Hoping to Hope

I so desperately want to hope.

I hope for peace.

I hope for being able to provide for my family.

I hope to remain sober another day.

I hope for people to quit being stupid.

I hope for pain and suffering to end.

I hope for answers.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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One of the things I heard early on at AA meetings was, “You don’t have to believe; you just need to believe that we believe.” Early on in AA’s history, its members realized that not everyone who started the journey of sobriety believed in a Higher Power. Instead of making belief a prerequisite for attending, they told people to come. The message was, “If you want to be sober, come.” They knew the purpose of AA was sobriety so they shared it with everyone regardless of belief.

What people need when they try to live a sober life is hope. They need to know that today can be better than yesterday. I need to believe that. I need to have that hope.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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On the Christian calendar, this is the season of Advent. It is the time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. It is a time of waiting, a time of longing. It is a four week season acknowledging the darkness of the world while hoping for the light that is to come into that darkness.

And this first week is supposed to be a week of hope.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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This is supposed to be a great time of year. So many decorations. So many lights. So many songs. So many movies. So many great parties. So many times of worship and fellowship.

But it does not feel great. I am nervous. I am unsettled. I am angry. I am feeling inadequate. I am bordering on despair. How can the world be the way it is today? How can all the things that have happened still happen in our world? How can there be so much hate? So much violence? So much close-mindedness?

I want so badly to be hopeful and believe that the world can be made right.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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The hope of Advent is that light is coming into the darkness.

It means we are in the darkness. It means we may not be able to see any light. It means we may be overwhelmed by dark.

The Light is coming.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

Post-Election Chaos; Now What?

Two statements that only serve to ratchet up arguing with no intent to create dialogue: “All protestors are lazy, whiny, crybabies who need to get over it.” “All Trump voters are racist, misogynist, and hateful.” Neither statement seeks to increase understanding or promote conversation. Both stand simply as “I am right and you are wrong.”

Two statements that are uncomfortable truths but can serve to create dialogue: “Trump’s campaign was filled with hateful rhetoric. People who were the targets of those messages are legitimately afraid. Even though you may not agree with the rhetoric, it has already stung. Listen. Hear the pain. Hear the fear.” “In the aftermath of the election, you may feel angry and wish to cry out. Do so. But then get up and start doing the things that will bring about unity in your community. Start being the person this world needs you to be.”

In my own little sphere of experience, I have already heard four stories of those rhetorical targets being dismissed, insulted, and told to leave (and one of those four is my oldest son). If you supported or are even just okay with President-Elect Trump, please know that there are people suffering because his rhetoric has emboldened people to act this way. You may not. You may hate it just as much as I do. So please speak up with me. Please encourage your elected officials to publicly denounce the hatred and abuse that is way too prevalent in our country right now.

Also in my little sphere of experience, I am witnessing people creating groups for dialogue and action. Friends are looking for ways to perform acts of kindness in their neighborhoods. People are volunteering at places like the IRC. They are donating to places like Pregnancy Resources. They are seeking people who are afraid and offering solace and refuge. MLK told us all that riots are the language of the unheard. The unheard are making their voices known this week. In the weeks to come, those voices can still be heard in the millions of subversive acts we perform: service, kindness, organizing, running for office.

If people on both sides truly want to come together and work through whatever the next four years will bring, we need a lot less of the first two statements and a lot more of the second two. We also will need a lot less talking and lot more listening. We will need to acknowledge more and more the reality and the fear that many people face. We will need to recognize the humanity in the people we see around us.  We will need to stand up for those who being attacked.

There is a lot to do. I hope we will do it together.

(And for those who profess to be Jesus followers, we need a lot less patriotism and a lot more cross-shaped people—but that may be another blog post in the future.)

Your Name Is Dulcinea

Over the weekend, I was able to see a production of Man of La Mancha. It is a powerful story based on the book Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. While there are several layers to the story, the main plot revolves around Don Quixote’s love and admiration for the woman he calls Dulcinea. When Don Quixote sees Dulcinea he knows he has found the perfect woman of virtue and beauty. She has done and can do no wrong.

The only problem is that Dulcinea is actually named Aldonza, and instead of being a virtuous woman she is a tavern wench. She can see nothing beautiful in herself or in her life. Throughout the play, Don Quixote continues to call her Dulcinea and speaks to her of her beauty and worth. And throughout the play, Aldonza continues to argue with him and tell him that he is unable to see the truth.

Near the end of the play, she boldly declares that she is and always will be Aldonza. Yet shortly after that, she is at the bedside of Don Quixote as he takes his last breath. When his companion, Sancho, looks at the woman on the other side of the bed, he calls her Aldonza. Then she stands up and declares, “My name is Dulcinea.”

