Saturday, July 17, 2021

It's An Inside Job

Today I celebrated 1 full year of abstention from alcohol and other mood-altering substances. I am very grateful that I no longer have the compulsion to escape my experience through drugs and alcohol. A lot of really neat things have happened this year, as often happens to addicts and alcoholics when we put down the substance and begin working a program of recovery. I've chronicled these events over the past year in this blog, but the biggest thing that has happened this year is that I have been relieved of the habit of sabotaging my recovery, the symptoms of major depressive disorder, and have experienced more emotional healing than ever before. This past year has been the best year of my life so far.

As you might know, this isn't my first rodeo. I've been trying to recover, with various levels of effort, for 38 years. I've experienced many periods of sobriety, ranging from several months to a little more than 3 years. About 7 years ago, I began addressing my mental health disorder, major depressive disorder, in earnest. I've experienced this mood disorder for most of my life, and it was around before I started drinking. For a lot of reasons, I was in denial that I have a mood disorder, and this denial greatly diminished my chances of recovery - from anything. When I began to accept it and really start addressing it, I was able to attain 3 years of sobriety. Then the journey to relapse began again, and I began drinking again, with all the attendant problems of relationship damage, job loss, homelessness, and legal issues. I sought treatment yet again, and found out that I also have to learn to deal effectively with trauma. (Everybody who experiences trauma deals with it, one way or another - it's just that what I could come up with on my own did not work very well). So for the 6 months or so before my last relapse, I began to work on that as well. I didn't realize that I had begun making progress until after the last relapse, when I was able to stop suicidal ideation and the desire to die. I began to have enough ambition toward healing that I was able to begin to consistently apply to my life the tools I've been learning over the past 4 decades.

So here's the deal: I have a problem with sobriety 'birthdays'. I know that it's important to note milestones in recovery, but I think - well, I know, in my case - that the quantity (time) of sobriety does not necessarily have very much to do at all with the quality of sobriety. Yes, if I've been sober a year, I must be doing something right, but the same is true if I've been sober a day. Just putting the plug in the jug, as they used to say, does not reverse the psychological and emotional damage my addiction and my mental illness have done to me.

By the way, I didn't stay sober a year. I stayed sober each day that I woke up and desired another day of healing and recovery. So far, that's been the past 365 days.

There is a lot of outer evidence that my addiction is arrested: first of all, I haven't been (arrested)! But I've also managed to maintain good steady employment, I'm homeful again (as opposed to homeless), I have a valid driver's license again, and I haven't been broke in at least 9 months. Like time in sobriety, however, these things don't necessarily attest to what is going inside of me, and that's where I really live. 

I heard something a number of years ago that was a revelation to me - that when everybody in my life (family, employer, probation officer, counselor, doctor, banker, friends) said I had a problem with my drinking, they didn't know that drinking was not my problem - drinking was my solution. I won't begin to accept sobriety until I accept that my solution no longer works, and surrender to the fact that because of the damage my disease has done to me, I'm unable to come up with a better solution. I must have help on the journey of recovery.

And therein lies the problem of addiction recovery - eventually, hopefully more sooner than later, I have to take responsibility for my own recovery. Because I've stopped drinking, and because I've got people in my life encouraging me and supporting me in my recovery, my life gets better - alcoholics and addicts get their job back, their woman back, their truck back, their probation officer tells them they're doing great and puts them on the lowest level of supervision, their mama's stopped worrying, and on and on and on. They get congratulated on a year's sobriety. That's awesome! But if the alcoholic/addict in recovery is not aware, and has not assumed responsibility for their own recovery, relapse will happen. It's not the stuff on the outside that made us use; it's the stuff on the inside. And nobody but the person in recovery knows what's going on on their insides. A human being's subconscious, addict or not, drives 90% of the human's behavior, until they become aware or conscious. This is perfectly fine, unless there's stuff in the subconscious that is counterproductive to living a decent life and, again, because of the wounds we've inflicted upon ourselves through our addiction, there is inner stuff that needs to be healed in order to stay out of active addiction. And nobody, not even your closest girlfriend, can tell you what's going on in your subconscious. That's something each individual has to find out for themselves, through whatever means are available.

This is why I mentioned earlier that the biggest miracle in my life has not been that I've been able to abstain for a year, but that I have stopped experiencing the symptoms of major depressive disorder. My recovery from depression fuels my sobriety, because when I don't hate myself, when I don't think I'm a piece of shit, when I don't want to die - in other words, when I like myself enough - I have no desire to drink, and I know how to stay away from drinking. I do understand that, as an alcoholic in recovery, I will need to work a program of recovery for the rest of my life in order to stay sober. I've been around long enough to see what happens to people who stop working their program, no matter how much 'time' they have in. But, by the same token, if I want to stay in recovery from alcoholism, I also need to learn what I need to do to stay in recovery from depression, and that's what I've been doing this past year. And, for me, recovery from depression involves a whole lot more than "taking my medication." That's what makes my psychiatrist happy when I talk to her every 3 months, but it's not what necessarily makes me happy.

