Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Practice of Sponsorship

Over the years, I have learned certain ways to begin (and to end) my meetings with sponsees:  To begin, I start with:  Please share with me what you've done to stay sober since we last met?  I want a high level but somewhat detailed summary of the basics of whatever they've done since we last met with the intent to stay sober: e.g., number of meetings, instances of trying to help others, step work, prayer/meditation practices, gratitude list writing, physical exercise... whatever they've done with the intent to stay sober and improve the quality of their lives. 

When they've finished with that (it shouldn't take but a few minutes), I then ask them what I can do to help. If they are going through the step process, I check in with where they are with the step they are working on...

Usually, once the struggle of the week/month comes up, the issue of "wantingness vs willingness" inevitably comes up. Everyone (including me) struggles with something and who better to share that with than a sponsor.  

I don't like wallowing in the weeds of these struggles, but some of that's necessary in order to get to the deeper roots of these struggles. Most of us like to spend (waste) energy on what's wrong with others or what others should be doing and for me, that often turns out to be a total waste of time. I like to say those people are doing what they need to do -- the only question for them to ask themselves is: "now what do I need to do (or not do)?".

I find that most people already know what they need to do or not do, but they simply don't want to do (or not do) it!  So I usually just ask them, based on everything you learned so far in your recovery, what do you think/feel you should do or not do?  Once they tell me (and it makes sense), I ask them, "Well, what's keeping you from doing or not doing that?"

Inevitably, it comes down to them admitting that they simply don't want to do or not do what their gut tells them they should. I call this the notwantingness problem: where we end the analysis of what should I do once we get to the seeming roadblock of notwantingness. 

I usually confront the "I don't want to" statements with a gleeful Tony the Tiger: "Grrreaaattt!".  If they are a new sponsee, they look puzzled at my seeming inappropriate joy at their conundrum in life. I explain that the reason for my joy is that they have arrived at the Challenge of Notwantingness and that only when we get here can we practice the long tested and valued A.A. principle of Willingness.  

Turns out Notwantingness is the essential prerequisite of Willingness: most of us don't need willingness to eat a chocolate chip cookie (or a drink of booze or other drug of choice). No, willingness is only called for when we don't want to do something. So, it's a good sign whenever we're confronted with Notwantingness!  That's where the real productive and life changing work begins!  Willingness!

Then I remind them of something one of my sponsors is still fond of saying: The secret to long term sobriety (he has 40+ years), is learning to do things you DON'T WANT to do, with people you DON'T WANT to do them with!  

Of course, they are the ultimate Deciders since it's their life and their responsibility.  Not mine.  I do share with them that their fear of doing X is based on the Seeming Problem of Incompetence: they are afraid not because they are incapable of doing X, but rather, because they've never done X sober. That just means they are incompetent and the only remedy for incompetence is taking action, making mistakes, getting up, learning what not to do, trying again....

At the end of our hour, I always close by thanking them for distracting me from what I thought were my real problems but are now either forgotten or less problematic than I thought they were. And ultimately, my problems are examples of my own Notwantingness calling me into The Land of Willingness. 

Take care!

Mike L

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The -ISM in Alcoholism Stands For "Incredibly Shortterm Memories"

A woman showed up at today's meeting and raised her hand as being in her first 30 days of recovery. Although no one asked her for an explanation, she quickly added that she'd had 20 years sober before this relapse. And that prior to this recent relapse, she'd been to only one meeting in the prior 16 years. And that the one meeting occurred the night before her last drink. 

Apparently, not only do we in AA not shoot our wounded -- we also don't interrupt them when they need to get something important off their chest. 

When she finished, we then welcomed her back with smiles and applause. And I think she became the unofficial focus of this group of misfit drunks in recovery. 

When she got to share again, she explained that during her first four years of recovery, she'd done all the things that were suggested: sponsor, Steps, service, fellowship -- even the "God" stuff. And it worked!  She loved it. 

