One Blank Screen At A Time

Whenever I open my word processing program*, I stare at a blank screen. Sometimes, I know exactly what words are going to end up there. Sometimes, I stare and stare and nothing comes.

But whether I know what I want to say or not, I always begin with a blank screen.

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Some mornings, I wake up and know exactly what I want (or need) to do that day. Some days, my schedule is filled from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed. I just bounce from activity to activity accomplishing all the necessary tasks. (At least, on a good day. On bad days, I struggle to get to each activity and my success is limited.)

Some mornings, I wake up and wonder what the day will hold. I have no idea what I will be doing until I start doing it.

But whether I know what I need to do or not, I always begin with a new day.

One of the key phrases in 12 Step recovery groups is, “One day at a time.” It is said so much it is often heard as cliché. Yet there is much wisdom in this phrase. One of the challenges many people face in early sobriety is thinking about how difficult it will be to stay sober for a long time. But the goal of AA is not long-term sobriety.

The goal of AA is stay sober today.

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When I first began my sobriety journey, my sponsor thought that living one day at a time was still too large of a time frame for me. He encouraged me to live one hour at a time. For me, one day was still an opportunity to think too much and get overwhelmed with all I needed to do.

It took some time, but I finally realized that every day I woke up was a new day, a clean slate. I could not do anything to change the actions of the previous day. I did not have any power to control what was going to happen in the future. All I could do was decide to stay sober that day.

This practice of sobriety has carried over into every other aspect of my life (with varying levels of success). When I am starting to get overwhelmed with everything life is throwing at me, I step back and think, “What can I do about this today? What can I do in the next hour?”

There are seasons at work when each day is hectic. There are so many deadlines and so many people and so much drama that I am exhausted by the time I get to the end of the day. And then I have to wake up and do it all over again the next day! If I am not careful, I get stressed out trying to figure out how to solve each dilemma and fix every problem and meet every deadline. I get so caught up in trying to figure out how to make it the next month that I forget to focus on what is going on that day.

At home, my wife is working on a Master’s degree while working three part-time jobs. Our three kids are all teenagers. Our oldest is about to begin his last year of high school. There have been days when I am trying to figure out how I am going to survive his senior year and get him moved in to the dorm that I have forgotten to remember that we don’t even know for sure which college he will be going to. I can so wrapped up in next year that I miss the joy of what is going on in this day.

I need to remember my blank screen. Each day is a beginning. Each day is a gift. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Let’s all plan to live one day at a time.

*Apparently, I should be ashamed that I still use Microsoft Word…

What makes it difficult for you to live one day at a time? What can you do to remember your blank screen?

Tired

Is just “being tired” good enough?

I mean, is being tired a good enough reason to quit doing that thing that you never should have started? Is it okay to simply say I want to stop harming myself in a variety of ways?

Is it a good enough reason to start doing the right thing? Is it okay to say I want to make healthy choices now?

Just because I’m tired?

12 Step groups have a saying: “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.” But is being tired a legitimately good reason to make changes in one’s life?

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Being tired means a lot of things.

It means I am worn out. It means I have been trying to do this on my own. It means I am ashamed of what I have done. It means I am afraid of consequences both current and ongoing. It means I am ready to give up. I am finally ready to admit I need some help.

Maintaining a life of addiction is exhausting. Continuing to live a life of hypocrisy takes a ton of energy. There is so much planning and plotting that needs to take place. There are so many stories that need to be developed. There is checking and re-checking to make sure the same lies are being told. There is constant paranoia of everything that is so thinly held together finally falling apart.

And then there is the guilt. Guilt at damaging one’s own physical and spiritual body. Guilt at damaging our family relationships, work relationships, friend relationships. Guilt at letting people down. Guilt at feeling so guilty that the only way we can get over it is to take more of the drug that led us to feel guilty in the first place.

All of it is so overwhelmingly exhausting.

But I still ask: is that enough to start making changes? Shouldn’t there be some sort of light bulb idea, a moment of clarity, an urge of a convicted conscience to do the right thing?

I don’t know. Maybe.

What I do know is this: I just wanted to stop.