In conclusion, dear friends, it's nice to enjoy the outer rewards of recovery, and to be recognized as being in recovery. Recovery wouldn't look too attractive if there weren't some hope that someone or Something could pull us out of the gutter. I know how to put the pieces back together and how to get approval from others, but this year I've been learning something I never learned before in this lifetime - how to approve of and respect myself, and how to like myself and love myself and love life. That's something nobody else can give me, no matter what I do or how hard I try. It can only come from inside.



Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Happy New Year!

 My new year is on my birthday, which is today! Today I begin my 60th journey around the sun, and I am incredibly grateful to be on this journey. I think this is my best birthday ever (except I forgot to go to Denny's for a free meal. I was going to go, but I got busy doing other stuff, already ate, and I'm trying to lose weight anyway). 

Looking back on this past year, it doesn't look like it's been hard at all - it looks like success after success after success - but I know that there have been a lot of difficult moments. Shortly before my last relapse, which was a couple of days after my birthday last year, I was doing EMDR with my counselor. EMDR is a way of reframing traumatic memories, and I believe, despite the relapse, that it got me up to a certain level with which I could work. And on my birthday last year, I had a session with a practitioner (chaplain) of my church, and basically prayed that I know deep down that I'm a child of God. I've spoken much of my (and our) oneness with Spirit and the Universe, but I've never felt it inside. This past year I began to feel it. I began to realize my Oneness, that I have a place in this Universe, that I am loved, I am valuable and worthy, and I belong. These are the greatest gifts I've received this year, and out of these gifts springs gratitude and a joy for living that makes everything else possible.

Do you know how a dog sniffs the ground? Sometimes they're so into it that it's like they're obsessed! Or watch a dog riding down the road with the window down, joyfully getting blasted in the face with all the smells that are out there. That's how I feel about beginning to become conscious this year. As you probably know, I've been done with life many times in the past. It held no magic for me, no mystery, and was often just a daily dose of "let's see how I can make it through this day." And sometimes I didn't. I'm grateful for those who were there to help when I couldn't make it, and I'm grateful to have made it to this place where life seems wonderful and something I want to keep exploring. Life and consciousness are so much more than I ever thought they could be. It feels like I've touched the Infinite, and I want to keep going. It really is a miracle!

So my desires for this next year are to continue letting go of that which no longer serves me, to continue to increase my engagement with life, and to expand my effectiveness as I continue to learn how I can best serve others. I've received so much in this lifetime, it's time to give back! 

Thank you for being a part of my life, and I wish you all the joy that you can accept!



Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Transitions Part III - Exorcising Doubts

 Yep, the title is correct - I can either exercise or exorcise my doubts. That's pretty much the gist of the whole post, so if you're busy with something else, move on. If not, read on:

Doubt can be a useful thought and or feeling in certain situations, such as when reading that e-mail from a Nigerian prince, when purchasing a used car, or when wondering if you can actually make it thru the intersection in time. So doubt isn't always a bad thing. On the other hand, doubt can be damaging when entertained for very long when it is about the reality of good things happening in my life, or whether or not my Higher Power really does love and support me and have my best interests at heart, or when doubting my own ability to live happily and successfully. Doubt can be damaging in two ways: first, if I've set events in motion to better myself or my situation, sustained doubt about what I've done or what's going to happen really only serve to cause anxiety, which is unhealthy mentally and physically. My entertaining doubt may or may not affect the situation or its outcome, but it will still detract from my enjoyment of life, and may even cause relapse (through the desire to extinguish the anxiety and possibly depression the doubt has caused). Some of my past relapses have been caused by my doubtfulness about my own ability to work a program of recovery. Second, doubting the good that may be coming my way can actually cause me to sabotage it in some way. My doubt may cause me to incessantly check up on the progress of something I've set in motion, like getting a new job, to the point where the prospective employer says, "I'm not hiring this insecure person!" Or if I'm in a new friendship or relationship, and I allow my doubts about that friendship to cause me to, again, incessantly check to see if we're still or really friends, that person with whom I'm hoping to be friends might just say, "I've already got enough crazy in my life - I don't need this guy!" Excessive clinginess and insecurity in a person chases healthy people away. (On the other hand, if red flags turn up, like dishonesty or violence, doubts about the sustainability of a relationship a probably valid). At the very least, doubt can cause me to delay or overlook blessings in my life; at its worst, doubt is deadly. So it behooves me in recovery to learn how to effectively deal with doubtful thoughts.

