and let it go at that. Same with recovery. I just say, “No thanks, I finished my share.”

 

Perspective

My wife just called me and told me that she damaged the car by hitting a curb.  It may cost us some repairs, and perhaps a new tire and aluminum wheel.  She was distracted for a moment, irritated about having to return to her office and turn off the A/C (which hadn’t been working well anyway), and she just got careless for that instant.

I’ve never been one to hold unnecessary blame for things — at least not most things.  I can spin out a good resentment as readily as the next guy, but over the years I’ve found I tend to do that less and less.  That could be due to the perspective of nearly seven decades of making my own mistakes, but I suspect it’s also due to my program of recovery, because I note that a lot of folks my age tend to be a bit more rigid.  Whatever the case, I’m happy for it.  Being unnecessarily pissed off is so tiring.

And I mean…really, now.  Exactly.  What’s the reality here?  Michele is unhurt, albeit pretty upset.  She’s able to drive the car on surface streets, so she’ll likely get home without a tow.  The dealership is only a couple of miles away.  The car has no permanent functional damage, so it’ll cost a couple of hundred bucks and some inconvenience to set things right — perhaps some lost hours at work for her that can be made up later (although I hate to see that happen, because she works too much as it is).

I’m not happy about the money; we’re not that flush.  Not flush at all, in fact.  Nor am I happy about the damage to the car, the stress on my honey, or the inconvenience.  But the reality is that Shel loves that little car at least as much as I do.  She’s responsible for hurting it, so she’s the one suffering the anguish, not me.  She’s okay, and the situation is fixable.  It’s not as if she’d been injured, or one of us had relapsed, or one of the kids got stepped on by an elephant or something.  It’s a tire, probably a wheel, an alignment, maybe a bit of minor bodywork, and that’s all!  On a scale of one to ten, it’s a two at worst.  Maybe less.

What, then is the point of getting upset?  Does it help?  Nah.  Does it hurt?  Sure.  Hurts me, my honey who can read me like a book, and it’s not good for my overall frame of mind.  A dinged Hyundai isn’t even in the ballpark when it comes to tragedy.   A sad wife is a lot more important.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Empty Rowboat

Suppose we are out on a lake and it’s a bit foggy–not too foggy, but a bit foggy–and we’re rowing along in our little boat having a good time.rowboat fog 400x225 And then, all of a sudden, coming out of the fog, there’s this other rowboat and it’s heading right at us. And…crash! Well, for a second we’re really angry–what is that fool doing? I just painted my boat! And here he comes–crash!–right into it. And then suddenly we notice that the rowboat is empty. What happens to our anger? Well, the anger collapses…I’ll just have to paint my boat again, that’s all. But if that rowboat that hit ours had another person in it, how would we react? You know what would happen! Now our encounters with life, with other people, with events, are like being bumped by an empty rowboat. But we don’t experience it that way. We experience it as though there are people in that other rowboat and we’re really getting clobbered by them. …

from Everyday Zen: love and work, by Charlotte Joko Beck (March 27, 1917 – June 15, 2011)

Right? Or Happy?

On how many interesting relationships have I missed out by labeling others as — well — others?  How much common ground have I missed because of my unskillful ability to hear what others were really saying?

When I think of people with prejudices, how much of the judging is mine?

How many have I pushed away because of what were really superficial differences in points of view?

How interested am I — really — in learning more about the world and the people in it?  Enough to keep my mouth shut and listen, and then find something I can agree with, rather than automatically disagreeing with those…others?

Sometimes I seem to be improving in those areas, slowly but surely, although I have a long way to go.  How are you doing?

Remembrance of Things Past

I was just reviewing the list of blogs I subscribe to, and ran across the last entry of a writer friend who is no longer with us.  If you want to read it, you can find it here.  Marsha was  thoughtful, a fine writer and teacher, and a good person to have in your life.  She brought the pleasures of poetry and literature into the minds and hearts of thousands of students.  We all miss her.  A lot.

Reading her poignant entry got me to thinking about the idea of a “life well-lived.”  Who decides about that?  I am agnostic, so I don’t look forward to some Great Beyond.  As far as I know, this is it — the whole show, not a dress rehearsal.  (Although I generally hate being wrong, I wouldn’t mind being mistaken about that.  However, logic prevails.)  That being the case, the only life I expect to have beyond the grave is in the memories of people, slowly to fade until the wisps are carried away by the winds of time; incorporated as a tiny part of the whole, but unnoticed down the years by those to come.

