Tag Archives: Prayer

There Is a Solution, Part II


Back on February 24, 2010, I wrote the following paragraph in a post titled “Emotional Pain: A Source of Hope, A Prompt to Love.” To this day, that paragraph offers as much solution as I can muster from my own experience in sobriety (and I’m committed to sharing only my experience):

“As my current marriage inches closer and closer to its own end, I hope to draw some valuable lessons from the losses I’ve both experienced and witnessed these past 50 years. First and foremost, I hope to wake each morning with a firm commitment to ‘trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.’ If past experience has taught me anything, it’s that a failure to rise up and DO is a sure-fire prescription for emotional suicide. I continue to wake each morning at 5 so I have time to meditate and hit the gym before I leave for work at 8. I endeavor each day to leave my emotional issues at home to the best of my ability and commit my focus to work while I’m there. I continue to play, read, laugh, and work with my kids in all the ways they’ve come to expect—as much for my sanity as their protection. And, I hope, to the best of my ability, I continue to respect, and maintain an appropriate level of civility with, my wife, whom I still count as a great friend. None of these efforts is perfect nor do I perform them in absence of that often gut-wrenching pain that accompanies impending loss. I’m not always fun, and I’m not always patient. But I force myself to try to be when I recognize I’m not. I’m far from perfectly civil or perfectly respectful; I’m just as capable of anger and resentment as ever. But any time anger wells up, I try like hell to squelch it (or call my sponsor), knowing full well if I indulge it, I’m the only one who is likely to suffer. I am way beyond those days when I could unleash my own wrath and enjoy it or walk away from it without consequence. Another sign of hope, I think.”

I’m not normally prone to depression … not in the absence of alcohol anyway. But these past 18 months, I’ve woke more than once with little or no desire to “trudge the happy road.” I hadn’t experienced that kind of debilitating malaise (the kind that straps you down and makes getting out of bed seem monumental) for well over 10 years. During the divorce, however, I woke many mornings feeling this way. I would often lie in bed after the alarm went off and play the “maybe-I-don’t-need-to” game. “Maybe I don’t need to meditate today; if I don’t, I can get an extra hour of much-needed sleep.” Bullshit! “Maybe I don’t need to go to the gym this morning; I’ll head to work early and squeeze the workout in at the end of the day.” Bullshit! End of day workouts haven’t “worked out” for me for years. If you’ve had a morning routine that works in sobriety and you find yourself playing the maybe-I-don’t-need-to game during tough times, start playing the NO BULLSHIT game instead. I learned to will myself out of bed and mindlessly back into my routines. They had worked for me in good times for a reason, a reason I didn’t need to understand. I just needed to learn to wake up willing to DO and not question. It’s no different than willing myself to a meeting. I don’t know why meetings work for me. They just do. They work their magic in spite of me, so I mindlessly will myself to meetings on a regular basis.

Some mornings I’d wake up suffering the Great Ache, that low-level ache in the gut that, left untended, could make me nervous and even nauseous with the realization that soon I’d be divorced, soon the kids wouldn’t be in the house with me every morning, soon my life would be a life I no longer recognized as my own. Again, my antidote to the Great Ache was, and still is, the same as my antidote to the maybe-I-don’t-need-to game: Get up fast and DO, do something. Once I’d willed myself out of bed, I’d will myself to meditate. Often times my meditations were worthless, my mind wandering or obsessing, my body failing to relax. Didn’t matter. Going through the motions of prayer and meditation, however mindlessly, was far more effective than staying in bed spinning yarns in my head and nurturing aches in my gut.

Once I’d made it through meditation, getting to the gym was much easier. I was awake and actually hungry for the energy I knew the workout would give me. By the time I shaved and showered, I was ready to be away for the day–somewhere I could give myself a mental and emotional vacation from the heartache. Work, golf, a trip to the park or grocery store with the kids, any of the simple activities that used to weigh me down in my drinking days, proved to be the best antidote to fear of the unknown in those final months before the marriage ended. Finally, as I have for the past 12 years, I hit 4 or more meetings a week and kept current with both my own sponsor and the guys I sponsor. Nothing has done more to insure my sobriety and my sanity than “intensive work with other alcoholics.” Nothing ever has; nothing ever will.

I don’t mean to suggest that doing what I’ve always done to stay sober made divorce any easier or less painful. Only that it did make the process more tolerable. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest for a moment that I “have” the solution. I only wish to remind all of us that there is one. It’s in our basic text, “Alcoholics Anonymous.” (Which reminds me of something I’ve heard Johnny H. from California say almost every time I’ve heard him speak: “If you want to hide something from an AA member, stick it in his Big Book,” implying most of us don’t spend nearly enough time in the book.)