The first example I'm going to give I wrote about in my recent post titled Faith - A Simple Yet Effective Example. In that post, I described putting my faith in, of all people, an attorney to take care of an old misdemeanor case from 12 years ago. The attorney had sent me our agreement or contract to read and sign, and I got the distinct impression that the bulk of the contract said that any type of interference in my case on my part might jeopardize my case and/or cause my attorney to have to charge me more. My interpretation was that my attorney was saying, "Sit down, shut up, and trust that I know what I'm doing and acting in your best interests." So, while I did have my doubts, I did just that. I allowed the attorney to do his job without my interference or even checking up on things. Things were moving along and I had a court date set for June 14th. So, after at least of month of not hearing anything, on Monday, June 7th, a week before my next court date, I threw caution to the wind and sent him an email and asked for an update. I received an immediate response - it was an automated response saying that he would be out of the office and unavailable until 8am June 14th. Well, shit! I had a lot of doubt after receiving that automated response. Fortunately, I was able to think it through pretty quickly (like maybe an hour). First, it's really pointless to worry - the outcome of this has always been out of my hands. But the idea that I went with that was salve to my addled brain was that he had already struck a deal with the DA and had simply failed to inform me. Because my attorney is part of a law firm, and not just one random attorney, I really didn't have any worries about him absconding with my fee or anything like that. So I was able to set it aside for a week. Then, I get a call Sunday night from my attorney. It went to voicemail because I was at work. I didn't keep the voicemail, but in it he said something about getting with the DA in the morning. I realized that my conclusion, which had kept me calm for a week, was, in fact, erroneous. He did not have it all wrapped up. Still, I rested easily Sunday night because the outcome was still out of my hands either way. There was nothing I could do about it Sunday night - not even calling his boss. So Monday morning rolls around, and I've got off from work because this is my court day, and I'm getting my Chromebook ready to go to trial (one of the good things to come out of the pandemic is the ability to appear for hearings without actually having to go to Las Vegas. In fact, I think that was my only expectation for this whole thing - I sorely did not want to have to go to Las Vegas). So along about 9 a.m. I received a call from my attorney - the DA had decided not to pursue the case - my case was dismissed! I thanked him and went on my merry way. My hope had been that the DA would have dropped the charge from misdemeanor battery to disorderly conduct and given me a small fine. I'm grateful I received a much better deal! So in this example, I dealt with my doubts through prayer (I had prayed and turned it over to my Higher Power, and I've been taught that if I turn something over, I don't want to continually re-pray - that's part of learning Trust), and when doubt did appear, I simply reminded myself that it's out of my hands. All I have to do is see what happens. And that's why I call this a simple example of faith, and releasing doubt, because, in this case, the consequences weren't really very high.

The second example of avoiding doubt is with my new job. Have I written about that yet? Anyway, I applied for a Peer Support Specialist position at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, and I was offered a position . I let my store director know right away my last day would be July 10th, as I'd be starting my new position July 12th. What I can say about this experience is that there has been a whole lot less doubt than there would have been in the past. There's just something about really having faith that I'm on a good path that doesn't leave a lot of room for doubt. So my acknowledging the good things that are going on in my life and my faith practices over the past 11 months have helped build a lot of self-confidence. I certainly have no doubt that I have what it takes to do the job, and I have no doubt that I will be a good and respected employee. But thoughts of doubt still creep in - will they accept my background check? There might be different standards here than in Wisconsin, where I previously worked in peer support (though I kind of doubt that, seeing what I've seen in Arizona). One thing that I do have a concern about is physical exercise. Physical exercise is a big part of my recovery, but currently, I get a good portion of it from work, where I am very active and have to lift stuff all the time. My new job will be sedentary. I have concerns about whether or not I'll be able to get motivated enough to have my own fitness practice. As a sidenote, a concern is a little different than a doubt - a concern is a foreseeable situation that's asking for a solution. A doubt is more of a thought of, "I can't do this." I can do this, but it's a lifestyle change, and that's challenging. I've already started by including a morning walk around the block in my routine (my block is 1.25 miles (about 2km) long), so that's a good start. I don't know what my new hours will be, but I'm pretty certain my schedule will be more stable than it is in grocery. 