The only problem was she also enjoyed certain other things in life that no one else in her group enjoyed doing, at least not as much as she did: hiking, nature walks, jogging,  etc.  So she and her non-alcoholic husband gradually found new friends who happened to be neither AAs nor alcoholics. These new friends liked outdoorsy types of activities and she and her husband fit in like a glove. 

And almost without thinking or decision-making, she shared that she then slowly drifted off from meetings and other AAs. From recovery. 

She stayed sober for 16 years. During those years, she walked through some really difficult experiences without picking up a drink. At first she was aware of the fact that she wasn't drinking after each difficult time. But then, gradually, she didn't even notice her own "not drinking".  

In the end, well before the relapse, all she noticed was the pain. And the hopelessness. 

And I think by the time it was too late, she decided to go to her first meeting in 16 years: the pain was too great. 

She sat in the back. Alone. Listening to everyone else's trivial issues and stories. 

But she just couldn't raise her hand and tell them how much pain she was in or how much she desperately needed their help. 

I suspect she was silent because she was ashamed of all these feelings: someone with 20 years of sober shouldn't feel such embarrassing feelings! She felt weak and needed to appear strong. 

Ultimately, she left the meeting without speaking a word of her truth. And the next day, she drank. 

The pain was simply too much. She told us that as she was taking that first drink, she knew that whatever was to follow was not going to be good. But she drank anyway. 

She didn't know one other thing to do.  

She'd forgotten who she was years previous to that first drink. 

She'd forgotten or had never learned the difference between sober and sobriety.  

Sober is a lifeless fact or formula: me less alcohol equals sober. 

Sobriety is life itself for the recovering alcoholic, one day at a time. With all the feelings, wanted and unwanted. 

When we're told early on to hang in there, that we'll eventually feel better -- few of us realize at first hearing that no one's suggesting that recovery work filters out all "bad" or "painful" feelings and leaves only the "good" or "pleasant" ones. For me, it took years of recovery to realize that the "feel better" encouragement meant that if I did the required inner work, I would eventually begin to feel the full and glorious range of human emotions and feelings "better!" -- both the so called good and the so-called bad. 

My 30 years of using alcohol as a technique to deal with or control feelings never really worked except in temporary and illusive ways. 

As I shared in this meeting, in my experience, when sober people forget who they are -- or, more accurately, when I forget who I am as an alcoholic and think of myself as simply "sober" or worse, as someone "who has stopped drinking" then what happens for me is I start thinking that maybe I'm not really an alcoholic. 

I've come to believe that the -ism in alcoholism stands for "incredibly shortterm memories."  For me, the memories of what drinking was like start to fade away after 24-48 hours. Sometimes quickly. Sometimes slowly. 

And once I go down this mental pathway of forgetting who I am as an alcoholic, the same thing happens.  Every. Single. Fucking. Time: I decide that I'm a non-alcoholic!  

And the first thing I always do once I decide that I'm a non-alcoholic, I start thinking and obsessing about drinking alcohol. 

Or, as I've found when analyzing the half dozen drinking dreams that I've had over the last 14 years:  I just end up finding myself alone. Looking down at my hand.  And in my seemingly disembodied hand is a half empty glass of alcohol. What then happens are two simultaneous events: (1) someone, an authority figure in my life (for the last 35 years, her name has been Nancy!) or my son, walks into the room and (2) I realize where the other half of that drink is.  "FUCK!"

Dream over. Cold sweats. Shame. 

Today, I'm so grateful for this woman telling her relapse story to us today. I identify with her because, like her, I know with my whole being that "I" cannot stop drinking. That I'm an alcoholic. And that while I can't stop drinking, what I can do is stay sober "one day at a time" and that "that" day is always called "Today!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Interview of Dr. Earle Marsh (Author of "Physician Heal Thyself" in AA's Big Book)

I recently uploaded to YouTube an interview my sponsor did with his sponsor, Dr. Earle Marsh, a few months before Earle's death on January 13, 2003. The interview is called "Discoveries" and lasts about an hour and a half (I broke it up into three 24 minute segments, Parts I, II and III). 

