I’m thinking about the actions I take, the things I actually do to maintain and improve my sobriety.

  • I go to one or two meetings a week.  Usually, hopefully two.  This works for me.  I’m an introverted loner and I’ve been to thousands of meetings.  Lots of people need more meetings, and that’s fine.  Also, I envision that if I’m lucky enough to retire one day, I will go to more meetings.  Meeting makers make it!
  • I read recovery things regularly, as in I always have one or two recovery books going.  Right now I’m reading The Varieties of Religious Experience and, again, The Little Red Book.  With Carole I’m reading The Greatest Thing in the World.  I always read more than one book at a time.  To me, reading one book only is like watching one television show, sort of.   These aren’t things I necessarily want to read, or enjoy reading.  I do it to sort of study this thing that I’ve made be the center of my life.
  • I still write out new prayers I’m trying to learn.  I rotate them in the sidebar of the blog and I take the time to actually write them out.  In the past, I’ve written them out by hand when I was having a particularly hard time of things.  I really haven’t memorized any this way, but I know that in times of terrible stress my mind reaches for them and they are there.  I’m also able to incorporate some of the messages of these prayers into my daily life, which I guess is the point.
  • I sponsor people when asked.  Right now that’s two.  I answer the phone when they call and put a lot of thought and prayer into how I can be helpful to them.
  • I speak at meetings when asked.
  • I’m the treasurer of my group.
  • I chair my group often which involves getting there early, making the coffee, buying the snack (which usually I can get Carole to do), setting up tables and chairs, getting a speaker.
  • I always help clean up my meeting and make sure the doors are locked, lights are out, etc.
  • I read recovery blogs.
  • I write – this!

Looking at this list, I’m wondering how much time it takes me each week.  It is truly the best time I spend.

March 6, 2012 (this day)

I went to work today and fretted more about the job.  I won’t know for some time.  In the not knowing I cling to different meditations and prayers.  No coincidences in AA?  I think there are a few.  But I’m listening to some Clancy tapes in the car to and from work.  He said something about some prayer he has on his wall.  (Had?  Surely he must be dead)  Yesterday in a moment of extreme distress at work I clicked on World Prayers and spun the random prayer wheel.  I had the fleeting thought that maybe something fitting and meaningful would come up and this is what did:

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please
you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all
that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this, you
will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death, I will
not fear, for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

So, not in the shadow of death here just yet, at least not that I know of.  But yeah, it fits.  Really I think that I can do a good job or a poor job of serving God and my fellow human beings wherever I work.  It’s just that, among other things, I know where the pencils are kept where I am, and I like it that way.
And there are the 14-year relationships I have.  I like those too.  After work today I went to a school to visit a young man who will graduate from school and come to my program.  The challenges he faces every day are more than I can imagine.
Someone I used to work with was diagnosed with cancer last May.  This time last year she was getting sick, thinking it was pneumonia or something, going to the doctor, trying a treatment.  Now after chemo-radiation-surgery it’s not gone, it may have spread.
Carole just told me that someone we know in AA lost her son in a motorcycle accident today.  I used to go to the same meeting as this woman every week, but that was years ago.  Years go by and I don’t see her.  I saw her a few years ago when she told her story at a meeting I attended.  Then some more years go by.  But I know such intimate details of her past and she knows mine, if she remembers.  It’s an odd family we make here, loosely organized, as they say.
My kittens will be one year old tomorrow.  Having them in the house surely takes my mind off of the ones who were here last year, dying.
Tomorrow I’m going to work again and, because of my crisis, I’m going to love it more than I ever have before.  But I’m also going to concentrate on the stress and tediousness of it, on the part of me that often wants to let it go and stay home and volunteer for the historical society and literacy volunteers.  Because I’m afraid I might lose it soon but I know I will lose it eventually.
So I learn more every day about living in the now.

Think, Think, Think

This “slogan” has different meanings.  Think the drink through, to the end, to the jail/vomit/humiliation/danger/sickness/rehab/death.  “First thought – wrong” in which I needed to learn that my first reactions were almost always not appropriate or accurate or healthy.  AND I need to say that I don’t know why some people put the sign up side down, but I love it, and I do it, even when it’s not my meeting, if I can get away with it.