Part of my concern about the exercise regime is that in the past I have been unable to consistently perform good self-care habits, other than abstinence from alcohol and going to recovery meetings. However, lately, I've been able to do something for 65 days in a row that is beneficial for me - I've been able to practice mindful meditation every morning. I have an app on my phone that is called "Waking Up" by Sam Harris, and it's been helping me immensely. I had to pay for it after the initial introduction, and it has been well worth it. I'm not going to delve too deeply into it here, but one of the fundamental things I've learned has really helped in the doubt area. In mindful meditation we learn to become highly aware of our thinking. I've learned, for instance that thoughts are really just little bits of energy that have no meaning or power until I give them meaning or power. I've also learned that I, like many others, tend to grab a thought and create a story out of it. Most of the time, the story isn't that happy and includes a lot of drama. But I've learned, for the most part, to let thoughts of doubt appear and leave. And I can do this with other thoughts as well. Mindful meditation breaks thoughts down to their most basic - I'm learning that any meaning and/or judgement I put on a thought can only come when I hang onto that thought for any length of time. So if a thought of doubt comes, I can often acknowledge it and let it go right away, and turn my attention to something else - maybe the next thought. In this way I don't have to wrangle with doubt, or take it to court, or evaluate its validity. Now let me say here that I've not yet experienced such success with all thoughts. For instance, I still wrestle with thoughts of perfectionism at my current job (although that's getting better because I have an end date). But I have great hope that if I continue this practice I will gain better control not over the thoughts, but over my choice in whether or not to entertain certain thoughts that pass through. Certainly if a great idea passes through, I might want to hang onto it and ponder it. But, for the most part, the millions of thoughts coming through actually cloud my experience of the present moment, which is life and all I've really got. I don't want to waste my opportunity to experience life on fruitless thinking.

I can look at my doubts and consider them to be nothing more than objects in my experience. They have no real power nor any real validity. They are just thoughts. They're just thoughts until I hang onto them, and then they become something else. If I hang onto them, they can become prophecy - "This is a nice (relationship, job, opportunity, day - fill in the blank), I'm probably going to screw it up." Yep, good chance of that now! If I let them go, they become like dust in the wind - unrecognizable from other specks of dust in the wind. In fact, I will likely not even remember that a doubt came across my screen. So the title of this piece is really misleading - I'm not performing any religious ritual to cast out doubt; I'm simply working at becoming mindful so I can practice allowing those thoughts that I don't want to entertain to pass on by. All I know is doubt and worry over any situation will not change it for the better, or influence its outcome in any positive way; it can only harm me, and I am choosing ways today to do no harm to myself (or anyone else) while I live this life.



Friday, June 25, 2021

Transitions Part II - The Journey

In Transitions - Part I, I wrote about transitioning from one job to another, and the success that I've encountered at my (still current) job, and my joy at moving on to a job that more matches my strengths and abilities. I think in that post I failed to capture the real essence of the whole experience, and it perhaps might not be possible to, in a few hour's worth of writing, capture what it feels like to go 9 months (at the job), a day at a time, or a moment at a time, and to feel that overall it's been a great success.

The journey I'm speaking of is experiencing each day that life is meant to be lived, not avoiding or simply tolerating. It is taking a new attitude toward life. The Universe told me to "practice each day setting aside your fears and doubts and preconceived notions about the way things 'should' be. Accept what is in front of you and do the next indicated step, no matter how you feel. Just get yourself in the stream of life, let go, and see what happens. Trust."

When I was new at the grocery store, one of my tasks was to collect carts from the parking lot and return them to the cart corral. I also picked up litter in the parking lot. One of the worst things I picked up was somebody's used rubber gloves - they were wet with their sweat. Along the way, I had to deal with feelings of inferiority and shame. But I was being of service. "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence." (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) I was doing my job to make grocery shopping as easy and pleasant an experience as possible for customers during a very challenging time for people. I was doing what nobody would notice unless the job wasn't done. In addition to finding trash along the way, I would also find pennies. I viewed the pennies as signs of encouragement from my Higher Power that I was doing the right thing (sometimes I'd find dimes or even quarters!). I developed a strong attitude of gratitude for what was happening to me and through me - no matter what! 

One day at work inside the store I heard a crash and went to investigate. The Grocery Manager (assistant director of the store) was setting up a display and some plates fell off the display and broke. I didn't say anything. I got a broom and dustpan and cardboard box and cleaned it up - because that's what you do. If I see something that needs doing, I do it, or find somebody who can. And the people in charge noticed my attitude and ethics and gave me more responsibility, and more pay. But that wasn't my goal; it's what happened as a result of me practicing doing the next right thing. One of my goals is to be of service in whatever way I can whenever it is indicated.

