Tag Archives: AA

Waiting again for the miracle

There was a time when I felt mired very close to that place we call “the bottom.” A miracle seemed the best hope, maybe the only hope. I’d try to step outside the mess during that time and somehow imagine my way forward to a life that made sense. It seemed remote at best. Impossible at worst. Time and again I found myself thinking, praying, hoping, even begging for the “miracle” that would set my life to rights.

The miracle came. Undeniably. I can point to it there, there, over there and here, in so many places. I’m sure it came.

But I’m also sure it never once came as I expected. Never once came in the simple math of asked for equals answered prayer, like spiritual equations I’ve heard so many preachers promise. It didn’t arrive like a torrential downpour that made me gaze up to the heavens with a stupid happy expression over the obvious miraculous intervention. I pictured that many times. It never once became a reality.

But here’s the thing: I have no doubt that waiting for the miracle was the right thing to do.  The miracles came like dew. Everywhere, yet hardly noticeable. Constant, yet seemingly evaporating before the day went very far at all.

A skeptic would say they weren’t miracles at all.

Skeptics question all sorts of things that others insist are true, like love, like faith, like “signs” and especially miracles. They are fueled by often being right. Let’s be clear. The skeptics are right far more than they are wrong.

We believers in miracles are often wrong.

I think it’s by design. If miracles were that easy to see, we’d all want them, like a genie in a bottle. We’d miss the giver of the miracles and the reason for the miracles and all the other stuff to be learned. That’s why the saints call faith a “mystery.” We can’t know it all. We see, at best, like a glimpse. We are often wrong about what we see and experience. We are often wrong about our miracles. As I look back over the last decade and beyond, I realize I am most always wrong about what God is up to in any given moment.

It was precisely in recognizing how wrong I was that I began to see the miraculous dew that kept my life fresh and growing and vibrant in ways I couldn’t have dreamed up. God’s plan for me far outpaced even what I could plan for myself when dreaming of a miracle.

So why on Earth would I ever think the miracles stopped? This hit me the other day as I listened to a favorite song from singer Marc Cohn who sang,

Yeah, I’m willing to wait for a miracle
willing to wait it through
willing to wait for a miracle
what else am I gonna do 

I have these issues in my life that seem undone. I convince myself that God planned this life then forgot to deal with some really important shit.  I want to fix it all myself. I want to just finish the job. God then asks, “are you willing to wait for the miracle…?”

In AA they have this phrase: “Don’t give up right before the miracle.” It’s compelling to think about. Discouragment can pile on. The slog of recovery can become what seems like an impossible burden. Addicts think about just tossing it in. At those times if we hold on just a bit more, the miracle arrives.

I know this well. And yet… and yet. I still have to remind myself to be willing to wait for the miracle.

I’m living the miracle every day and yet far too often I’m not nearly as happy about it as I would expect. The pressures of the moment, the lack of perspective, the stress I allow to creep back around the edges, the lack of balance that knocks me off stride all conspire to rob me of joy and hijack the gratitude.

When I Iact ungrateful, I make my life more difficult even as it is infinitely better. I choose to be less than happy because I look around and see the need for more miracles. I get anxious about what I can’t change. I stress that I don’t have a plan better than looking to God and saying, “help.” Even now, that place, that dependence is perhaps exactly what God has in mind. Still.

Though I believe I shouldn’t need the miracle any longer, I do. Because that’s the plan. I may be a long, long way from bottom, but I don’t ever want to be a long, long way from faith in the plan that God has that I can’t see.

So the song reminds me. I am best when waiting for the miracles. I am best when I’m willing to wait it through. With so much evidence of blessedness in my life, what the hell else am I gonna do?

Mr. Potato God could disappoint at time of need

When it comes to spirituality, I am a lot of things, and a lot of labels. I best describe me as an Anabaptist Christian Liberal with Catholic leanings seasoned by spiritual mystics from various practices and faiths. My spiritual exercises include yoga, physical exertion, prayer, liturgy, meditation, Bible study and reading.

I guess you could describe me as eclectic. 

But here’s what I am not: God.

And I have no interest in the job.

You should all breathe a sigh of relief. If I were God, we’d all be screwed.

I worry however that The Nones, that 59 million-strong swell of people who don’t associate with any one religion, may trick themselves into thinking they are God. What may start out as an earnest search for truth may become a lazy default that defines God or rejects God based on personal needs and wants or something so banal as convenience. We are too lazy to find God, we don’t want to ascribe to someone else’s view of God, so we simply dismiss God or invent our own.

The end result is what I call Mr. Potato God, a bizarre concoction of our own making that helps our deluded selves feel a bit better, but matters not at all.