So, unless I want to indulge in magical thinking I have to accept that the sum of my life is, perforce, my legacy as well.  And I have to ask myself whether I’ve lived that life so as to leave something worthwhile behind, however ephemeral.  There have certainly been times when I wouldn’t have wanted to look very hard at that question.  However, I’ve managed over the past 22 — almost 23 — years of clean and sober living to amass a record that I can look back on and recognize a totality of which I need not be ashamed.  Whether that would be the summation of others is none of my business.  We live in our own reality, and what’s going on in someone else’s is not our concern.

However, I think it behooves all of us to occasionally look back and think of our lives to date, and decide if they’re something we can be satisfied with.  If we feel as though we’re on the right track, maybe we can attend to the details a bit more closely.  And if it seems as though we are a bit short, then maybe we need to sit back and consider how we can re-map our journey. Perhaps our criterion should be something like, “Have I helped others as much as they’ve helped me.”

I don’t know.  What do you think?

Huge Study Finds Brain Networks Connected to Teen Drug Abuse

A recent study has indicated that teen drinking is strongly related to problems in the neural network that controls impulsive behavior.  Professionals have long known that the two go together, but had no indication of which came first.

This study settles that, and other questions regarding ADD and drinking.

Faced with a choice about smoking or drinking, the 14-year-old with a less functional impulse-regulating network will be more likely to say, “yeah, gimme, gimme, gimme!” says Garavan, “and this other kid is saying, ‘no, I’m not going to do that.’”

Read more at Science Daily

Resentment

Resentments are the poison that we drink, and then wait for the other person to die.
- Anonymous

Some of the truest words you’ll ever read.

Think about it.  Think about that terrible thing that (insert name here) did to you back in the long-ago.  Think about how bad it made you feel.  Think about how you’d like to get back at (**),  how you’d like to tell them off in words that would make them shrivel and leave them with nothing at all to say.

How often do those thoughts come into your head?  Once a week?  Once a day?  Whenever you think of that person?  Whenever you do something that reminds you of them?  Whenever their name comes up in conversation?  Whenever you’re just feeling sorry for yourself and want to feel better by reminding yourself how terrible someone else is? 

I thought so.

Now, while you’re making yourself miserable thinking about how you’ve been wronged, what do you think (insert name here) is doing?  Do you think she’s spending her time thinking about the subject?  Do you figure they think about it at all?  If you confronted him, would he even remember the incident? Would he remember it the same way you do?

See, the thing is, renting out space in your head to that person, that incident, that resentment, hurts nobody but you (and the people you inflict it on from time to time).  You’re the one whose stomach is boiling, who gets all tense, who drinks the poison that is meant for that other person.  They will never taste it, but you will taste it as long as you keep holding that poisoned cup.

So deal with it.  It’s your problem and your misery.  It’s only hurting you.  That s.o.b. is oblivious, and would probably think you were hallucinating if you brought it up.

It’s up to you whether or not you pick up that cup again.  Do you want to be righteous, or do you want to be happy?

Stress: How to Cope Better With Life’s Challenges

Stress: How to Cope Better With Life’s Challenges

Feelings of stress are caused by the body’s instinct to defend itself. This instinct is good in emergencies, such as getting out of the way of a speeding car. But stress can cause unhealthy physical symptoms if it goes on for too long, such as in response to life’s daily challenges and changes….

A Letter To A Recovering Friend

(Unnamed website) looks interesting, and I’m glad that you are getting something out of it.

Please understand that my remarks are not specific toward (unnamed website).  I don’t know enough about it to judge.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever reviewed or recommended a commercial site.  Once that starts, everyone and his brother wants a review, and I’m not able to take the time (nor do I have the expertise) to read books, evaluate programs, analyze philosophies and so forth.   In any case, I’ve read too many explanations of karma already — some accurate, and some off the wall — and too many efforts at trying to take millennia-old ideas and wrap them in new paper for the sake of selling what is widely available for free.

