A Wonderful Thing

“When we allow ourselves to be broken open by life rather than broken down by it, we begin to be grateful for the difficulties themselves… When we live from this place long enough, we begin actually to inhabit gratitude, our every inhalation and exhalation a breath of thanksgiving no matter what is going on in the external world.” – Attitudes of Gratitude

Gratitude is the magic cure for all emotional sickness. The more secret ways we can find to get into gratitude when we are ill, the more consistently we will love our lives, and share that love of life with others.

This discovery has encouraged me to seek new ways of getting back into gratitude when I’m feeling uncomfortable. I’ve searched on the internet. I’ve asked happy people. I’ve read books about gratitude. I’ve shared what I know about gratitude with others. All of these methods have revealed more tools for me to use.

The truth is, difficulties in life are inevitable. Without them, there would be no comparison to recognize comfort, no opportunity for achievement, no growth. And although we can search for tools, none of them will work unless we practice them. So I’ve made peace with the idea that I will have struggles in life. But I’ve also learned to pick up the tools I’ve discovered, and continue trying to use them.

Ultimately, what that means for me is that my recovery time, from discomfort to life loving, is shortened. Less time feeling bad; more time feeling good. And that’s a wonderful thing for a guy like me.

In Orlando Florida at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. ILML!

Plan, Predict & Expect

“Acceptance, or surrender, is not a tidy package… As we surrender we experience our frustration and anger… then… pain and sadness. Our fear and anxiety about the future are released when we (finally) surrender.” – The Language of Letting Go

This reading reminds me how much I like things in control – specifically my control. But when I plan, predict and expect a certain outcome (from a person, place or thing) that is comfortable for me, I set myself up for potential disappointment. Doing my best, then surrendering the results – before they are shown to me – is the best way for me to love life – no matter what. And today, I do LML! – James

You May Be Right

“Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The same goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic.” — 12&12 p.91-92

This is, for me, perhaps one of the most important passages in the 12&12. Restraint of pen and tongue.

I was attending an AlAnon meeting in Malibu about 15 years ago when this very old woman, a longtime member, said “The best thing I ever learned in AlAnon was to keep my mouth shut. This has saved me from more pain and suffering than you can possibly imagine.”

A few years later I heard someone else in a meeting say “My sponsor told me that whenever my spouse starts saying something that upsets me, or something I disagree with, the best thing for me to say is ‘You may be right’. Saying this will remind me to let go and let God.

The program and members of the fellowship continually show me a new, better way to approach others. A way in which I can escape drama, frustration and hurt feelings. The simple tools I learn aren’t always so easy to remember or employ, but when I do, my life is tremendously more peaceful.

ILML – James

Get Peaceful First

“Today, I will get peaceful first, and let my work and life emerge from that base”. — The Language of Letting Go

This idea is the fundamental reasoning why I do my recovery rituals in the morning BEFORE work. All the decisions I make, and interactions I have with others, will surely turn out better when my thinking is along spiritual lines. Even when I’m running late (like today), I make some time to get centered. For me it’s worth every minute, because the result is that ILML! – James

The Ultimate Goal

“Worries about things not done yesterday and fear of tomorrow’s deadlines denied me the calm I needed to be effective each day.” — Daily Reflections

If I really want peace, success and happiness, I must surrender ALL my fears, and release my ties to yesterday. Only by consciously doing this, each time yesterday’s upset and tomorrow’s fear try to dominate my mind, will I get to love my life. And for a recovering AA and AlAnon like me, loving life is the ultimate goal. Luckily, today…. ILML! – James

How Much Pain?

“In every case, pain had been the price of admission into a new life.” 12&12 p.75

The question is, how much pain? How much suffering? Every one of us that has come into these 12 step rooms has experienced their share of pain and suffering and, most likely, caused some for others too.

After over 30 years I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us fall into one of two categories: victims or blamers. Of course, all of us have, at one time or another, blamed and felt like a victim. But in working with others I have noticed a district difference between these two types of recovering individuals.

