The American Swastika

The first time I attended an AA meeting, I was six days sober. I read the poster of the 12 Steps. I thought to myself (confidently), “Wow! I’m already on Step 10!”

It was not long before I started drinking again.

Is that really a surprise?

You see, I was not honest. I was not honest with myself or my condition at that time. I wanted to believe that I had evolved so much faster than I truly had. I wanted to believe that by simply removing alcohol from system for six days I could ignore the hard work of self-reflection and living sober that was yet come.

I also was not honest in my recovery with my sponsor, my wife, my church, or my friends. I still kept secrets. I refused to admit all my wrongdoing. There was one secret in particular that I kept. It related to the ways I was getting the necessary funds to pay for all of my alcohol. (Essentially, what I defined as “borrowing” the State of New York defined as “extorting.”)

I was unwilling to acknowledge completely that alcohol was simply one part of the problem. It ran much deeper than drinking too much.

And so, because of that, I did not stay sober for long. I found myself drinking again a short while later. Only this time, I drank more often and I drank much more. I kept telling myself it was only a phase; it wasn’t that big a deal; I could stop anytime—pretty much all of the excuses you have all heard in every movie or TV show about addiction ever.

Because I could not come clean, I became much dirtier.

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In our country, we have not yet fully come to terms with our disease of racism. So it really is no surprise that events common in 1950 and 1900 and 1860 and since the earliest days of our nation were occurring still in 2017.

One of the starkest examples of this is that we still allow the American Swastika to fly.

The fact that many people in the country are still okay with and supportive of the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy shows that we are not being honest. People try to wipe away the hateful words that were associated with not only the symbols but also the very existence of the Confederacy.

We must be honest. We must be honest that the Articles of Confederacy stated that non-white people were inferior. We must be honest that at the heart of the Civil War was the desire to have the right to buy and sell human beings. We must be honest that the symbols that have gone up across the country did not go up right after the war; they were erected in 1900 with the proliferation of Jim Crow. They were erected in 1950 as a protest against the Civil Rights movement. These monuments were not intended as a way to preserve history, they were intended to intimidate and remind people they should stay in their place. We have tried to keep our racism and racist meanings behind our symbols a secret for too long.

The American Swastika still flies because, as a country, we have been unwilling to admit our wrongdoing.

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And so, because of that, we will continue to face events like we experienced this past weekend. We will never recover from the disease and addiction of racism for long until we finally decide to embark upon the self-reflection that is necessary for growth. We need to acknowledge that events like this past weekend are only one part of the problem. The true problem runs much deeper.

Until we come clean, we will continue to get dirtier.

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We all must acknowledge our wrongdoing—both in our actions and in our inaction; in our words and our silence. We must learn to listen. We must learn to face hard truths. We must give up holding on to only what we want, what we like, and what we are comfortable with. We must seek to journey to a place of recovery.

And that will come only with hard work. But that’s better than walking along blindly until another tragedy occurs.

 

*Artwork from https://venneccablind.deviantart.com/art/Bree-Newsome-542842829

Debating the Worth of My Existence

When news broke yesterday about the passing of Chris Cornell, I was saddened. Although I do not know him, I know his music. I love his voice, his poetry, his talent. I have spent many hours listening to his solo stuff, Soundgarden, Audio Slave, and Temple of the Dog. Knowing Soundgarden had reunited and was touring again brought a smile to my face.

I don’t really know why. Music does that to many of us, I guess.

But as more and more news began to spread, ultimately leading up to the report that it was suicide, the typical, and truly sad, predictable comments began to occur. The statements of “what a waste.” The jokes that are always in poor taste but pop up whenever something tragic happens.

I am used to this by now. In real life, tragedies happen and there is usually a manner of respect shown for the deceased and those left behind. But in social media and pop culture world, tragedies bring out the worst in people trying to bring attention to themselves.

His death is not occasion for a joke. His death is not the opportunity to decry all that is wrong with artists. His death is not the time to call it “a great waste.” His death is a tragedy. A wife is left widowed. Children are left without a father. Family members and friends will mourn his passing. And, in this instance, may even question if they played some role; if they should have done even more.

Chris Cornell’s death is no more tragic because he is a celebrity. But is no less tragic, either.

Cornell has spoken in the past about his struggle with drugs and alcohol. I do not know what his journey was like; if he was drunk or high that night or if he had been clean and sober for years. But that doesn’t matter.