Earle got sober June 15, 1953 -- two days before I was born.  Like I have mentioned here in the past, I met Earle very early in my recovery, I was 48 years old and he was 90 years old, 48 of them sober. I was scared that while AA and NA had helped my 15 year old son get sober, it was probably not going to be something that would work for me because it was too much like a cult and I'm just not a cult kinda guy. 

The fear that AA was a cult vanished the first time I heard Earle share at a meeting. He was his own man, spoke what he believed and seemed to have no concern about whether people agreed with him or not. It was only important that it rang true for him when he was sharing it. 

I've come to believe that when Earle got sober two days before my birth, he began making this particular world safe enough for an alcoholic like me to be born. And I consider it the greatest of all circumstances thst the night of Earle's death, I was there holding his hand as he took his last breath. 

Below, I've posted links to the three parts of this amazing interview of one of AA's greatest and dedicated members.  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Serenity Prayer: From Petition to Trickery

Almost immediately after getting sober a little over twelve years ago, I began practicing a daily morning routine: after I got in my car to begin my 65 mile commute to work, I would begin my drive by reciting out loud the Serenity Prayer.  It's one of many daily habits that I now do with little thought or decision-making. 

It's not something anyone told me to do or even suggested that it might be a good idea. It sorta just seemed like a good idea that might occupy my mind with something other than drinking. 

This deceptively simple prayer, which some people refer to as the AA prayer---one of two we stole from the Christian tradition---has started off most all of my days with a solid foundation. It was though only after years of daily practice, that I discovered several important truths hidden within this deceptively simple prayer.  This, by the way, is a common experience of mine when I practice a new healthy behavior for prolonged periods of time!

And so the most important truth was discovered only after several years of consistent daily practice: this prayer wasn't a prayer of petition as I first thought it to be when I started hearing it in most AA meetings I attended. That is, it wasn't really prayer where I petitioned (asked) God for something I wanted, something I didn't think I had or could get under my own power. 

It was only after hundreds of recitations of this seemingly simple prayer that I discovered that the Serenity Prayer is far more than a prayer of petition. It's a special kind of prayer different from all other familiar types of prayer: thanksgiving, praise, despair, etc.). Instead, it's become a unique form of prayer I call a "trick" prayer: it tricks me into a unforeseen or sought after experience of awareness where I gradually discovered that I don't get Serenity first (as a gift from God or anyone else) so that I can then accept the things I cannot change!  

Instead, I repeatedly discover after the fact that only after I accept the things I cannot change---usually after a long painful process of trying to change it!---and only then, that I then experience Serenity, a sense of peace.  Serenity isn't a prerequisite for acceptance of things I cannot change, it's the consequence!

I also discovered after hundreds of repetitions of this prayer that I don't get Courage first so that I can then change the things I can change. Rather, I fearfully and doubtfully change the things I can and then and only then can I look back and see the expression of a courage I didn't even know I had in me!  

The Serenity Prayer has tricked me thousands of times before I discovered the subtle Wisdom hidden in this prayer.  

Maybe this whole gradual awareness is a simple answer to the last request or petition made in this prayer, where we ask for "the Wisdom to know the difference" in terms of what we can and can't change. Maybe for me at least, the wisdom is discovered only through therepeated and sometimes mindless action of reciting this simple prayer. 

The other important truth I've learned about this and other prayers is that I am always free to change the wording so that the prayer more adequately expresses my thoughts and feelings, my truth. I'm free to make any prayer "mine".  Here are several of my favorite versions of the Serenity Prayer:

Serenity Prayer (My version): 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference and the love to do the next right thing.

This added phrase, "and the love to do the next right thing" helps me re-enter life after this short moment of contemplative prayer and focus my attention so that I'm looking for opportunities to do the right thing, or more accurately, the loving thing. 

Another version I stole (permitted and even encouraged in AA!) from someone else, the "people version":

God grant me the Serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the Courage to change the people I can and the Wisdom to know that I'm those people!

I wonder what other truths I'll discover as I continue this daily routine?  Can't wait to find out. But if I do wait, I'm sure I will!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Levels of Gratitude: One thru Four ( For Now!)