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Addicts in early recovery are tired people. Their bodies are going through withdrawal. Their routines have been altered. They are starting to pick up the pieces and mend that which was broken. Some people in early recovery have difficulty sleeping because their drug of choice was a depressant. Their bodies don’t know how to go to sleep without it. Some people in early recovery do nothing but sleep because they are so depressed and filled with fear they do not know what else to do.

Addicts in early recovery are not looking to be coddled. Or to be seen as a victim. Or to be pitied. But they would love to not be tired anymore.

And that is why being tired is a good enough reason to start making changes. Because on some days in early recovery, I didn’t want to not drink. I wanted to not be tired.

I was appreciative in those early days of recovery when people simply said, “Good to see you,” and meant it. Because I hated answering “How are you?” But I was grateful for those people who were genuinely glad to see me. I was grateful for the numerous people who babysat my children so that I could go to a meeting. Or spend time alone with my spouse.

I was grateful for those people who supported and encouraged me because I was too tired to do anything on my own anymore.

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For those of you who are not addicts but are in relationship with people who are, please remember this: you do not need to fix them. Indeed, you cannot. Please also remember that addicts are not always bad people. They are often good people mired in a struggle that they want badly to overcome.

But here is what you can do: help them rest. Sit with them. Work with them. Worship with them. Go to movies with them. Eat meals with them. Babysit for them. Find even more creative ways you can help them rest.

Because sometimes, they are just really tired.

Lessons Learned From The Bottom Of The Bottle

Early in my recovery, I kept hearing the phrase “grateful recovering alcoholic.” I hated it. What was there to be grateful for? I had lost my job, my young children were confused as to why everything was so different, and my wife didn’t trust me. We were in danger of losing our house and I took a part-time job working overnights. Our church home changed. People who had been hurt by me were still figuring out how to interact with me. I was an embarrassment to myself and to my family.

And you want me to say I’m grateful?

It took me a while to learn, but yes. I was growing in gratitude. It took me a while to realize it, but I could indeed be grateful for everything that happened. As many people in 12 step groups put it, “Everything that has happened to you has brought you to this point in your life.”

And there was some good in my life. And there has been even more. So I learned to say that I was a grateful recovering alcoholic.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wish I could take away the pain I inflicted on other people. I wish the hurt that I caused had not happened. But, I learned a lot from my addiction and continue to learn more in my recovery.

First, I learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. If anyone ever thinks that an addict is lazy or lacks determination or has no drive, that just reveals that they don’t really, truly know any addicts. Do you know how hard I had to work to keep my addiction a secret? Do you know how difficult it was to hide my bottles and credit card bills? Do you know how difficult it was to inventory and schedule restock trips so that I never ran out?

I do not say any of that to be flippant. I say that because when I was drinking, I was determined to make sure I could keep drinking. And I would do anything I could to continue. And if I could forth that much effort on something so destructive, just imagine how much I could accomplish if I would apply all of that on things that were constructive.

Second, I learned that when it comes to addiction, I am really no different from anyone else. I love the anonymity of 12 step groups. But do know why anonymity exists? It is not primarily to protect the identity of people who attend. The main purpose of anonymity is to say, “We are all here for sobriety. It does not matter who we are or where we come from. We want to get well. Titles, fame, money, status, all of that is not important here.”

It does not matter that I was a middle class, white, preacher’s kid. It did not matter that I was college educated. It did not matter that I still lived in a house with my wife and kids. I was a drunk. And I needed help.

Third, no matter how far you sink, God is still there. And this is a very annoying truth. God’s back is never turned. Even when you want it to be. Even when you are ready to give up on yourself. Even when you think you are unworthy of any love or grace. God says, “Sorry. I am not ready to give up on you.”

There is so much more. There are days that I wish I did not have to go through the bottle to come to these realizations, but most days I realize this: I am grateful for the lessons I have learned; I am grateful for the ways I have been changed; I am grateful for what I have in my life.

And that gratitude only came when the bottle was finally empty.