Today, I’m trying (still) to change some of my harmful thinking patterns.  As more is revealed to me, I see, for example, that I often ascribe to other people intentions that aren’t theirs.  So, for example, if someone asks me, “Why did you do that?”  I may hear a reproach when what was really there was a question, a request for information.

I often may think something is or should be obvious, so a question can rub me the wrong way, either sounding like a reproach to me or …… like someone hasn’t thought about it, is just talking to make noise.

I really can have those thoughts about people.

So, without incriminating details, I very recently had a period of a few hours when I was desperately, appropriately worried about a loved one.  I did not know if this person was all right, and had good reason to fear that she wasn’t.

I’d like to get better at adjusting my thought patterns during such an episode, and thankfully I don’t get many chances to practice.  When the chips are down and the anxiety is on, these are some of the things I think

  • Wait to worry.  I know I may get bad news.  It isn’t here yet.  There will be plenty of time to mourn, be terrified, react and adjust to the bad news later, when it is actually here.
  • I don’t trust God to make everything all right.  Everything is not always all right, and if there is a God, this is God’s will.  This is the only way it makes any sense at all to me.
  • I don’t feel comfortable bargaining with God.  I feel there are millions of people in the world in worse shape than I am, in more need than I am.  I don’t feel, even when I’m very scared for a loved one, that I can ask God to make it come out the way I want it to be.
  • Given that, when I do learn of the favorable outcome, for the moment, I thank God.  It makes no sense to me, and it is me doing it.

These truly terrifying times are few and far between in my life, and I’m very grateful for that.  They are so awful when they come that I do want to think about it, and get better at it, and think, think, think, in a better and healthier way.

My Prayer List

I have long tried to follow the advice of the program and pray for people who give me trouble.  I’m also inclined to pray in an emergency, for specific people or outcomes, “if it’s your will,” as I’ve been taught.

Now I don’t know if I’m praying to an external deity or not.  In my mind, it doesn’t matter.  I cannot picture a god who keeps score or changes outcomes based on the prayers of people.  It seems to be a very common or universal human trait to think we can influence the cosmos with the power of our mind, and so maybe we actually can.  But I don’t live like that is possible.  I have two big problems with thinking that can be so.  One, it is incredibly unfair if god changes outcomes by keeping score, when obviously pure and innocent people have no one praying for them, and so cannot benefit from the prayers of others when such prayers could ease their pain.  Second, if god does pay attention to human suffering and change it for the better based on a prayer, then there are always far far more deserving people than me and my piddly situations for god to change, yet god does not.

Where prayer works for me is in changing MY mind, not god’s mind or the progression of events.

So in praying for people who I care about and love, I would pray that they have all the need and most of what they want.  AA teaches me to ask the same for those who cause me trouble.  Yet, I don’t think this type of prayer does anything except maybe work toward convincing me that people I don’t like are the same as people I do like (in god’s eyes), and both groups should be treated equally by god.  It rains on the just and the unjust.  They also suffer droughts and floods.

Going with that, at times I have tried to ask god to give both groups lots of good stuff.  This rings kind of hollow for me though, maybe because of my basic disbelief that it changes anything except my mind.  And it is my mind that needs to be changed regarding the people I don’t like.

There came a time when I made an actual list and I still have an actual list of people to pray for.

The people I’m close to, who are in my family or immediate environment and who I care about and want good things for are on it.

The people who give me trouble and who are in my immediate environment are on it.

People who have died recently and their families are on it.
People who are in my meetings and who are struggling are on it.  After a while, if they don’t come around for some time, I’ll drop them off of the list and hope to add them back in when they hopefully return.  It’s just that after a time, I feel kind of blank just hoping this person I haven’t seen or heard about is doing well.  People who I’ve had a hard time with, but who don’t come up in life or in my mind very often, I usually also drop off.
It’s one of these who is coming back into my life, who I need to add back on to the list after not thinking about him much for years.

Adding this person back, it’s more obvious to me than before that it is my mind I am trying to change when I pray for and about anyone.  I have to consider, why did I have trouble with this person in the first place?  Was it him, or me, the circumstances, or what?