I haven't been broke since probably September or October of 2020 (9 or 10 months as of this writing). I don't write a budget - whenever I've written a budget in the past, it has shown that I don't have enough to live on. Source provides me with everything I need today, in abundance! I go with that attitude. I've stopped entertaining doubts about the future, and I say "Thank You God" for everything I have today. I was able to get some work done on my teeth. I was able to pay for a lawyer to take care of my legal business in Las Vegas that I had ignored for 12 years. I am able to pay what is needed to reinstate my driving privileges. My monetary priorities are rent, keeping my phone going, utilities, food, and donating money to entities that feed my spirit (recovery meetings and now, lately, church). I was able to purchase a Chromebook, which I'm using now. There's some things I don't like about it, but I love it and I'm grateful for it because it's my main window to the world. I'm able to afford internet service. I've walked around with $1000 cash in my pocket, and I wasn't tempted to use it to go on what would be and impressive but very damaging bender. I purchased a bicycle a little over a year ago, and I have a little over 1800 miles on it. It's my main form of transportation as well as aerobic exercise and pleasure riding. 1800 miles isn't my record (3000 miles in one year in Wisconsin), but it's still a lot of pedaling. I'm grateful for my bike, and I take care of my bike. When I trail ride, it gets very dusty, and I clean it up after my ride to maintain it and to show my gratitude and appreciation for it. It's a great bike!

A young friend of mine, about 21 or 22 years old, stated that they didn't know what to do with their life. I didn't say anything because my only thought I had at the time was, "I don't know what to do with my life either," meaning I don't know what life is going to look like too much past today. I didn't say that to them because I didn't think it would be comforting to them to say, "I'm almost 59 years old and I don't know what I'll be when I grow up either!" I could have said, "Do your best with today and your experiences will lead you to where you're supposed to be and doing what you're supposed to be doing." I still need a lot of practice expressing my faith and encouraging others.

I have some of the most awesome people in my life, but that's not a surprise. As I've stated in previous posts, God always has put loving and supportive people on my path, but in the past, I haven't always engaged in those relationships. The most challenging part of my life is connecting with others - cultivating a true relationship. There are a ton of fears surrounding that. I falter and fuck up and make amends and allow people to see the real me. It's tough! But connection with others is so, so very important in recovery, so I'm putting my toes and sometimes my foot in the water of friendship. Someday I'll get in all the way, deep, and know that it will be ok, no matter what. I get to facilitate recovery meetings in Recovery Dharma. I am so grateful for discovering Recovery Dharma meetings - being involved in it has been so immensely helpful to my recovery. We talk about real stuff - overcoming the trauma and fears and unskillful thinking that feed our addictions. We practice compassion and acceptance and support each other on our paths.

I avoid the desire to seek pleasure. I practice happiness and acceptance. Happiness is a choice, not a goal. In this moment, or any other moment, I can be happy. Did you know that happy people don't hurt themselves or intentionally hurt others? Some years ago a sponsor told me that my serenity is the most important thing I have, because it fuels my sobriety. I understood the concept in my head, but I couldn't yet practice it. I didn't like myself or love myself enough at the time to practice things like serenity, happiness, and peace. I felt I didn't deserve to be happy. Now I no longer identify with depression. I no longer identify with the symptoms, especially the one that says I'm a victim of myself - that I'm a bad person and I deserve punishment, and if someone else won't punish me, I'll punish myself. I began practicing liking myself, because there isn't any evidence that I'm a 'bad' person in this moment. Practicing liking myself is doing good things for myself, like eating right and sleeping right and taking care of my business, and a bunch of other stuff. I let go of perfectionism. I let go of it a lot! Perfectionism is antithetical to liking myself, because nothing is perfect. Or, if you like, in this moment, everything is perfect according to the laws of the Universe. Anyway, when I let go of perfectionism, I allow happiness and peace in. I can live with myself and be happy with what I'm doing, knowing that I'm moving forward and improving. Back to the first sentence in this paragraph - pleasure comes, unexpectedly, when I'm doing the right thing. Pleasure comes from hiking Thumb Butte or a tiny part of the Grand Canyon with friends, and taking pictures. Pleasure comes when I ride my bike 26 miles. Pleasure comes when I don't procrastinate. Pleasure comes when I help a customer find the product they are seeking. Pleasure comes when I drop my defenses and allow another employee to help me with my job. Pleasure comes when I share my experience, strength, and hope with another addict in recovery. Joy comes when I ponder where I'm at today and how I show up today compared to a year ago. 

I thought about the following 'story', I guess, earlier today and I want to share it. Growing up, and as a young man, my goal (because someone gave it to me, and I accepted it) was to finish my higher education, get a good job that would support me forever, and find a suitable mate that would stay with me forever. Then I could sit back and relax. I would have a life. I failed miserably at that goal. I took a few shots at it, and just could. not. do. it. I began to try ways of living that were acceptable to others, and I just could. not. do. it. I took the road less traveled. I've had a lot of experiences that most people have not had, and maybe can't relate to. I discovered, by looking within, that my real goal for a really long time was to escape life, avoid engaging with life, in whatever way I could while trying to make the people around me think that I was actually living a decent life. That's a really complicated goal! And I failed at that, too. So I agreed with myself to try life. I'm giving up trying to avoid it (still working on that!). And I'm finding out that life is livable! With a Higher Power, and some spiritual principles by which to live, Life actually turns out to be a pretty good experience. 