But the main reason I avoid recommending programs of this kind is that they are not specifically about recovery, and do not focus people’s minds on the details that are necessary to recover from addiction.  Being told that the Universe is watching over us is of little use when we’re jonesing for a drink or a hit, or subtly convincing ourselves that “one or two won’t hurt.”  At that point we need people to talk to who will understand exactly where we are coming from, won’t shame us and call us “weak,” and who can share with us the intimate details of how they got through such tough spots themselves.  In other words, we need a 12-Step or similar support group of addicts and alcoholics working with other addicts and alcoholics, not spouting lofty philosophy.

Finally, I am convinced that if a person gets involved in AA, NA or the other groups, and really puts his or her mind to it, that it will take all the time and energy they can muster for at least several months.  There is no time for distractions.  This is a life and death issue. Personally, I almost distracted myself into a major relapse because I thought those folks had nothing to tell me.  I was different. I was better-educated.  I knew how the world worked. What could that bunch of people have to teach me?  Besides, they were too cheerful.  Didn’t they know the world was a serious place?  Et cetera, et ctera, et cetera…

All they had to give me was a proven way to save my life, that I almost missed.

I don’t push the 12 Steps because they’re a fad, or a religion, or anything like that.  I participate for the same reason I’m a Buddhist, because both are based on cold, hard reasoning.  They both provide guidelines for emotional, physical and spiritual improvement.  They are both specific to me and my life.

But your mileage may vary, and that’s OK.  As long as you do the next right thing, and don’t drink, and stay open to change and new ideas (not the strong suit of most alcoholics), you’ll be OK.  The key is change.  As I’ve said before, if you keep on doing the same old things, you keep on getting the same old results.  To quote another philosopher, “You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.”

Namasté

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ and other less-odious thoughts

I was with a group of folks this evening who were discussing the fact that alcoholism is as much a problem of the mind as of the body.  Yes, it is a disease — recognized as such by the AMA and APA more than 50 years ago — but it is also a complex of emotional difficulties and turmoil that can ruin a person’s life even after they have put the cork in the bottle (if they manage to keep it there without cleaning up their emotional mess, that is).  The same is true of other kinds of addicts who get clean, but fail to make the necessary changes.  Call it a “dry drunk, “stinkin’ thinkin’” or whatever you will, it is one of the main things that lead to relapse, or misery while technically still clean and sober.

The subject tonight was stinkin’ thinkin’ — the idea that we have it down pat, and can go ahead and drink socially.

No one there seemed to have been successful at it, and no one said that they knew anyone who had, but that is not to say that those folks don’t exist.  If one had wandered by, it’s unlikely he or she would have joined our little discussion.

Everyone in recovery has one of those stories, or knows someone else who tried to go back to occasional drinking with predictable results.  It often starts out with a program that has gone smoothly for years.  Then the person begins to think that maybe they can “handle it.”  Sometimes they try, sometimes not, merely teetering on the edge for a bit.  The ones who did try tend to have the most interesting stories, and they all center around the idea that they convinced themselves that they didn’t have to remain abstinent, or that they concentrated on some terrible thing that someone had done to them, fixating on that instead of the good things in their lives, or simply forgot to look for the good and concentrated on the bad — so that drinking or using drugs seemed like a reasonable alternative to the way they were feeling.

Which got me to thinking.

One of the things I’ve learned through years of meditation, both the 11th Step kind and some other stuff I do, is that I do, indeed, have a reasonable amount of control over what I think.  When you meditate, you try to concentrate on something without intellectual content — your breathing, say — to the exclusion of outside thoughts.  This allows your subconscious to percolate uninterrupted, mostly.  To begin with it’s hard.  Thoughts about all sorts of things come along, unbidden, and you get really pissed off at your inability to do anything about it.  Then someone tells you that such things are a normal part of meditation, and that the idea is not to fight them, but just let them arise and then bring your mind back onto the breathing, or mantra, or Hail Marys, or whatever you’re using as a meditation tool.  The key is, I can’t stop thoughts from coming to my mind, even over and over again, but I can control whether or not I concentrate on them.

Instead of drinking the poison of resentment and then waiting for the other guy to die, I can choose to bring my mind to something else.  I can do it over and over again, until eventually I’ve distracted myself into thinking about other things entirely.  The same is true of other obsessions, like drinking, or unsatisfied sexual urges, or the new toy that I think I need desperately.  It is entirely within my power to control those thoughts; not to pretend they don’t exist, or fail to acknowledge them, but to choose not to dwell on them.  In doing so, I rob them of most of their power, instead of giving them all of mine.

Get it?