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.

What Are You Grateful For?

Have you ever just stopped to be grateful?

In the past three weeks, I have shared many things about struggle, temptation, being still, addiction, and other things that can sometimes be hard to deal with. And I believe we need to talk about them more. We need to be more vulnerable. We need to be more honest about our struggles.

But we also need to be more grateful. We need to name the things in our lives we are thankful for, even when we think we have nothing to be thankful for.

So what is it for you?

It could be anything. Some days, I am able to list item after item of things I am thankful for. Other days, about the only thing I can name is that I got out of bed that morning.

I have met people who were facing some of the most difficult struggles anyone could face in life. Yet they were grateful.

I have met people in the midst of grief and loss. Yet they were grateful.

I often hear stories of victimization of the worst kinds. Yet the victims have become grateful.

So what are you thankful for?

Today, I am thankful for my students at FaithWorks of Abilene. Today, I am thankful for the young people at the church I attend. Today, I am thankful for my family.

So even in the midst of fatigue and exhaustion and worry, today I can say I am grateful.

What about you? What are you grateful for?

When Thanksgiving Ends

Holidays…are weird.

They are times of excitement and joy. They are times filled with busy-ness. They are times that bring stress and anxiety. On some holidays, there is even a little bit of a type of historical-multiple-personality-disorder going on.

Thanksgiving is no exception:

Lots of food. But someone has to cook it.

Lots of family and friend get-togethers. But a lot of miles have to be travled.

Lots of pageants chronicling the tale of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. But the knowledge of imperialism and colonialism that almost wiped out a race of people.

Thanksgiving is at the same time a day to be thankful for all that we have while gluttonously devouring way too much food. And that is followed by Black Friday.

Although Thanksgiving is indeed a call to be grateful, that thanks-giving often ends way too soon.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when the last bite of the meal is taken. At that point, it is time to move away from the table and go sit in front of the television while slipping into a food-induced coma.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when Black Friday shopping begins. It is no longer time to be content when there are door busters to be had.

For some, Thanksgiving ends when the Christmas decorations come out. We have so segmented each holiday that we fail to see any overlap. So we put one away to make room for Nativity scenes and the Santas.

For some, Thanksgiving never really begins. For some people, holidays are just a reminder of what all they do not have. For some people, Thanksgiving is another day to watch other people be happy. For some people, the despair felt every day becomes even more heightened on Thanksgiving Day.


The holiday season is a scary season for recovering addicts. There are several reasons for this. First, a lot of drinking takes place during the holidays. For those who are addicted, holiday memories include intoxication. Some habits are hard to break.

Second, holidays create a lot of stress. Drugs and alcohol, in addition to being unhealthy and destructive, are really good stress relievers. Other anxiety reducing activities need to be identified and practiced.

Third, when holidays create joy for some people, they intensify despair for others. Holidays are a reminder of relationships lost—both family and friends. Holidays are sometimes overwhelming evidence of “what could have been.”

When people are depressed, the solution is not watching others be happy. So when holidays come around, it often creates more feelings of dis-ease and lack of stability and longing and misery.

So for a lot of people, their Thanksgiving ends before it ever really begins.


How do we become a people for whom Thanksgiving never ends?

Obviously, the day on the calendar is going to come and go. The season of the Thanksgiving holiday is here and then gone. And to be certain, there are many signs of thankfulness shown throughout the month leading up to the fourth Thursday of November. There are lists posted on walls in houses all across the country. Social media fills up with gratitude challenges as people post something new every day. Many families will share stories of thankfulness around the table as they share the meal. A lot of good-hearted people spend time cooking, serving, and sharing life and resources with people who are in need.

But too often, those activities of gratitude cycle out with the turn of the calendar. And for others, the ability to express gratitude just seems like too much to bear.

But we can change that. So today, I post a new Thanksgiving challenge. And you don’t have to write it on a paper and stick it to your wall. You don’t have to post it to social media with a hashtag. But if we all do this, it can help us either continue our thanksgiving or renew the gratitude that is missing in our lives.

First, every day when you wake up, think of one thing you are grateful for. It can be simple: the bed you are in, socks, toothpaste, alarm clocks, toast, coffee, anything. But each day think of one new thing (in other words, don’t just think “coffee” every morning. #confession).

Second, every day when you go to bed, think of one thing that happened that day that you are thankful for. A kind word. A meal. A job well done. Survival.

That’s it. That’s all. That’s how we keep thanksgiving going.

So whether you are the type of person who shoves off from Thanksgiving once the meal is done or you are the type of person who can never get into the holiday because life just sucks, try these two things. Be thankful for one thing in the morning and one thing in the evening.