So that's the journey. I don't know that I have a destination, other than to fit myself to be of maximum service to the Universe and to others. The journey is each day practicing the mountain of spiritual principles I've learned over the years - working at connecting my head with my heart, and living a useful and purposeful life. I practice becoming whole. I practice, each day, letting go of fear and doubt, and letting life take me where it will. And, much to my surprise, the results are fantastic! So when I write about getting a new job, or making amends for my past, or always and absolutely having whatever I need, and no longer entertaining and living with the symptoms of depression and active addiction, these things are the results of living each day engaged with life to the best of my ability, and endeavoring to be of service. I don't plan the results. My only expectation for each day is that I'll be ok, and I've met or exceeded that expectation for 343 days so far. And these transitions that come about as a result of my actions - I endeavor to let them be as smooth as possible, knowing that good is here, and more good is coming. Let it flow, like water.



Monday, June 21, 2021

Transitions - Part I

 I haven't posted much lately, mainly because I've had a lot of inner growth going on that I couldn't really explain. I don't think I can really explain it well now, but I do have some outer manifestations of that growth that I can talk about with reasonable clarity. I believe that one of the main causes of this growth spurt, as it were, is that 57 days ago I started practicing mindfulness meditation through an app called "Waking Up" by Sam Harris. I'll be talking a little more about this in another post; for now, it's only important to know that this practice has been really helpful for me in fulfilling my desire to learn how to live from the inside out - to live my life from that Divine space within, rather than reacting to events and people around me. Of course, I'm still very much a beginner, but I have a lot of hope because this is the first healthy practice (besides abstaining from mind-altering substances) that I've been able to commit to and practice on a daily basis. I am amazed, and I call it a miracle.

The first transition I'd like to write about is vocational, and it actually physically began happening back in May, when I enrolled in and completed a two-week course in Peer Support in order to become certified in Arizona to practice my profession as a Peer Support Specialist. I was a Certified Peer Specialist in Wisconsin for a couple of years until my relapse in 2018. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that in this moment there is nothing I desire more to do vocationally than to support others in recovery from Substance Use Disorder and other mental health disorders. Last Friday I was offered a full-time position at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, and I will start working there July 12th (a day before my natal birthday and 5 days before my one-year sobriety anniversary).

Today I turned in my letter of resignation to my store director where I'm currently employed. I don't like the connotations that go with 'resigning' or 'quitting', so I prefer to think of it as 'moving on', which it is. In that letter, I expressed my gratitude, and let him know that the job did much to heal my past and strengthen my future. That is not an understatement by any means. In one of my previous posts, I think I mentioned that the last time I was employed at a grocery store (in the 90's), I screwed the store over royally and screwed myself over by almost dying and suffering the consequences of going to prison. That particular incident, which is too long and gory to go into in detail, happened to be the last felony for which I was ever convicted (theft of greater than $25000). When I got the job at this grocery store, I knew it was a miracle, and I knew that I was being given an opportunity to at least partially make things right. If I can make it another 3 weeks, which I probably can, I will have made it through a job start to finish where I didn't steal anything from my employer, I did not miss a day of work, I was not written up for excessive tardies, and I made it from start to finish without taking a drink. That in itself is commendable, but really not uncommon for a person in recovery - my understanding is that we usually do perform well as sort of an overcompensation to low self-worth.

By the way, my current employer knows nothing of my past grocery history - it's too far gone (time does heal some wounds, which we'll see again in next post). So the work I did on myself while I was working there was known only to me and a couple individuals who are bound by confidentiality and HIPPA and such. This means that I was able to set standards for myself and live up to those standards by my own volition every time I went to work. So in answer to a question one might encounter in a job interview about what I accomplished at my previous job, I could say, "I didn't commit any gross misconduct and I was accountable only to myself." Uhm, that's kind of what normal people do, isn't it? Yes, yes it is - but for someone like me who has taken most of the wonderful opportunities in life I've been given and flushed them right down the shitter, it's nothing short of a miracle that I could do it and do it for myself. 