I Need To Talk With Somebody

It was one of the worst days of my life. I had relapsed. I had been fired. I had spent several days out of town detailing all of my failures to my wife. And now, I had to go back to my AA homegroup and tell them I had been lying to them and had been drinking for several months.

But first, I was going to have to tell my sponsor.

So I arrived at the church basement. Church basements are popular with AA groups. As I entered the basement, I walked right up to the door to the meeting room. But I could not walk in. Too much shame. Too much guilt. Too much failure.

So I went to the kitchen and hid. But my sponsor still saw me. He walked up to me. He knew. I didn’t know how, but he knew. He asked me what was wrong.

In a weak, quivering voice I told him. I was so ashamed. But he responded as if it was not a surprise that a recovering alcoholic in early recovery would actually relapse. Go figure.

And then he did two things that I will never forget. He told me I needed to go into the meeting and open up about my relapse. And the second thing he did was one of the greatest gifts anyone ever gave: he grabbed my hand and walked me into the meeting room.

It was one of the hardest things I ever did. And I may not have done it if I had been alone.

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This week, I have said the church needs more transparency, we must learn to listen to others, and we need to learn how to “sit with it.”

To wrap us this week, I want to say that we need to learn how to ask for help.

There are a number of things we all must do in this life. Most of them require the assistance of another human being. Whether you want to admit it or not, you need help.

We don’t like needing help. We want to be strong. We want to be self-sufficient. We want to be in control. We want to prove to ourselves and others that we are capable of doing all that we need to do.

And, forgive the bluntness, but that is often a complete and utter crock.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not be sober today if it was not for the help of countless people.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not have a relationship with God and Jesus today if it was not for the counsel, teaching of support of countless people.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not still be married to my wife today if it was not for the help, encouragement, and swift kicks in the pants offered by countless people.

I can absolutely, positively say I would not be doing well at my job if not for the generosity, partnership, and expertise of countless people.

I hope you are picking up on the theme.

Twelve years ago, I was ready to check out of life. Ten and half years ago, I was ready to check out again. And I would have.

But I did something that went against every fiber of my being: I asked for help.

And the rest is history.

My Life In Recovery

In yesterday’s post, I shared my story of alcoholism and recovery. Most of what I do today has been inspired and driven by that experience: my return to school, my career, my volunteer work. It has affected my family in many ways, both positive and negative.

But my life in recovery is not consumed with daily thoughts of addiction and recovery.

When I first stopped drinking, I had been fired. Our family was facing some financial difficulty and a lot of uncertainty. In those days, I woke up every morning wondering how I could make it through the day without drinking. I went to bed every night surprised that I had made it another day.

But that was early on. That is a common experience for anyone recovering from any addiction. When someone removes an addictive substance from their bodies or stops performing an addictive behavior, every part of life is affected. And for a while, every waking action is directly impacted by the bizarre, unknown, scary shift our bodies and minds are going through.

But that does not last forever.

Today, thoughts of drinking and sobriety do not consume my attention. I don’t wake up wondering if today is the day that I relapse. I don’t go through the day constantly looking over my shoulder afraid of the next temptation that will come my way. It is no longer a surprise to go to bed sober.

But I do view every day as a gift.

I still attend 12 Step meetings to help process issues that come up (and, yes; some days I need meetings more than others). It also allows me to interact with other people at various stages of addiction and recovery. It allows me to share community and life with people—some of whom speak wisdom into my life and some of whom need to hear a word from me. I still choose to not drink. (For me, this is not negotiable.)

I have sought out and benefit greatly from several spiritual mentors who help guide me. They hold me accountable. They keep me honest. They have allowed me safe spaces to be open and vulnerable.

I am still heavily involved in church and volunteer opportunities. My faith is important and I need to find ways for that faith to be active. It is important to get my mind off of myself and on to others.

And I just live every day. I wake up, go to work, share meals with friends, talk with my family, attend school and extra-curricular activities.

My “life in recovery” is exactly that: life. I don’t live in fear of what might happen, I live in gratitude of all that continues to happen each and every day. As with everyone else, I have good days and bad days. I have days that I glide through and days I struggle through.

But every day is a gift. I will enjoy each one to the best of my ability—living in gratitude and not fear.