I trod a fine line here and one that’s hard to get right without pissing off a whole host of 59 million people who I would love to connect with.  Still, I think its important so I’ll try to get it right.

By all rights, I am one of The Nones. I do resemble them. Like many of The Nones, I am educated, under the age of 55 and spiritually curious. Rather than accept the dogma of a single brand of faith, I am guilty of picking and choosing a bit. From the above description of my faith it would be easy to think I just pick and chose my faith from a buffet, defining God however best suits me.

It’s a fair accusation and assumption, but I don’t  think it is accurate. I am not the one who decides my faith. I am not inventing a God that works for me. To be blunt, I don’t need a God I can create. Instead, I see God as something of a puzzle. When a piece slides into place it’s not because I cut it to fit, but because it belongs right there. I may not have a good grasp of the whole puzzle but I know when a piece belongs.

The problem is not God, it’s me: my limitations, my lack of faith and my moral decay that keeps me from living On Earth as it is in Heaven.

That’s what transformation is all about. Knowing God in truth. God is God. The ways we understand Her are as varied as the types of tropical fish in the ocean times a million. Spiritual roads are varied but in the end, if truth is sought and love is found, there is God.

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Many times along my spiritual trek I have wanted to fit God in where I felt He should go. When my life hit bottom I pleaded, insisted and convinced myself the miracle would be a comin’ and I’d be given a reprieve. I couldn’t have been more wrong, time and time again. I learned to humbly accept that God is untamed and unbowed. I must discover Her, not invent her to suit my needs.

I found God more in my suffering than I ever did in times of so-called blessing. The Buddhists and the Christian mystics had this figured out long ago. It took so much pain to understand it. Believe me, if I were God, or even allowed to make God, I’d remove the suffering part of things. But I am not and suffering remains a part of the journey.

I am convinced the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was a prophetic gift from God. It’s power is in the spiritual truths the steps follow. It’s a spiritual program and has been since its discovery by a couple of desperate drunks willing to seek God and try anything to stay sober.

But the notion that a Higher Power is whatever we want it to be remains a difficult one for me. I understand the need from an addict’s standpoint to start with whatever we can imagine God to be. But at some point along the 12-step path, we must allow the Higher Power to unveil itself regardless of what we can imagine. That’s how the 12-step founders saw it and I think they were right. I think we’ve shape-shifted this idea into places it wasn’t meant to go. We’ve made a Higher Power that is little more than a Mr. Potato God.

In the end such a God will disappoint.

My default preference is toward atheism. Mentally, life would be easier if it were random and death final. It suits my built-in recklessness. It explains the epidemic of selfishness and arrogance I see today. It makes idiocy like anti-social media make sense.

But in the core of my being I know God to exist. I’ve met the spirit in certain moments. In times of acute suffering, disappointment, failure, injustice I have recognized the presence of God with me. In times of utter joy, grace, blessing and beauty I feel God’s touch and breath. Nothing else has ever so radically redefined my life.

The challenge for me over the past thirty-two year off-road trek with God has not been to decide if I believe, it has been to uncover who it is that has called me by name. I only want to know the real, true, creator God. I only seek truth.

I find puzzle pieces from many different expressions of faith. This is what makes me like The Nones. I’m confident that a vast number of that vast number of The Nones have experiences and spiritual journey’s similar to my own. They too don’t think they are God.

But we all must walk lightly. Too often our need defines what we insist God be. By definition God can’t be so minimized and remain deity. In those times it takes great courage and relentless honesty to search for the living God.

The Nones are wary of those peddling religious certitude and there I join them wholeheartedly. God is a mystery and will remain so. The puzzle is never fully filled until the other side of Heaven on Earth. So we don’t know everything. We don’t even know how much we don’t know. This is why we reject those who insist they do. This is why we pick and choose a bit. Not because we think we are inventing a God of our choice–each making our own Mr. Potato God–but because we think truth is worth discovering wherever and whoever has a piece of it.

But this difference, this central idea of God being God and not us creating Him, is a vital one for all spiritual seekers, Nones or not.

Friends of Urban Forest fill holes with life

If you look out a window in the San Francisco you will likely see many things: a homeless person, pedestrians, a distant sail on the bay, almost always a restaurant and coffee shop, maybe a bridge, city lights, or from the right vantage point one of the many fine examples of public art, some of which pre-date two massive earthquakes and numerous fires. It’s a beautiful, unique mosaic of a unique city teaming with life.

But look out any window in the city and it is almost guaranteed you will see a tree.  Trees dot the city like a dot-to-dot puzzle with few long lines between numbers, filling every nook and cranny with life-giving, Earth-saving, global-warming-combating beauty.

