Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grunpa's Girl

Grunpa’s Girl

The more I am around my granddaughter (Angel) the more I am amazed at her and notice little things and gain insight into myself and life as a whole. Of course all this has been assisted by the writings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn. I look at her and realize how perfect she is in that she has no prejudice, no hatred, no unreal fears, no preconceived notions, wow she is a Buddha. Problem being is those things will come along in the future to a greater or lesser extent. I did my best with her mommy, but I still had the shadows of ignorance in my soul; she was the only kid in the small town of Overton Nebraska who was raised listening to Dylan, Jackson Browne, Bob Marley (not the best of junk from Legend but original recordings where the songs were about social injustice, Jah and Rasta), socially conscience singer/songwriters, she understood human and civil right, learned to respect people of different races, culture, sexual orientation, religions, she was taught that dancing to the beat of a differant drummer was a good thing and that the following the status quo was sometimes emotionally and spiritually unhealthy, she learned that it was alright to question your government even when the government was at war, she learned about war from a veteran (me) who opposed the invasion of Iraq, when she showed an interest in Punk at around 12 she received disc's by The Clash, Dead Kennedy’s, Ramones, Iggy, Black Flag, Bad Religion and Sex Pistols for Christmas. All this was the bright sided, the side my addiction didn’t totally kill, the teacher. The other side was not having enough money for new clothes or shoes because the old man spent it on booze and smokes, the house being an embarrassing mess, being left on her own or being allowed to run wild in sometimes dangerous situations, living with a fear of dad going to jail or killing himself, she was raise without understanding spirituality, strong moral and personal ethics, she didn’t understand self discipline because she wasn’t shown any at home, she has abandonment issues today because I was a drunk and her mother was an addict who committed suicide when she was 8 years old. With any luck she can take that suffering and turn it into a positive tool so that Angel never has to experience all of this, that she can make her life with Angel a better one than she had in those areas that sucked. Now that Grunpa is sober and clean he will do what he can, if nothing else I can be a living example of spirituality, compassion, love, tolerance, happiness and hope, as long as I don’t let up on my basic routine and fall down the hole of addiction again, all I have is today and today I am living life on life’s terms and doing my best to walk a spiritual path. So much for the deep stuff.
I am totally amazed at how happy and content Angel is, so peaceful. At only 4 weeks old she is smiling and acknowledging love and affection. The only time she gets upset is when she is hungry and she does like her milk, healthy appetite she does have. Her neck muscles are getting stronger, last night she was able to hold her head up for a little bit, she is also pushing with her legs. From all appearances she is observant and looks around at stuff the best she can. It is and will be a total joy to watch her grow and see just what her individual personality and traits will be. Is she going to be a very active child, always on the go? Or will she be mellow and content? Maybe with any luck she will take the middle road. I have no doubt she will be a bit independent, too many independent genes and influences in her life for her not to be. Did she inherit her mother’s strong will? If so then her mother is in for some Karma pay back. All these questions and many more will be answered in their own time. For now I just give her love and compassion, I talk to her in a calm voice using regular words and leave out the baby talk. I hope we can grow together, that I can continue to learn from her and she can learn from me. I jokingly told her mother that the first word she says will be Namaste. Oh Yeah, Grunpa is my lazy speech word for grandpa, it comes out grunpa which is a cool new twist, did I mention individualism :-)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

11th Step comes to Life

The 11th Step Comes to Life

I denounced the Christianity of my upbringing sometime around 15, as my interest in history, world cultures and social activist grew so did my skepticism with Christianity. I could not accept that anyone who didn’t believe in the blood atonement of the prophet Jesus of Nazareth would be condemned to a life in a so called Hell or eternal damnation. I didn’t seek out a different path of spiritualization I just put any thoughts of spirituality out of my mind except when I read about people of a spiritual nature. By the time I was 16 my budding Alcoholism was took off full force and my only real interest was the obsession to drink as often as possible and of course the typical 16 year boy stuff like girls and music. Sometimes in a drunken stupor I would talk about theology or philosophy which isn’t a good thing to do at a party or when trying to attract someone of the opposite sex. I called myself an Atheist but in reality I was Agnostic or a Theosophist like Voltaire, I believed in something but wasn’t sure what it was.

In 1982 during a period of mandatory abstinent from alcohol, thanks to the U.S. Air Force, I was hiking by myself in the Rocky Mountains. I stopped to rest on an outcrop of rock overlooking a vast valley, my eyes were open to all the amazing colors and formations, my ears were open to a multitude of sounds, I smelled the earth, air, vegetation and everything else, my mind was opened to a belief in a Divine Creator, one that created all that is of nature. This creator wasn’t male or female but completely androgynous because I was aware of both aspect of atypical male and atypical female all around me. It was on this outcrop of rock that I had my first spiritual experience.