First, a little about the blamer. I’m one of them, so I speak from extensive experience. As such, I’ll use the first person tense here.

My tendency to blame comes primarily from a fear of being wrong. I came from an alcoholic home, my dad was a black out drunk and physically abusive. Being wrong, or for that matter attracting any attention, could easily result in tremendous physical pain. I had two brothers and the best option for self preservation was to blame one or both of them. I know, not very nice. This fear of being wrong was indelibly etched into my being, and followed me through my life, long after it had any value. In fact, I discovered that blaming pushes others away and prevents me from the opportunity to take responsibility and change the things I can. It’s the opposite of humility and prevents growth.

I have heard many people say things like “Wow, issues from childhood, daddy issues, when are you going to get over it?” Well I’m her to say that, at least for me, I haven’t done so yet. But I’m working on it and have made tremendous progress. My belief is that spiritual development and healing character defects is a lifelong progress. I’m gentle with myself and, at the same time, encourage others to call me on my shit so I can continue becoming the man I want to be.

Now about the victim. From my childhood I have some experience with this too, though not quite as much. My wife, years ago, was constantly rubbing her fingers together over her shoulder when I would tell her how hurt I was. I legitimately thought I was opening up to her, explaining how hard it was for me. What she told me was she was playing the world’s smallest violin because I was talking like a victim. That’s dangerous behavior for an alcoholic. We’ve all heard the saying ‘Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink.’ Her violin pointed out something I needed to hear – stop playing the victim James, it’s boring. Plus it may lead to drinking. Well her song worked on me. I’m rarely playing the victim these days (though I still blame my poor wife too often).

But victimization for many of us in the program manifests itself much more deeply. Often, as a result of events that have happened in their lives, these members have a hard time seeing how wonderful they are. Sometimes playing the victim was a way to get attention. Others, like myself, were truly victimized growing up. Looking in the mirror and saying ‘I love you’ while looking into their eyes is difficult, if not impossible. The idea that they are a victim and/or are not deserving of the good things life has to offer has been deeply ingrained in them. Rather than feeling great, with moments of feeling bad, many feel bad, with moments of feeling just ok. This is tragic. I have a harder time helping those people in my 12 step work. But many have found that exercises like writing gratitude lists, saying ‘I love my life’ out loud, and looking in the mirror saying all the things they love about themselves tends to help.

The blamer is hurting others and pushing them away. The victim is hurting themselves, and also pushing others away. Both these behaviors cause repeated pain. It is only when the pain is too much, when it’s so great that we can’t take it anymore, that we finally surrender and ask for help. For many, it’s the pain that leads us to recovery. But many of us that have been in the recovery for a long time also suffer great pain and misery. This often happens when we’ve strayed from working the program and being in the solution. Either way it’s a wake up call. A red light. A warning that if we don’t get into action soon, something bad will happen. Disaster is looming, but there is a way out.

It says in the Big Book on page 19, “… pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.” That was my solution at 20 years of sobriety, and many years in Alanon. I dusted it off, picked it up, and started working it with the passion of a drowning man. And as a result, I’ve been able to truly love my life. – James

Place & Purpose

“… leave behind the gray, angry world of loneliness… ” — The 12 Steps: A Way Out

This is exactly what happened to me in AA and AlAnon, but I didn’t even know I was alone in my anger. I was just unhappy.

Today I can’t imagine a life without the laughter, camaraderie, intimacy, craziness, and support of others in recovery – thousands of brothers and sisters. When I put myself in the center of them all, take direction, share my truth, listen and reach out my hand, I am filled up with love and friendship.

It’s true, the program helps me stay away from drugs and alcohol, and deal with others in their disease, but even more than that, it gives me a place and purpose, while showing me how to love my life. Those are precious things that are very hard to find in this world.

I’m so grateful. ILML – James