It takes a collective effort to have that many trees in the hardened cityscape of an urban city, but no group is more responsible that a small, relentless non-profit called Friends of the Urban Forest. Founded in 1981, FUF has added more than 45, 000 trees to the 49 square-mile city limits. That’s almost half of the city’s entire tree canopy. Its volunteers spread out most Saturday’s either revitalizing a neighborhood street or as replacing dead and dying trees in diverse neighborhoods.  The organization works with homeowners to ensure proper care as well as conducts follow-up visits to trees it planted to ensure they are thriving. FUF @SFUrbanForester does much more, including educational and outreach work.

The core work is simple and effective. Make or find a hole in the concrete:

2015-01-24 10.10.44

and fill it with a living, breating, helping, beautifying tree:

2015-01-24 10.20.23

which is exactly what The Bride and The Youngest One and I did this weekend.

2015-01-24 12.06.30

Turns out there is quite a bit that goes into making sure and urban tree will thrive. Our planting leader Ruth, who recruited us in the first place with her passion for the service, explained how the root balls had to be redirected.

2015-01-24 10.24.05

Other long-time dedicated volunteers, like Vinny the Taxi Driver and Barry and Christina helped us newbies be useful while teaching us a great deal about trees.

We don’t shy away from the idea that a big, big part of our sober life involves service. The genius of AA discovered the importance of service from the outset. Its priority is clear, the 12th step, the last one that keeps on going and going as our life expands far away from the self-centered, narrow destruction of our addictions. Soon service becomes a habit, just part of what we do. That’s why we ended up on Saturday digging holes and plunking in trees.

We were one of four crews that fanned out that day, which by all accounts was pretty normal. Such is the significant, steady and ongoing commitment of FUF to the work, and why it was a good fit for our own desire to give back in a meaningful way, while spending time together. At one point Vinny sat back and let the three of us plant our very own tree. How oddly pleasurable to do such a simple task and yet it do it well and know that on a most concrete street with plenty of weeds poking through the sidewalk and very few trees, a tree we planted would stick around for seemingly a very, very long time.

2015-01-24 11.20.22

It was a good day.

20 reasons why I’m an alcoholic

I’m a list maker. It’s nearly a compulsion. I have lists everywhere. I have lists of my 12 favorite books, my five favorite baseball parks, my all-time baseball team, my to-do lists for tomorrow, my to-do lists for the month, the list of stuff I want to do around the house… well, whatdya know, Ijust made a new list: a list of lists.

I got a problem here, I know.

Anyway, I came across an old list I made up shortly after I got out of rehab. My first sponsor was the first guy I could find, who was a homeless guy with just a few teeth, a terrible smoking habit and a serious commitment to Alcoholics Anonymous. I liked him and he prodded me forward. One of the ideas he had was to make a list of why I thought I ended up a boozer. Like sick ’em to a dog, I made my list.

Looking back on it now, it still rings true. But I’m so far removed from that guy that I read it now with a sense of freedom. That’s what they mean when we say we celebrate recovery. At first the idea of never drinking again sounds like a death sentence. I truly believed life would never be fun again. I didn’t believe I’d never drink again. Now, not only am I having the time of my life, I don’t even want to drink. It’s amazing how the brain changes.

I share this list today as nothing more than an oddity, a peek back to a much more difficult time. But if you’re there… wondering if you have a problem or knowing you have one and can’t possibly imagine life without booze, well, read on. Here’s why I am an alcoholic. Maybe you can try making your own list.

Twenty reasons why I’m an alcoholic…

1) Because I’ve been rebellious all my life. What better way to rebel?

2) because my image was built on the caricature of a “real man” or a “sophisticated man,” a writer like Hemingway, etc. In other words my self-esteem was tied up living on the edge, drinking in the good life, collecting wine, etc. I went so far as to buy a bar just so I could have my own corner table

3) because I used it to ignore stress. I thought I was like the “Godfather” who solved everyone’s problems, when in fact I was stressed out of my mind and needed to drink to calm my anxiety

4) because I thought it made me fun and helped me break out of my uncomfortability in social settings

5) because business deals and work meetings are best conducted in bars

6) because I avoided my inner fears for decades by drowning them with alcohol

7) because I feared abandonment by everyone who matters to me

8) because I am weak and afraid

9) because I’ve been disappointed with myself for years, especially with my lack of follow through and lasting success

10) because I really, really, really love wine!

11) because I’m very reckless, so of course, I push everything to the extremes, including how much/how often I drink

12) because I’m powerless and basically out of control

13) because I’m lonely and felt unloved most of my life

14) because my parents really stressed me out and ultimately left me feeling undefended against the world

15) because I grew up feeling I pissed off everyone around me

16) because I suck at saying “no” to myself and/or others, which creates a big fucking mess of instant gratification most of the time

17) because drinking made my bad choices easier to deal with

18) because I wanted to prove all the “fundamentalists” wrong about drinking

19) because I love the show “Cheers” and still love happy hours

20) because I’m a complete fucking idiot.