Fast forward 5 years when the combination of fear, loneliness, and depression fueled by heavy daily drinking brought my shuffling feet through the door of an AA meeting. I honestly don’t remember much about those first few meetings other than the guys there seemed really happy, they were openly talking about their feelings and complications in life and how they dealt with them without drinking, they understood the alcohol induced depression I was living in and they offered me Hope. The other thing I noticed was that the 3rd and 11th steps said “God as we understood Him”, cool finally a group that would allow me to believe in my own concept of God, a God without creeds, man made images or rituals.

Over the course of my next 9 years of continuous sobriety my spirituality didn’t grow much beyond my belief in a Divine force in the universe. I would say a prayer of thanks in the morning and before I went to sleep, say a pray of thanks when even the smallest good fortune came my way like a green light when I really needed one, I said the Serenity Prayer to help me calm down in tense situations but that was pretty much it. I never took a close look at the 11th step nor truly added it to my daily practice of recovery. I attended meetings in small towns in rural Nebraska and bit by bit I started getting resentful towards people who used the Christian implied concept of God too much when they shared and if someone talked about Jesus too much I would be filled with unspoken rage. Notice how I said “unspoken” I just did. That’s right my fear of sharing what was really going on inside had returned and I was afraid to tell anyone my feels, this is one of 2 big secrets I keep, I figured no one would understand or they would try and sway my beliefs toward theirs. AA was my safe haven and my only social life so I sure didn’t want to risk losing it but something was happening inside me that I wasn’t aware of but the Big Book talks about on pages 151 and 152. I was becoming that dry drunk who would give anything to take a couple of drinks and get away with it, at meetings I was happy and friendly but really I was whistling in the dark. I wasn’t happy in AA, my marriage was a mess, I had financial troubles, I wasn’t really happy with my job and since I was a member of the Air Guard I was hanging around people on a monthly bases who “drank with impunity” I reached the jumping off point, picked up a 6 pack of beer and jumped. I didn’t land for 10 years and then it was at a treatment center and I didn’t land on my feet either I might add.

In my first few months back in active recovery and regular attendance at AA meetings I was comfortable with being reunited with the God of my understanding, it took a big lesson in comparing my insides with others outside for this to happen though, understanding my perceptions can be a great butt kicking tool if I use it. But something inside of me was telling me I needed more, this time I heard the voice and heeded it.

When I read the 11th step in the Twelve and Twelve the prayer of St. Francis really struck me hard and I had an awaking. I am sure I had read it a few times before in my past life of recovery either at a step study meetings or in private but I must have never given it any thought or wasn’t ready to hear the message. Even though the prayer was written by a wonderful Christian man, I saw it in an Eastern religious light, I have always had an interest in Taoism and Buddhism and other than reading the Tao a few times I have never looked deeper at either one. So with my new personal interpretation of St. Francis’s pray I set out to explore Buddhism and in doing so the 11th step came to life for me. Thanks to my new found willingness, the internet, an online friends in recovery who are Buddhist and 2 awesome teachers via their books, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, I began a new spiritual journey. By incorporating basic Buddhist practices with my AA practices of regular meetings, service worker, working with new comers, living the steps, reading AA literature, I have discovered an awesome way to improve my conscience contact with the God of my understanding and live life on live terms in relative peace and serenity. I still have anxieties, anger and all the rest of the emotions that come with life but bit by bit I am able to manage the emotions and not let them take away my happiness. I have found new tools that help me daily to accept people I don’t like and to deal with negativity and intolerance in the work place or the world in general. Like it says in the Big Book it is about spiritual progress not spiritual perfection, I can’t have 20 years of spiritual bliss until I have lived 20 years in spiritual bliss.

My concept of God hasn’t changed much since I sat on that mountain outcrop but my spirituality has. This is thanks to working all the steps this time around and not leaving out the 11th. Using a combination of what is written in the Big Book, the prayer of St. Francis and a conscience effort towards unselfishness, compassion, right mindfulness, right speech, right view, right intentions, right livelihood, right concentration, right effort, right action, I am aware of my inter self and how it effects me and those I come in contact with and what I need to do to improve my way of thinking and acting.. If I am intolerant towards those who show intolerance towards me then it is me who suffers and if I am suffering then I am not able to be a channel of peace, love and tolerance. I have faith that as long as I do these things then I won’t reach that jumping off place again.