And I wish I could say that I’m feeling the ability to give it a fresh start, but honestly, I’m not.  At least I think I know the ideal version of what I’m shooting at, which is perfect love.  And I know that I need to ask god to change my mind, not to change the other person.  And I know that if god doesn’t directly act on my mind due to my requests, the act of my asking and envisioning the ideal works to do it, even better.

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

This is the short version of the prayer that has been used in meetings all the time that I’ve been in AA.  Wikipedia says that Bill Wilson brought this to meetings and that the Grapevine has published it.  There is a longer version, and my view of the longer version is slightly colored by my feeling that I have read a political interpretation of it.  It’s hard for me not to see the longer version that way.

This short version, though, is something I gratefully learned almost immediately and it lasts so well and so long because it is oh-so true.

I’ve come to understand that primarily, all I can change is myself, mostly my attitudes.  Just about anything outside of me is off limits.  I influence people, events, and the physical world, to a very very small degree.  I dare say, not in a self-pitying way, that should I be gone tomorrow, my influence would be almost completely gone five years from now, except for the way I’ve influenced my children in the past, and what they go on to do in the future.

I ask God for serenity to accept almost everything outside of me.  Things I cannot change include but at not limited to: weather, politics, the price of eggs, most illness, disease and death, most poverty, time, the past, my physical limitations, your physical limitations, the opinions of most people, war, football.  Google collage of things I can’t change:  the way you feel, the direction of the wind, heredity, increasing age, anybody’s mind, color, what I am, language, THE WORLD.

I do believe I drank because I couldn’t accept the things I couldn’t change.

Jumping to the end, the wisdom to know the difference is imperative.  Nothing like knocking myself out against the same brick wall over and over and over again.  Honestly, sometimes I do realize after a time that my efforts to change someone else will not work.  Usually.  Not always, because some people in some relationships with me are willing and able to change because I’ve asked them to, or better yet, because I have inspired them to.  I’m also willing to spend time trying to have a small effect on a big change, like doing some small part for an election of a candidate I believe in.  Some would argue I can’t change events, but sometimes I’m willing to try a bit.

Courage to change what I can, for me, is mostly courage to change.  Carole and I were reading an AA book by that name until it got too cold to sit outside, and I’ve been thinking of going back to it.  The change that AA brings is fundamental and profound.  I don’t feel particularly courageous about it, because I, like so many of us, had to be beaten to the ground to get up the courage to change in that way.  Change or die, was the choice, and I’m grateful I was able to make that change.

As the years go by the changes are more subtle, I think, but in a way it gets harder for me.  The first changes were necessary to preserve life and freedom.  The first changes brought huge results and profound improvements.

Now I am a law-abiding citizen.  Now I have a job I can do and that, for today, they’re willing to let me keep.  Now my children will answer the phone if I call (usually) and my wife is glad to see me (today).  Now I have a sobriety I can (mostly) easily and (mostly) happily maintain in a way that fits in my life very well.

Now for me the courage and the will to change what I can don’t come often enough without, still, that wondrous touchstone of growth – pain.

Perhaps One of the Greatest Rewards (Step Eleven continued)

Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us.  We no longer live in a completely hostile world.  We are no longer lost and frightened and purposeless.  The moment we catch even a glimpse of God’s will, the moment we begin to see truth, justice, and love as the real and eternal things in life, we are no longer deeply disturbed by all the seeming evidence to the contrary that surrounds us in purely human affairs.  We know that God lovingly watches over us.  We know that when we turn to Him, all will be well with us, here and hereafter.

So ends the Eleventh Step, and once again I’m surprised I’ve come to the end.  Looking back, I began in October 2009.  That is quite a long time!  I did not mean to take this long with these steps.  I could have had a baby by now.  I know Step Twelve is the longest and I can’t imagine how long that will take.

As for the last paragraph, the one quoted, I don’t agree with most of it.  For me, AA is what made me feel I belonged.  That’s where I learned about real and eternal things, and the real goodness of people.  Certainly prayer was a part of that, but the fellowship and society was a bigger part, I think.

Also the bit about “here and hereafter” – to me, this is the hopeful promise that religions give, because no living person really knows, and fear of death is universal and eternal and the most frightening thing people live with.  This even maybe implies a threat.  ” . . . when we turn to Him . . . ” as if not turning to Him might mean things don’t turn out well.  And here, they often don’t.  Hereafter, no one knows.