See, aren’t lists just great?! It’s all in how you look at it. When I wrote that list a couple of years ago I never wanted a drink so bad in my life. Now, I read it and thank God for all She’s done in my life. So yes, lists are great. It’s all in how you look at it.

007 a new 12-step symbol? Dubunking the myth

So it’s official: James Bond was a drunk. As the immortal Louie of Casablanca said, “I’m shocked… shocked!”

Not really. Any drunk can spot another drunk, and Bond, well he’s the poster child right? That’s why we idolize him still. Wine, women and adventure. Our Walter Middy’s run amok with such fantasies. But that’s why this humorous new study is actually quite important. It challenges the myth. When it comes to drinking, the myths nearly always win out.

The myths haunted me in rehab. I was a month into a six-month inpatient program and still trying to figure out how I could finagle drinking and sobriety at the same time. Only when I did a thorough study of core beliefs, things that went back to the deepest memories of my childhood did I realize that my thinking prized those like James Bond and Ernest Hemingway and men’s men who drank and wrote and loved women and lived hard. I finally put this belief in a statement: “People who don’t drink are weak.”

If I was going to get sober and stay sober, I had to take a wrecking ball to that core belief. It was perhaps the most difficult step in a long journey that now peeks ahead to my four-and-a-half year sobriety mark. Back then, I never, ever, dreamed I’d speak of such things let alone celebrate them.

One of the ways I got out the wrecking ball was to actually document my drinking, just like they did for ole James Bond here.

bond-infographic1

I did an exercise where I worked out my alcohol budget for a random month prior to rehab. I did the best I could to document my spending patterns. Inexpensive wine for every night of the week. Hard alcohol for night caps. Long Island Iced Teas and Margaritas for company. Happy Hours at least twice a week. Expensive wines for my collection and again, for company. Beer for football and sports bars. Vodka for heavy stress, which was often. Scotch and cognac for those times I wanted to feel like my shit didn’t stink.I learned James Bond had nothing on me.

Seriously, 13 drinks a night, that’s why they discovered about 007? No problem. I used to tell people all the time my mantra: “I don’t drink any more than one drink an hour, just like the guidelines say…. Not to exceed 24 drinks in any one-day period, of course.”

I figured out my wife and I could have driven a his and hers Mercedes for what we spent on booze each month. You do that shit in rehab. You count. Because its rude to count before you hit rehab.

Whoever did this study… well, I’d guess that guy or gal’s been to rehab. We count in there.

The myths of drinking sustain the drinker. “I can handle it.” “It’s fun, not harmful.” “I only take the edge off.” “I don’t drink that much.” “All my friends drink.” “If I drink too much, and I only say IF, then I’m a functioning alcoholic, because I don’t have any problems related to it.” And even more subtly and powerfully, “When I drink, I’m like James Bond.” No drunk says that one out loud, but we think it.

For me I had to recognize that I disdained those who didn’t drink. If they were Jesus Freaks who condemned drinking, they were just scared of life to me. Worse, I hated drunks. If they couldn’t handle their booze, they were the epitome of weak. I believed this so deeply it took days and days of drilling down to even admit it, much less own it.

Eventually, the walls of my myth came down. I discovered people in recovery were among the most strong and heroic and real folks I’d met. The weakest of the bunch was me, someone propped up a lie and myth and image that was killing him and ruining his life. Slowly, I changed my core belief. It now says, “When I drink I am weak. When I don’t drink I am me.”

I’d much rather be me than James Bond. As this study says, Bond likely died from alcohol-related illness in his fifties. I’m in my forties and I’ve never been healthier. I’m going to outlive James Bond (God willing)… and my life is far more fuller because of it.

EffinArtists.com was born in rehab. It’s a celebration of a wide-angled life, one full of pursuits and hobbies and interests, all things I lost when my telephoto life centered on drinking. If James Bond means anything to me, it’s a guy who needs to start the 12th step and nothing more.

I joke a lot on on this site, but this I’m deadly serious. If you read this and connect with any of it, the True EffinArtist who writes across the sky may just have led you here. I’m not going to try to baptize you, or change you, or scare you. I just want to listen. Contact me. Go to EffinArtists.com and click to our contact page. Drop me a quick note. I’ll get in touch. I’ll listen. I walk with you.

And if you are hesitating at all, know this. You are doing me a favor. The 12th step in AA tells me the surest way I stay sober is to be of service to others… “to carry out this message to others…” So help me stay sober. Drop me a line.