This morning, first day of a long overdue vacation with my wife to Oregon, I experienced a prolonged and first time experience of the highest level of Gratude, which I am going to call, for lack of a better term, the O-MyFuckingGod level of gratitude. As I announced here a couple of months ago, I have been practicing gratitude in a formal and daily way since January of this year. Now almost seven months and 165 gratitude lists into my gratitude "project" I want to report on an experience I had today of what I think must be one of the highest levels of Gratitude.

Yes, there are levels of Gratitude: Four Discovered So Far 

Level 1: Not Grateful. This is, surprisingly, the first level of gratitude. Just like for the actual alcoholic, the first level of self-identification is calling one's self a Non-Alcoholic. This subjective state is where we are totally ignorant of all or anything we have to be grateful for. It's also called depression, self-absorption, isolation/loneliness, self-pity and self-hatred. Most alcoholics, including me, come into recovery at this level of gratitude. I came into the rooms in late October, and trust me, I not only came to quickly HATE the November topics of Gratitude -- I let everyone know this was an Outside Issue at every meeting where that was the topic for at least the first year or two of recovery. Especially when it wasn't November!

Level Two: Fake It Til You Make It Gratitude Lite. This is where you begin pretending to feel things that you mostly don't really feel. That's because you're actually still feeling most of the Level One "negative" feelings, but for some reason (I desperately want Dr Earle to like me!) you start pretending to feel positive feelings even though you don't. In AA, this is a long-sanctioned deception encouraged by sponsors and other non-requested sponsors. Trust me, you'll feel better if you do this for 30 days in a gratitude journal at night before you go to bed!  "Sure, I'll do this [idiotic bullshit!] just because you "suggested" [i know it's more than a suggestion! I'm not a complete idiot!] it. Thanks! [Not!]"

Level Three: Actual feelings of grate-fullness. This actually started to happen within me after 3-4 years of recovery. Without ever doing even one written gratitude list. This happened because I finally "heard" within me what Earle had told me before he died: Mike, gratitude isn't a feeling, not something you are supposed to feel. It's a decision, a habit or an attitude. It's an attitude that members of AA have found tremendously helpful in their lives. You might want to try giving it a shot!  (He was the kindest meanest man I'd ever known up to that point in my life. 

Level Four:  Well, for this one, I just want to share a story because stories are the most direct path to the Truth. This is the story I shared this morning with the now 25 members of my private AA Gratitude Project blog: as you'll see, I now call this highest (so far!) level of gratitude the O-MyFuckingGod level of gratitude!


This morning's post:

As I mentioned in my Gratitude list earlier this morning, I was able to go to a Crack of Dawn 7am meeting here in Ashland, Oregon today.  I wrote today's  list at 6am on my first full day of vacation. What i now need to share, double-dipping in gratitude as it were, is thst on my way to this AA meeting, unusual things started to happen, important and very subtle things that we often miss, especially if we aren't practicing things like Gratitude or Acceptance. 

I should have known that there was something special about this particular meeting when the Google Map directions ended up taking me two blocks past Normal Avenue and then told me to turn left in order to get to the church where this AA meeting was being held!  O-MyFuckingGod! #1

I went into the meeting, a little resentful that coffee wasn't ready for ME, and sat down as far away from anyone as I can--can tou imagine what i would be like if i weren't sober and not practicing daily gratitude for seven months!--when a woman down the aisle leans forward and says to me, is this your first time to this meeting?  I say, Yes it is....Patty!   

You see, Patty is someone I met at the Lafayette Hut when I first got sober and I just loved her just plain honesty. In 2003, she retired from the Sheriff's office and moved to Oregon and I'd never seen her since. Until this morning!  O-MyFuckingGod! #2

After we hugged and quickly exchanged quick updates, I sat back down and looked across the room and then saw another woman I love from where I live, named H____, and our eyes connected and there was yet another hug and quick exchange of stories.  O-MyFuckingGod! #3

The meeting began after the secretary asked me to read The Promises at the end of the meeting.  I checked in, as did H____, as a visitor from California and everyone welcomed me all the visitors.  