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All of us have reason to doubt our own inner worth or beauty. All of us have seen the ugliness in our lives, because we are the ones who have done it. We have committed atrocities. We have spoken terrible words. We have given in because we were too weak to stand strong. We have relapsed. We have lied. We have cheated. We looked where we said we weren’t going to look.

And others have confirmed our opinions. We have been reminded by people in our lives of all of our failures. Sometimes, our parents have told us we will never amount to anything. Or they have derided our dreams as unrealistic or fanciful. Sometimes, our romantic partners have told us that we are just good enough and we are lucky they stick around. They cheat on us and tell us if only we were better it would not happen. Or they beat us and tell us if only we would act right. Sometimes, our friends remind us of all the mistakes we have made. Especially when we are trying not to make them anymore. They ask us if we think we are better than they are. They tell us we really won’t last doing the right thing. They tell us they will see us back again.

All of these messages pile up and crush us underneath their weight. No wonder so many of us think, and maybe even say out loud, that we will never be more than Aldonza.

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You are amazing. You may not know it, but you are. I know you have messed up. I know you have made some poor decisions. I know you have failed.

But that doesn’t matter to me. You are amazing.

You are beautiful. All those imperfections that you notice when you look in the mirror do not stand out to most people. I know you think they do, and that is hard to overcome.

But you are beautiful. You are amazing.

You are a hard worker. I see you trying to do the right thing in each situation every day. I know you are tired. I know you are overwhelmed. I know you do not have a 100% success rate.

But you are a hard worker. You are amazing.

You matter to me as a person. I know others have cut you down. I know others have told you they don’t like you. I know those messages hurt down deep. But your life is important. Who you are as a person is important. You have gifts and talents to offer that no one else can. You have knowledge and experience that no one else does. You have something I need. And hopefully, I have something you need. Let’s figure that out together. I know what other people have told you.

But you matter to me. You are amazing.

I have heard the stories. I have witnessed the mess. I have walked alongside some of you through the darkest moments of humanity. I know why you struggle. I know why you doubt. I know why you question.

I know why you think less of yourself. But remember this: You are amazing.

Your name is Dulcinea.

What Are You Going To Do Different?

“What are you going to do different?”

That is the question I was asked after my last relapse. I received the typical encouraging remarks: “Glad you’re back,” “It takes guts to admit a mistake,” and “You know I want to help you.”

But one person took me aside to ask that important question. What was going to be different? Obviously, what I was doing wasn’t working. If it was, perhaps I would not have picked up the drink that temporarily derailed my recovery.

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I was about three months sober. And the idea popped in to my head that I could drink again. It would just be one time. Okay, maybe a few times, but only on one night. Okay, maybe over a weekend, but still…that was going to be it.

I had two thoughts immediately in succession: 1. I need to tell my sponsor; 2. I can’t tell my sponsor, I am afraid of what he will think of me if I admit I want a drink.

Yes. I convinced myself that my sponsor, who had resisted giving in to any urges to drink and who volunteered to help me overcome my urges to drink, would think less of me if I admitted I had urges to drink. So I stayed silent. And I drank. And it was over a year before I finally quit again.

For me, the fear of speaking up mixed with my pride that did not want to admit weakness and concocted a brew more intoxicating than anything I ever drank.

When I finally decided to start working on sobriety got fired and had to start over, I was grateful for the encouragement I received at my 12 Step meetings. But I needed to face the question of what was going to change.

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Admitting that something needs to change can be a daunting task. If someone has begun the journey of recovery, a lot has already changed. When someone stops using their drug of choice, there is a significant physiological change. Behaviors and habits change so that the recovering addict is no longer around the temptation to use. Often, the people one spends time with will change. The places the addict will go change. There is a lot of change in recovery.

However, there is sometimes that one thing that doesn’t. It is not always from lack of trying. If you are living a life with 15 behaviors that need to change and you change 14 of them, you have done a lot of work. But to avoid working on that last one can be detrimental.

So when faced with the reality of a relapse, the recovering addict must ask, “What am I going to do different?”

This question is difficult because you may feel like you have already done a lot. You may feel overwhelmed at the amount of change that has already taken place in your life. But something happened. Something (or some things) was there that contributed to you picking up again.

For me, the answer was easy. Well, easy in that the answer was plain. I needed to talk more about my weaknesses. I had stayed silent during my struggle because I did not want to admit that I struggled. I had convinced myself that I could do anything and everything I needed to do and to acknowledge that I couldn’t was to acknowledge that I was weak and needy.

So the answer was plain; it was not easy.