When I started this job, I started at minimum wage, which was way ok with me, because I was happy just to be working and I was elated that I was working in grocery. I received a substantial raise a few months ago, and I'm grateful that management showed me they appreciate me and my efforts. However, because I was able to break the cycle of depression that has dogged my entire life, I was able to give myself raises in self-esteem every day that I showed up and applied the work ethic that I was taught a decade ago - suit up, show up, do the best I can, do more than what I'm asked, don't complain, be a team player, and make helpful suggestions if needed. That's it. I didn't try to make anybody like me. I didn't try to enhance my  paycheck by taking what wasn't mine. And the results were I developed friendships at work, I earned respect, and I received an unexpected and generous raise. And most of all, I began to like and respect the person who was showing up for work every day. It didn't matter if I was helping customers, retrieving carts, stocking shelves, cleaning toilets, or doing whatever - I was living from my inner guidance, and it worked - every single day. (There were days that were difficult for me, and these were caused by my own mind, which is still sort of set to looking at what's wrong rather than what's right. It's getting better, and I was able to keep it in my head and not allow it to affect my behavior). 

I know from my own experience and the experience of others that if I am to remain in recovery, I must consistently grow and move forward. Those of us who have become complacent for any length of time usually experience relapse - either emotional relapse or full-blown using substances relapse. So I knew this job was temporary for me. Being of service to others and other aspects of my current job are not a challenge to me. My challenge was showing up as the person I wanted to be on a consistent basis. I've done that, and now it's time to move on to something more challenging - using my experience, strength, hope, and knowledge to support others in building a recovery they can live with. It's exciting and scary all at the same time, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

One final note for this post: I've been working in the dairy department at my store for the past few months. About a month ago, the dairy manager got fired for gross misconduct. I am (somewhat to my chagrin, because I don't like training people) training the new dairy manager. Why didn't I take the position? It would have given me great security until I decided to retire. Well, number one, for the reasons stated above - it's not enough of a challenge. But, as I mentioned, I'm learning to live life from the inside out - to live from that Divine spark that is within me (and you too!). In our world, security is a fleeting thing - anything can happen at anytime. I am learning to no longer look to the world and its people and things for security; I am learning that the security I seek is already within me, and I am learning each day to uncover and utilize the resources within. I hope I can empower and encourage others to do the same thing.



Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Grand Canyon


I visited the Grand Canyon (Arizona, USA) last week with two friends of mine. It's been 29 or 30 years since I last visited the Grand Canyon. At that time I was with my then-girlfriend and her two young boys. We had flown to Phoenix to visit her brother in Paradise Valley, and drove up to the Grand Canyon for an overnight visit. It was then, driving through Arizona, that I decided I would one day live in Arizona. And here I am!

This excursion was vastly different than my experience 3 decades ago. First, even though I was sober on the last trip, too, I'm in a completely different head space (good thing!) and heart space than I was back then. Second, there were no rambunctious boys in our party on this trip, so we went down into the canyon! 

I went with 2 friends, a couple, in recovery. My female friend led the excursion, as she is an avid hiker, and very adventuresome. A couple of nights before we went, she mentioned she was going, and I got excited and invited myself. The next day I realized I might have been a bit pushy, so I apologized and let her off the hook. She said I could come anyway!

It's about a 3 hour drive from Prescott, and we left in the evening. On the way there, we stopped to admire the sunset:

This picture was taken at a place called Hell's Canyon. There is also a swimming/fishing hole there, and some sort of large concrete structure that might be intended for flood abatement, but is currently only used for graffiti. 

We stopped at a free campsite near the Grand Canyon. My understanding is that there are a lot of free camping areas in Arizona. These do not have facilities. Our leader lent me her one-person hiking tent, which was really cool. It is basically a screen tent, so I could sleep under the stars without the bugs. It does come with a rain fly if needed. I brought along my sleeping bag and yoga mat, hoping it would be enough to keep me comfortable. It wasn't. In the morning I realized it would have been smart to gather up all the pine needles in the area to create a soft base onto which to pitch the tent. Live and learn. I also brought along a headlight (a very bright light one actually wears on their head) which I usually use for night biking. It came in handy and facilitated setting up the tents. 

With everybody snug in their respective tents, I tried to fall asleep. Realizing that that wasn't going to happen for awhile, I looked up at the brilliant night sky. I haven't seen the night sky without ambient light pollution for a long time, so it was quite a treat! I wasn't upset that I couldn't get to sleep; I just relaxed my mind and enjoyed the experience. Everything on this trip was so awesome and first-time, it wasn't hard for me to stay engaged in the moment, whether I needed some rest or not.

One of the things that did come to mind - our leader had planned for us to do a 9-mile hike with a 3000' elevation at the Canyon. I got to thinking about that, and on a good day on flat level pavement, walking 9 miles isn't very appealing to me. I resolved to set aside my fear of appearing old and out of shape and talk with her and her SO about it in the morning. The next morning I talked with my traveling companions, expressing my concerns, and even offered to do other stuff around the park while they went hiking. We all decided that the 9 miler was a bit ambitious, and opted instead for a 6 mile, 1500' elevation hike. I bring this up because it's something relatively new for me to express how I feel or what I think if it involves me possibly appearing less-than. As it turned out, we were all pretty much in the same physical shape, even though my companions are a few years younger than me. Well, ok, a lot of years younger. 