It was an open Topic meeting where someone, anyone, volunteered a topic for that meeting.  One of the other visitors, a man who was there with his sober wife, and who was celebrating with her their 17th sober anniversary of marriage, said that at his Napa home group on Saturday mornings, the topic was always Gratitude!  O-MyFuckingGod! #4

When he finished, I shared about my December experience with a sponsee and newly (again) sober guy, who was so seriously depressed, that I suggested that he do something I had never actually done myself:  a daily gratitude list.  When he was unsuccessful/unwilling to do that after two weeks (including the shortest 5150 commitment I've ever heard of!)  I told him that I was giving up on trying to get him to do a gratitude list for 30 days, and that instead of getting him to do it, I was going to do it. In addition, everytime I finished writing mine, I would send him a copy. Miraculously, he then started doing the daily gratitude list and sending me a copy of his list most every day.  I think because he knew I would like it if he did. Over six months now, I'm still doing a daily gratitude list and sharing it in this AA Gratitude Project site with over 25 and some of them are doing the same with me.  This story changed the whole dynamic of the meeting.  Good stories do that.  O-MyFuckingGod! #5

There were 5 other MyFuckingGod! Experiences during and following the meeting. Including when I got lost on the way back to the hotel and had to resort to GoogleMapsto find my way....  Siri's third direction on the way home was to "turn right in 600 feet on Normal Ave."!  

O-MyFuckingGod!

Then I got back to the room, climbed back into bed and snuggled up to Nancy -- who was still "not snoring". 

Take care!

Mike L

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Checking In and Announcement of New Gratitude Project Blog

I know it that I hate it when I find a recovery blog that I like and then the blogger just seems to disappear. Assuming there are those out there that have found my recovery blog helpful, I apologize for how I've been neglecting this blog. My recovery is still center most in my daily life and practice, I've simply not had time to regularly maintain this site.

Brief catch up: my son Pat celebrated 12 years clean yesterday and I still trail him by 5 months and 10 days. He will celebrate his 28th birthday in June with his one year old daughter (Harriet Charles.... the Charles is after me: I'm formerly Charles Michael L) and will be getting married to Harriet's mother in September. My oldest had her second child a few months ago: West Oliver Michael....yes, I'm one of the inspirations for Michael). My youngest is still going thru her grieving process following the loss of her first baby, Oliver, just over a year ago -- but she is also 25+ weeks into the process of carrying her second child, a boy like his brother), into this amazing and unpredictable world. And my "future ex-wife" and I celebrated 32 years of marriage last March. All's well with family.

My recovery is also doing well. Still going to average of 10 meetings or more a week. Actively sponsoring about 10 guys and meet with them any where from once every two weeks to once a month  -- and I approach sponsorship pretty much as outlined in the wonderful AA pamphlet,  Questions and Answers About Sponsorship). I still practice meditation via memorization and recitation while I commute 65 miles to/from work each day.

The only thing new that I've added to my daily practice of recovery is the commitment to a daily gratitude list. For over four months now, I have been consistent in writing a daily gratitude list: 10 things that I am grateful for in my life and, if needed, 3-5 short things that I am simply not grateful for --- yet. While I had developed a general habit of gratitude over the last 11years of recovery, I had never done an actual written and daily gratitude list. I had periodically suggested it for sponsees (with the appropriate disclaimer that this was not how I had developed the habit of gratitude -- I'd done it differently -- of course!) but had never done it myself.

Back in December of last year, I had a sponsee who was in a deep suicidal depression and in addition to suggesting therapy and much else...) I suggested he write a daily gratitude list as outlined above: every day for the thirty days it would hopefully take to morph this practice into a habit of gratitude. But he just couldn't do it. After several weeks of getting no where, I broke down and committed to doing my own daily gratitude list every day for 30 days. For some reason, that got him over the hump of unwantingness. But, more importantly, my life was changed dramatically as a result of writing this list, by sharing it with him and by him sharing it with me every day.