Because when thanksgiving ends, life becomes tough. Let’s keep giving thanks.

I Am a Grateful Recovering Alcoholic–GAH!

When I started attending AA meetings, some people would introduce themselves as “grateful recovering alcoholics.”

I thought they were crazy.

It was hard for me to be grateful early in sobriety. It was hard for me to recognize anything to be thankful for.

But slowly, that awareness grew. Some things were simple: spouse, children, parents and siblings, church family, shelter. Others took more a little more work to recognize: a part-time overnight grocery store job, the care and concern of the people who fired me, those people at the meetings who kept saying the same thing every day.

And at some point along the way, I don’t even remember when, I started saying, “I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.”

Being grateful is not always easy. Sometimes, the circumstances of life can seemingly drown out the good that exists. Sometimes, our focus is so much on the present that we cannot step back to view the bigger picture.

Sometimes, we have to say, “I’m grateful,” through gritted teeth.

When my partner does not live up to my expectations in our relationship, I am still grateful to have her in my life.

When my child is undergoing several medical tests that may or may not reveal something serious, I am still grateful I am blessed with children.

When my job has several tough days in a row, I am still grateful for work.

When I think I might want a drink to drown out the noise in my head, I am still grateful that I am experiencing emotions.

When I am so busy and overwhelmed with life, I am still grateful to have life.

When my shoelaces break, I am still grateful to have shoes on my feet.

Every Sunday, my home church does a prayer time called Prayers of the People. Yesterday, the church wrote out prayers of thanksgiving in addition to the normal weekly prayers. On my prayer card, I listed some of the experiences I have endured this year. It has not been easy.

But I could still say I am grateful. I am grateful that hope exists in the midst of grief and despair. I am grateful that a church family could and would surround me and hold me up on my weakest days. I am grateful for a youth group at our church that exhibits a maturity and spirituality far beyond their years.

So yes: I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.

I am grateful because I am sober today.

I am grateful because I can recognize things to be thankful for. Even on the hard days.

Thanksgiving can be difficult. Let’s face it: all the holidays can be difficult. Trying to maintain sobriety on a regular day is hard enough, but trying to maintain sobriety when given time off of work, shopping amongst crazy throngs of people, and dealing with family drama reserved for this time of year can seem almost unbearable.

So let’s start being thankful right now. What are you thankful for? Start working on a list. Remember it when things get crazy at the end of this week.

No matter how tightly you have to grit your teeth, open your mouth, and grumble the words with me:

I am grateful.

Veteran’s Day: Thank You and Forgive Us

Today is Veteran’s Day.

Thank you to all veterans who have served in any of the military branches. I am related to many who have served. I am friends of many more. I sincerely appreciate the hard work, dedication, devotion, and sacrifice that come with serving in the military.

Thank you.

President Wilson said this on the occasion of the first observance of Veteran’s Day, originally called Armistice Day:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…

Thank you all who have served, are serving, and will serve in the future. This country and its people do appreciate your service.

However, in addition to thanks, we also must say, “Forgive us.”

Forgive us, for we have failed our veterans in worst ways possible.


Because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy.

About 12% of the adult homeless population is veterans. That means that on any given night, over 49,000 veterans have no home to sleep in. Mental health issues are prevalent among veterans; especially those who have seen combat. PTSD is probably the most well-known issue, but there is so much more. Add to that, a large number of these mental health issues co-exist with alcoholism and drug addiction. When soldiers go untreated, it becomes difficult to secure a job and find a home.

If we are truly going to be a nation that shows sympathy, we should first start showing sympathy to those we honor for their sacrifice and service.

With peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

We live in a country of peace. We live in a country of justice. If you are lucky enough to be a part of the privileged racial and socio-economic classes.

Look no further than Ferguson, MO. Look no further than the mascot of the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C. Look no further than the defensive reactions of privileged people to both of those statements.

Our veterans fought for freedom. For many in our country today, freedom is a dream that is not yet realized. If we are truly going to be a nation that exhibits peace and justice to the nations, let us first exhibit peace and justice to the members of our own nation.


So today we say thank you. Even if we are conscientious objectors or pacifists, we still say thank you to our veterans and their families for the sacrifices they have made.

Yet we also say forgive us. Forgive us for we have turned our backs on our veterans too many times. Forgive us for we have not upheld the freedom for which they fought.

Let us begin today to say thank you by caring for our sick and homeless veterans. Let us begin today to say thank you by advocating for peace and justice for all of our citizens.

After all, that’s what Veteran’s Day is supposed to be about.


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