But I do remember. I remember the places my addiction took me. I remember the nights when I was alone with my thoughts and it was not a great place to be. I remember the (mostly self-imposed) isolation. The days when my guilt beat me up for all the poor choices I was making and the nights when justification said “one more” couldn’t possibly make a difference. I remember receiving praise and compliments for my work yet believing in my self-talk which said I was not as good as the next person.

I was never suicidal. For that I am grateful. But there were many nights that I sat by myself and thought this world would be a better place if I was not in it. I loved my wife and my children. I loved the rest of my family. But really, would anyone miss me? Wasn’t I causing more trouble than I was worth? I was losing the will to fight to ever get well and I was hating the path that I was on.

Let me repeat: I was never suicidal. But there were a lot of days that I thought the only way I would overcome my addiction would be to die.

I don’t know Chris Cornell. He was a celebrity whose art I admired. However, maybe we can use the occasion of his reported suicide to ask people around us how they are doing—and actually want an answer. Maybe we can keep our eyes open for those who are isolating themselves. Maybe we can make sure to actually nurture relationships and not take them for granted.

Maybe we can reach out to families who are suffering loss. Maybe we can consider the power of our words and not speak them so carelessly.

Maybe we need to speak up for ourselves. Maybe you are the one who is hurting and you need to reach out for help.

I know the pain of being isolated. I know the uncertainty of wondering if my life is worth it. I know the difficulty of asking for help.

If you are hurting, please speak up. If you know someone who is hurting, please be kind.

When a tragedy occurs, avoid the temptation to “tsk” or to joke. Remember the pain that exists. Reach out and take care of those around you. Take care of yourself and speak up when necessary.

Remember that your life is worth it.

 

*The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK

What Is Truth

I want to learn how to break away from putting faith and trust in civic government. Lent Week 1, Day 3

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What is truth?

Seems to be a legitimate question to ask these days. Truth is apparently whatever you believe to be true as long as it is stated loudly and repeatedly by someone else.

Truth is when you read something somewhere that sounds vaguely like something you would agree with.

Truth has become little more than a commodity that is traded freely on the open market.

We currently live in a country where we elect people we know are lying to us. We have come up with some great words to cover over what they are doing: “spin,” “exaggeration,” “double speak,” “putting the best face on the story.”

It is almost as if we don’t care about honesty and integrity anymore. Until a story pops up where we find out someone (usually someone we disagree with) has been caught in a lie. Then we care. But usually, we only care because now our side has been vindicated.

So what is truth? Really?

Jesus and Pilate have a conversation before Jesus is crucified. Pilate asks Jesus that question.

I assume that for Pilate, truth was whatever the Roman Emperor said it was. For Pilate, truth was whatever he said it was in his own little province. Truth was whatever the people with power said it was.

For many years, my truth was that I was controlled by my craving for alcohol. My truth was that I had to drink daily in order to survive. My truth was that I needed to go to any lengths to get my next bottle.

My truth was that I was a worthless human being and the only way I could stop feeling so terrible was to drown my emotion with more alcohol.

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Funny thing, though: although that was “my truth,” it was never true. Although the truth for Pilate was that the one with power makes the truth, it was never true.

And although people currently in power in our government say that verified facts are not true and verified falsehoods are true, they are telling us they make the truth. Only no matter how loud they say it, it is not true.

So what is truth?

Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate’s question with words. Jesus goes to the cross. Jesus goes to the tomb. Jesus comes back.

Might makes right? Hardly.

Truth is not determined by our ideology, philosophy, ethnicity, or nationality. Truth is not determined by our echo chambers. Truth is not determined by our political affiliations. In fact, the more tied we are to our politics, the less able we are to actually hear truth.

Pilate asked Jesus question, “What is truth?” and then went ahead and acted according to his truth.

I asked, “What is truth?” and then drowned my existence with alcohol.

Many of us are asking (maybe even demanding) for the truth to come out and then celebrating our political victories and ignoring our political shortcomings.

Maybe we need to follow Jesus’ example. When Jesus hears the question, no words are spoken. Jesus just carried out an act of obedience; an act of love; an act of mercy.

Maybe the truth will come when we quit talking and we start serving.

Maybe the truth will come when we quit trying to find it within our society’s power structures.

Maybe the truth has already come. And we just need to be silent and let go of our need to be right.

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?

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?