After the thirty days, we both ended the daily practice. It was wildly successful -- and we stopped doing it!  With the next two weeks, I got into two huge and painful arguments with my closer to being "future ex-wife" when I noticed the nexus between the arguments and my premature termination of the daily gratitude list. I immediately resumed the practice and also began extending the number of people who decided to join me in this daily practice: something along the lines of gratitude shared us gratitude doubled. And tripled and so on.

Eventually, I ended up just setting up a new blogsite called AA Gratitude Project.  Access is open only to those I invite to join. Once a member, each time someone posts or comments on a gratitude list, an email automatically goes out to all members with the list or comment included. In additition, there's an email address where members can email their gratitude list and have it automatically posted to the site without having to login. The only technical requirement to register with this blogspot.com site, the member has to have a gmail.com email account. That account is required only to login to the blog, the email notifications can go to you primary personal email account of any type.

The only membership requirement is that the person has a desire to develop a deeper sense or habit of gratitude. Members are currently all recovering alcoholics, men and women -- but I won't deny someone access simply because they are lucky enough to be a recovering alcoholic.

So. If any of my recovery blog friends would like to join us on this AA Gratitude Project, please send me an email (mikelrecovery@gmail.com) with your email address. You'll need to setup a gmail account on Google's site but I don't  need to know anything about that. Once I set you up as an Author, you'll get an email with instructions on how to access and register on the site. I'll send you an email with further directions and you'll be welcome to participate as you wish. I'll reserve the right to remove someone's membership if I deem your continued participation to be harmful to the group's well being (now I'm not grateful that I have a law degree and work for lawyers!).

Take care!

Mike L.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Another Milestone Passes By...

I miss the routine of blogging regularly and just wanted to check-in with my blog site just to let those who visit this site that I am well and progressing in my recovery.

October is my birthday month so there's been much reflection on what these last eleven years have brought me.  Gratitude is one of the most important spiritual tools in my recovery kit.  And gratitude is not a feeling -- it's a decision, a habit.  And it involves lots of work.

Anyway, I recently completed my eleventh year of recovery.  I've gone to an average of 10-14 meetings a week for all these years--which totals up to almost 8,000 meetings and $8,000.  AA's expensive when you think about it longer term I suppose.  I sponsor a ton of  active sponsees (people I meet with anywhere from every two weeks to every months or so to talk about what's going on in their recovery and see what I can do to help) -- I've joked about how many men with bad sponsor picking skills have latched on to me since i finished going thru the steps 7 years ago for some time now, but yesterday it dawned on me that it is literally true given that they each weigh around 200 pounds.

I do my best every day to help someone, a suffering alcoholic most specially, in some way.  It always distracts me from what I mistakenly think as problems or challenges that require my direct involvement and expertise.  And inevitably, while I'm being distracted by someone else's problems and/or life challenges, my own so-called problems transform into blessings and the challenges pass and become grist for wonderful and healing stories.  In fact, I'm sitting here in a Seattle hospital now helping an old friend and his get thru the challenges associated with his fall last week which left him, an 81 year old man, with a broken hip.  I flew up for the weekend to be helpful to them.  Absolutely to expectation for any return or payback.  You see, I've already been more than fully compensated for anything I might do to help someone else.

I owe an unpayable debt to Life:

My 27 year old son still has five months and ten days more clean time than his dad and now he's dad to his own daughter, Harriet Charles.  (FYI: my name is actually Charles Michael....and, No, ChuckMikeLRecovery doesn't flow off the tongue does it?)  He's a far better dad than ever was back when my children were little.  He's able to be present to her and his almost wife in a way which was beyond my capacity back then. My youngest daughter continues her journey thru the grief after the death of her stillborn son in April the day before he was due to be born.  She's a wonderful mother and the epitome of courage.  And now my oldest daughter is pregnant with her second child, a boy, due in February.  My fourth grandchild.  We're walking thru this pregnancy a wholly different family than we were just six or seven months ago.  The following month my wife and I will celebrate 32 years of marriage.  The woman I sometimes jokingly refer to a my future ex-wife!  The absolute love of my life!