Using the Rearview Mirror

This was written in April of 2007 and published in November 2007 in the AA magazine the Grapevine

Using the Rear View Mirror

I recently chaired a meeting of relatively newcomers. The italicized paragraph from page 24 of the Big Book was read, which lately the Higher Power has had me hear quite a bit for reasons that will be explained later. The topic turned to our egos and how that when things are going well in sobriety our egos get inflated and soon goes from the “We” program to the “Me” program. One lady with a little over a year was talking about how good things were, how her scare with cancer proved to be benign, and how people always said nice things about her, yet the desire to drink had been increasing, not a heavy craving just the subtle “wouldn’t a whatever” variety of desire. Then she started talking about her troubles backing her car out of her driveway and she said “Maybe I need to use the rearview mirror,” which struck me as one of the most profound things I have heard in a meeting lately and here is why.
I was introduced to the Fellowship in 1987. I was 24 years old and stationed at Kunsan AB Republic of Korea. I was an emotional wreck and the rest of me wasn’t that healthy either. I drank daily and was even drinking prior to work. I am one of those who felt he never completely fit in with others, my taste and ideals are outside of the status quo. Beer and cheap wine were the magical potions that allowed me to change my personality so that even being still a bit of an oddball I could fit into most social circles. By age I was 24 the magic had worn off though and I took a sharp pocket knife to my wrist. A mental health professional who is a friend of the Fellowship told me my problem wasn’t that I was outside of the norm but that I was an Alcoholic and couldn’t handle life on life’s terms. So out of fear for my career and a sense of nothing left to lose I walked into a little tin shed with an old oil heater for my first meeting, I felt welcome and after a couple of meetings I knew I had found a place where I belonged. My fellow Airmen and Soldiers were “happy, joyous and free”. They shared their feelings and how they had found a way to live life and accept themselves and their circumstances. Something else grabbed my attention right from the start and that was the 3rd step. I was raised to believe that you had to be involved in organized religion to have a clear connection to God. I have always believed in a Divine Creator but believe It is the same for everyone, Christian, Jews, Moslems, Native Americans, Pagans etc. That AA meeting was the first place I had ever been to where it was acceptable to believe in a God of my own understanding, and worship as I see fit. Like a lot of other people Chapter 4 of the Big Book is about me and it saved my butt.
For the next 8 years I was active in the Fellowship, even though I relocated a few times. I generally attended 3 meetings a week, sometimes more but rarely less. I was involved in service work, always had and used a sponsor, applied the steps and traditions to my life, read the literature and truly enjoyed living a sober life as a member of AA. I met and married a fellow traveler and in 1991 we adopted a little girl at birth. By 1996 the marriage was over mainly due to my wife’s disease coming back hard and heavy, although I did have my part to play in the marriage going bad. My daughter and I moved to another town. Since taking her to meetings with me wasn’t as easy as before, and since I didn’t know many people, I gradually stopped going to meetings. You guessed it. I stopped doing all those other things too.
Sometime in 1997 I was shopping and thought a beer would taste good but knew regular beer was dangerous, so I bought a 6-pack of NA beer. That .01% was enough to bring the disease back to life. It took a few years to return to serious heavy drinking but I did go back to where I left off and then some. I drank to become numb, to deaden my feelings about my ex-wife’s suicide from drug addiction and my feelings of letting her down, to deaden my feelings of inadequacy as a single parent, and once again I drank to fit in with others. With the help of some good enablers I never drank myself to the poor house. I held onto a good job and even retired from the Air Guard.
In 2005 I got my first DUI, eleven months later my second DUI followed with my first stay in jail. My daughter was temporarily put into foster care, yet I continued to drink daily, basically if I wasn’t working I was drinking regardless of the risk or consequences. In November 2006 I was arrested for a bad check charge. While laying on that bench bed, I made a decision to enter a treatment program even though I wasn’t totally willing to quit drinking. Fact is I couldn’t quit without being isolated from alcohol and my daily routine. Once in treatment I was reunited with the program and fellowship I once loved so much. I was also reunited with some close friends in recovery from the old days and they welcomed me back with open arms. One of them is now my sponsor and taking me through the Steps again. The zeal I once had has returned and I am back to being active, back to doing service work, attending 3-5 meetings a week, using my sponsor, reading the literature, spending time with the guys in the local half-way house. and reaching out to the God of my Understanding who thankfully never left me. I am rebuilding a damaged relationship with my teenage daughter. I am learning how to be a parent and she is learning how to be parented, a hard process for both of us, but one day at a time it is getting better. The scars from my ex-wife’s death are slowly starting to heal and the guilt is subsiding. I once again accept who I am inside and out.
Ten years ago I stopped using the rearview mirror; I stopped checking on what I had left behind and where I had been. I became complacent and that complacency rendered me defenseless against the first drink. The “yet’s” became a reality. I don’t regret what I learned in those 10 years because I am can pass on my experience to others and hopefully help prevent someone else from living that reality. I can remember to use the rearview mirror only by living a life in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, and by doing what the winners do.