So, the circumstances and challenges life throws at us may change (and certainly are likely to continue to change), but the solution doesn’t seem to waver much from its path. We’re handed a simple kit of spiritual tools when we arrive at AA. All we really have to do is will ourselves to pick it up.

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Moment of Clarity #2: True Love


In true love, there are no victors and no victims—only the genuine pursuit of time well spent.

No Pain, No Gain


“No pain, no gain.” I’ve endured that taunt since high school. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve always had an extremely high tolerance for physical pain. I once caught an entire high school baseball game with a broken wrist and played left field in another on a broken ankle. I played high school football games with everything from
broken fingers to a torn quadricep. Add alcohol to this disposition in early adulthood, and you end up in your fair share of barroom brawls—replete with face-scarring, broken-bottle swipes, bloody noses, black eyes, and enough face-first collisions with concrete to permanently dimple any chin. Nothing to be proud of, for sure . . . unless, of course, you’re an active alcoholic in need of another tall, barroom tale to tell.

What did I “gain” from all of that pain? On the one hand, not much—not until later, in my late twenties, when I rigorously studied the martial art of Aikido for three years in Japan and learned, for the first time in my life, the true importance of conflict avoidance. On the other hand, physical pain does teach you one valuable lesson: Time heals all that can be healed. Most cuts, bruises, and breaks (if not critical or life threatening) do mend—less and less efficiently as you age, but mend they will.

Emotional pain, however, is entirely different. Time alone has never been enough to heal my emotional pain. For years, from the age of 11 to 38, I had the instant cure for feeling anything; alcohol—properly abused—could dim, dull, or dissolve most any emotion I didn’t care to confront: relationships failed, I drank; my father died, I drank; my wife and I ended our marriage, I drank. I will never forget the sunny morning I left my first wife after 8 years of marriage. I loaded up a newly purchased pickup with my feeble belongings, hopped on I-35 in Kansas City headed for Des Moines and cried all the way to Kearney, Missouri (about 20 minutes outside of KC) where I pulled off, loaded up the cooler in the back seat with beer, and began a three-year celebration of my freedom. That celebration ended one night in 1993 when I fought the law and the law won. That night also marked the beginning of the end of my ability to cure everything with a drink.

What then? What do those of who have never allowed ourselves to feel a genuine emotion do when suddenly, as full-grown but under-matured adults, we are forced to “feel?” If we hope to stay sober and survive, we do exactly what we should have begun to do the day we took our very first drink: Grow up.

For me, and I’m only taking responsibility for my own experience here, “growing up” has meant much more than simply trying to behave in a mature and responsible fashion. That would never have been enough to keep me sober. For me, growing UP has quite literally meant growing upward spiritually to a genuine relationship with a higher power I choose to call God. Time alone has never healed a single emotional wound for me, but time + prayer + meditation + action on a daily basis has made it possible for me to say, in all honestly, I am current with the souls around me and quite content to die in my sleep tonight if that’s what’s in the script.

In subsequent posts, I hope to talk more specifically about how that very formula (time+prayer+meditation+action) has delivered me on more than one occasion from the often dismal shores of emotional pain to the much brighter side of personal gain. I’m hoping that some of you, especially those of you with longer periods of emotional sobriety, will share your own strategies for dealing with emotional setbacks—strategies designed to benefit the newcomer. In other words, I’m hoping we can all join in an active discussion of the solution.

Not A Glum Lot


“We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its worst aspect. But we aren’t a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life” (“The Family Afterward,” Alcoholics Anonymous, 132).

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I’m certain I’ve read or heard that passage at least a thousand times since the day I walked into Alcoholics Anonymous. Tonight, however, is the first time I’ve paid attention to the fact that it appears in “The Family Afterward.” Makes sense, I suppose. The family usually bares the brunt of the “serious and sometimes tragic things” that happen when an alcoholic inhabits the home, so it only makes sense that the family be the primary recipient of the joy that often attaches itself to recovery.

But no family should be duped into believing that just because their alcoholic gets sober life’s going to suddenly roll over and be a bowl of cherries. That seems an obvious caution, I’m sure, yet I’ve sponsored more than one man whose wife came to me days, weeks, months, even years after their spouses sobered up to complain that things had gotten worse, not better. Unfortunately, some couples find that, sans alcohol, they’re really not all that compatible. They hooked up because they liked to party together, one partners drinking overwhelmed them and became a problem, yet sobriety made both partners realize the only thing they had in common was the partying before the party finally got out of control. In other cases, the sober party starts off all gung-ho about the 12-steps only to decide that they need little more than an occasional meeting to stay dry, and with that philosophy leading the way, they get dry and miserable as hell and drag everyone down with them. Or, as in my case, two sober members of AA seem to do fairly well together until drinking becomes a priority in one of the partner’s lives again, and the sober partner no longer seems that attractive. The sober partner is not necessarily boring and glum; they’re just not interested in finding fun in the places where they were once reduced to incomprehensible demoralization—the very places the other partner now values again.