But anyway!  Over the past nine months I’ve sort of internalized some new prayers.  I have turned to it more often in distress, I know.  I’ve done better with my thoughts first thing in the morning.  I usually remember now to try to figure out how I can be most useful in my day.  That is a hugely positive change for me.

During the nine months, last month, actually, I got to practice prayer and meditation and face a situation which has historically been very frightening for me.  I flew without drugs and mostly without paralyzing fear.  I flew.

So I don’t mean this post and my experience to be negative or down, even though I disagree with the last paragraph in important ways.  I’m sure it’s just that I haven’t evolved to the point where I can accept it totally.  More peace and serenity await me as I continue to practice the step and learn it better.  It is surely a discipline that I’ve dedicated my life to, for about 30 years now.  It’s been well worth it and I joyously look forward to continuing.


To Beachey, 1912 by Carl Sandburg

RIDING against the east,
A veering, steady shadow
Purrs the motor-call
Of the man-bird
Ready with the death-laughter
In his throat
And in his heart always
The love of the big blue beyond.

Only a man,
A far fleck of shadow on the east
Sitting at ease
With his hands on a wheel
And around him the large gray wings.
Hold him, great soft wings,
Keep and deal kindly, O wings,
With the cool, calm shadow at the wheel.

All This Should be Very Encouraging (Step Eleven continued)

All this should be very encouraging news for those who recoil from prayer because they don’t believe in it, or because they feel themselves cut off from God’s help and direction.  All of us, without exception, pass through times when we can pray only with the greatest exertion of will.  Occasionally we go even further than this.  We are seized with a rebellion so sickening that we simply won’t pray.  When these things happen we should not think too ill of ourselves.  We should simply resume prayer as soon as we can, doing what we know to be good for us.

Well I’m not brave enough to argue that something that happens to all of us, without exception, has never happened to me.  But I don’t remember being unable or unwilling, so on I go, through the step.

We Discover That We Do Receive Guidance (Step Eleven continued)

We discover that we do receive guidance for our lives to just about the extent that we stop making demands upon God to give it to us on order and on our terms.  Almost any experienced A.A. will tell how his affairs have taken remarkable and unexpected turns for the better as he tried to improve his conscious contact with God.  He will also report that out of every season of grief or suffering, when the hand of God seemed heavy or even unjust, new lessons for living were learned, new resources of courage were uncovered, and that finally, inescapably, the conviction came that God does “move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”

The hand of God does seems unjust right around now, and I have a daily reminder each time I come into my room to see this kitty cat and his tumor.

And even so I realize that the hand of God is unjust in my favor, and in favor of my cat, who has lead a good life and in his illness has what money can buy him.  The wonders of God include birth, and death.

Today is Mother’s Day and I was blessed with the physical presence of my children one more time.  Their very being is maybe the biggest blessing of my life.  I visited Christy in the hospital and her mother is an inspiration to me.  She has stayed by Christy’s side for 43 days now, literally, and for around 40 years total with no end in sight for her.  The parents of my clients are such powers of example to me.

It is eleven days until my vacation and mother nature has called and I’ve never been so happy to receive her.  I’d just as soon not take her on my cruise.

In AA We Have Found (Step Eleven continued)

In A.A. we have found that the actual good results of prayer are beyond question.  They are matters of knowledge and experience.  All those who have persisted have found strength not ordinarily their own.  They have found wisdom beyond their usual capability.  And they have increasingly found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.

This is what I’ve been trying to increase and cultivate in preparation for flying, and really for everything that causes me fear, anxiety and stress.  For some time now I’ve been praying the prayers, writing them, thinking them and studying them in an organized and formal fashion, much more mindfully than I’ve ever done before.

I’ve gained knowledge of the prayer, prayers, and some sources including poets, authors and the Bible.  I can’t really see how this increases my wisdom, but I hope it does.  It does increase my peace of mind.  I really hope it can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances.

I think that in the past, when I faced flight and fear, I was much more confident in the program and the words of the program, though I have less reason to doubt it now than in the past.  I think that might be part of getting older, with that increased sense of vulnerability, or it may be the fact that now I’ll be flying without children to care for.  Or both.  But that deserves its own post.