I had made a number of changes. I was doing a lot of things differently. But now I was faced with the reality that there was one thing I did not want to change.

I did not want to ask for help.

But I also did not want to drink again.

So what was I going to do different?

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What do you need to change? What is still present in your life that is making sober living a challenge?

You must first acknowledge it; name it; own it. It’s there. It is present. Denial is not going to help. Admit out loud to yourself what that thing is.

Then find someone you can talk to. If you are in a 12 step group, talk to your sponsor. If you attend church, talk to your spiritual advisor. If you are in counseling, talk to your therapist. Whoever that person might be, talk with them.

As you talk, start listing out practical things you can do to address the issue. It may be establishing a new routine, creating new habits, or just simply spending a little more time talking with people. It may be something more drastic, like looking for a new job or new place to live. I cannot tell you what that might be.

But I can tell you that if something is impeding your progress in recovery, you need to remove it. I can guess that you will need help to do so. You must ask yourself this question: do you want to give in to your addiction again?

If the answer is no, then what are you going to do different?

America Is Drunk. Or: How To Maintain Sobriety In An Election Year

Let’s face it: America is drunk. How else can we explain all that has gone on, especially in the political realm, in the past year?

But once we acknowledge that reality, those who are addicts have to ask the question: how can I maintain my sobriety when so much is taking place that makes me so badly want a quick escape? This may not seem like it is something that should be a cause for any extra concern, but it really can be. There are a lot of emotionally charged issues being expressed with increasingly volatile rhetoric. This season can be a trigger for many who are fighting to maintain their sobriety.

First, there is a lot of fear right now. Is our country really not great? Has it ever been? Are we about to lose millions of job? Will our economy fall apart? How many terrorists are coming into our country? How many unhealthy people have access to guns? Can I trust any police officers? Why do people want to keep talking about race and ethnicity? Will we ever be safe?

Fear is a legitimate response to these and other questions. And when you combine the hyped up rhetoric with media coverage vying for ratings and social media noise vying for being the most obnoxious you get a concoction that is stronger than any brew anyone ever drank.

People in recovery need to acknowledge the fear that exists. Because it is not going away anytime soon; at least, the noise that is working to generate the fear isn’t. Fear is a big factor in turning to the drug or behavior of choice. Most of my drinking was driven by fear; especially fear of confrontation.

When fear goes unchecked, unacknowledged, un-dealt with, it can create a sense of imbalance, uncertainty, and agitation. As we continue to hear messages of fear from the mouths of the candidates, the news media talking heads, and our friends on social media, we must be open and find safe places and people to speak to. We must find our meetings, our sponsors, our trusted friends and family members, our spiritual advisors who can listen to us and remind us that when we live in today, nothing is as bad as many make it out to be.

Second, there is a lot of anger. Have you noticed that there is little dialogue? It’s mostly shouting. And it is a lot of all or nothing shouting, at that. “Choose your side.” “Agree with me completely or you’re wrong.” “How could anyone be so stupid?” “If you vote (fill-in-party-name-here) you are not American.”

Anger is a driving force behind addiction. Those in recovery know this. If you are in recovery, you know the acronym HALT. If you are not in recovery, you can ask someone what it means.

 

(Or I could tell you: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are four indicators that a relapse could happen soon. If an addict is experiencing one, he or she usually sees that as a warning sign. If two or more are present, steps need to be taken quickly—attend a meeting, call a sponsor, etc.)

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Between now and November 8, there will be a lot more anger. For a number of reasons, angry rhetoric rules the day in our political discourse. For some, it is an easy decision to just disconnect and not pay attention. But there are those who are truly thirsty for knowledge and information who will be constantly bombarded with messages designed to make you hate “the other.” In order to maintain one’s sobriety, anger needs to be released; because anger is the dubious luxury of the normal person, but for the addict, it is poison.*

So how does one maintain their sobriety in an election year?

The short answer is: “Just like every other day in every other year.” We take our sobriety one day at a time for a reason. When we are focused on staying clean, praying, reaching out to others, and performing acts of service, we will be able to maintain our sobriety even during the most chaotic times.

But some days, we will forget that. Some days we will be scrolling through our social media feeds and find a meme that sparks something down deep inside. Some days a conversation with a friend or family member will really get us going. And on those days, we need to stop and remember:

Anything that threatens our sobriety is not worth spending time on. Do we need to be informed? Do we need to research what each candidate thinks about the issues? Should we vote as responsible citizens? Yes. Yes. And maybe. But we do not need to participate in conversations and social media mudslinging that serve only to make people more emotional and less rational.

 

 

*Paraphrase from Alcoholics Anonymous, page 66.