So be it. As I look at the photos and videos from this past summer, such as the videos that open and close tonight’s blog, I realize what fun we did have this summer, we had as a family. Usually simple, often silly, but fun nonetheless … fun with no melodrama attached. None of this would have been possible from my perspective without Alcoholics Anonymous, a sponsor, and a God of my understanding. If those three elements and alcohol were absent from my life, I’m certain I would have spent the summer morosely resenting my spouse and plotting ways to seek compensation for what I might deem her failure to show up to the marriage. As it is, I’m willing to accept the things I cannot change and to seek ways to change the things I can. It is not an ideal situation, but every time I begin to think of ways to exact unnatural changes, I realize I’m not the one who wants to change our circumstances, that the one who is working through a difficult set of emotions and valuations is not me but my wife who isn’t sure she loves me and isn’t sure she wants to be in the marriage anymore. I can’t force her to return to counseling; she’s gone with me twice and clearly stated she has no interest in going again. When asked what she wants to do, she repeatedly says, and I believe her, “She doesn’t know.” Immature? Yes. But her reality nonetheless. And I can’t change it.

But while we’re together, I can try to put the best possible game face on for my children and anyone else who happens to be around. Trust me, that doesn’t come natural to this alcoholic. That comes due to a lot of prayer, meditation, and sponsor direction. My will would take me straight to a lawyer and as vengeful a divorce as I could muster. But that only removes any hope for all concerned and leaves lasting scars on two beautiful little kids who tell us far too often how much they love their “family.” It is the family afterward that benefits most from sobriety, and those who are in a period of joy in their family life should cherish it. Cherish it now because life happens—the good and the bad—and at some point it happens to everyone. Just because we’re sober doesn’t mean we don’t have to face life’s trials and natural tribulations just like everyone else. It just means that, if we continue to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools placed at our feet, we have a better chance of dealing with life like adults and without alcohol.

Please and Thank You


I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone in Alcoholics Anonymous say, “I don’t know how to pray,” or “I don’t know how to meditate,” the two basic tenets of the 11th step.

Part of me, a less-evolved and more-absorbed self, wants to say, “You know how to breathe, don’t you? Close your eyes and breathe. Now you’re meditating. Say the same word over and over in your head. Now you’ve got a mantra. Easy, right? Find a mountaintop and have at it. ” And to those who’ve forgotten how to pray, it’s tempting to say what was said to me: “You’ve been talking to the Committee in your head for years. Change frequencies and have a conversation with ‘god, as you understand him.’”

Sometimes I’d like to quip, but generally I don’t. I don’t say any of this because I remember all too clearly how difficult it was in early sobriety to put a thought together. In fact, I could barely hang onto or complete any thought that wasn’t spoken aloud or written down. Even as an RC (Recovering Catholic) who’d said the Lord’s Prayer a million times as a kid, I couldn’t get passed the first two sentences of that prayer unless we were saying it as a group to close a meeting and I had a circle of friends guiding me down the path to the “Amen.”

And breathing? Hell, if I wasn’t jonesing for a drink or spooked by your shadow, I was too panicked to do much more than pant, let alone meditate. If I closed my eyes and didn’t fall asleep, I was afraid I’d start seeing cows jump over the moon for real. Bad times, those first nights trying to sleep.

Back then, when it came to prayer and meditation, I took the simple advice of my first sponsor, which I’ll share: If you can’t pray or meditate yet, just say, “Please keep me sober,” when you wake up, and “Thank you for keeping me sober,” when you go to sleep. Please and Thank You. Plain and Simple. Works like a charm.

Over the years, my Please and Thank You Prayer has evolved into something I think of as a first-step chant. I never leave home without having uttered it, either to myself or aloud. I’ve always found prayer to be a hugely intriguing phenomenon, especially when discussed by far more insightful thinkers than me. I do know one thing I can say about this prayer with absolute confidence and irrefutable evidence: I, personally, have never taken a drink within 24 hours of saying it.

Please and Thank You Prayer (1st-Step Chant)

Thank you for my being alive, healthy, and sober.
Please continue to take away my desire to drink
And admonish any and all thoughts, words, or deeds
That might prompt that desire,
For I am truly and deeply powerless over alcohol
Without your help
Now and forever, Amen.