So we de-camped, packed up, and headed to the park. I was surprisingly awake and energetic for the amount of actual sleep I got. It is true that if one can't sleep, just being quiet and resting does have value. We stopped for breakfast, loaded up on water, and headed for the Canyon.

I was quite surprised at how the Grand Canyon has grown since I last visited it! Actually, what happened, is the last time I visited, I had a very small, narrow mind, and the visual memory that always surfaced whenever I thought about the Canyon was very small compared to how large it actually is. I was speaking with another friend about our trip, and he said every time he goes there, he is amazed at its enormity.

And then, as we began our trek, I realized I've retained very few memories about my original trip, and some of them aren't that good. This experience was turning out to be totally different - so much so, the two experiences aren't really comparable, other than 30 years ago I happened to occupy the same geographical space. 

Time for another pic:

So, we began the descent. I let my two companions lead the way so I could go slower, if needed, and so that I could take pictures. Now, of course, we don't go straight down (although that would be quicker); the trail has a lot of switchbacks. As I think I mentioned before, walking is not my favorite thing; bicycling is. I am a novice hiker - this is the 2nd hike I've taken in Arizona. I experienced some anxiety at the beginning of the hike, and it wasn't unwarranted. Hiking is risky business! I often experience a bit of anxiety before going on a long bicycle ride, because that has its risks, too. In bicycling, the anxiety leaves quickly because of the chemicals produced through the exercise. Here, it didn't dissipate as quickly, but it did leave. I was there for the overall experience, not just the hiking aspect, so it really didn't matter too much. 

This is a picture from near the bottom of our particular trail. We didn't go quite to the end, but rested here for awhile. Here, and during the whole hike, we talked about a lot of things. For some moments, we sat in the silence, surrounded by the canyon walls. In these moments, I felt that I could hear the silence - it seemed palpable. The experience was indescribably beautiful and awe-inspiring. There was nowhere else I needed or desired to be in those moments except where I was at with the people whom I was with. I haven't had such a deep experience of serenity in a long time, if ever.

Then, we began the climb back up. O.M.G! I began huffing and puffing almost immediately, and at first I felt embarrassed, because my breathing was very audible. Then I realized we were all having difficulty with the climb back up, and I felt better. I imagine I couldn't hear my friends' breathing because mine was so loud. Here I was met with the challenge I experience on almost all of my longer bike rides - and which I now actually enjoy - something inside of me wants to give up. But I can't! I mustn't! I can make it! And hitting the SOS button on our leader's GPS is too embarrassing! But, yeah, when you go down, you HAVE to go back up.

So, we stopped and rested several times on the way up. I'm sure it was easier because we were doing it together. And we were aided a little bit by light rain and a cool breeze. But we made it! And I made a commitment to more aerobic exercise to improve my cardiovascular stamina.


Even with pictures accompanying my words, I have done a poor job of describing the immense positive impact this less-than 24 hour excursion had and still has on me, my recovery, and my spirituality. 

Perhaps the biggest miracle for me is how comfortable I felt being with my new friends. They really are good people with huge hearts, and, aside from a few brief moments already mentioned, I had no problem with being myself around them. I had no anxiety about adventuring with them, I felt no need to impress. I was just myself, and that was more than good enough. There was no competition, and we seemed to move in unity. It really was the most simple, pure experience of friendship I've ever felt in my life. 

Another big takeaway is the kind of spiritual experience produced being in the Grand Canyon. It's an experience that is still with me, in my heart. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. I haven't, in the past, experienced a lot of awe and wonder (except maybe to wonder how I managed to survive this long). I feel like I could explore the Grand Canyon for the rest of my life and never tire of it's beauty, wonder, and mystery. This coming from a guy who a year ago didn't really believe there was anything more to experience from life.

And last, at least for now, is you know I didn't plan this. I jumped on an opportunity, an impromptu road trip because it sounded like it could be fun and I haven't been out of Prescott for awhile. It's another miracle that for the first time in my life I am actually enjoying my life. I'm liking it. I'm loving it. Somewhere in the last year I finally surrendered - I stopped struggling, I stopped trying to find ways to make this life tolerable - and in letting go of what I thought my life should be like, I've received an even better life than I could have possibly imagined. And, as an old friend always says, it just keeps getting better and better.

Thank you for reading, and thank you my friends for who you are and your friendship, and thank you my Creator for never giving up on me, even when I did.



Monday, April 26, 2021

Breaking It Down

 My store director notified me 2 days ago that he had put me in for a merit raise. Wonderful! How much doesn't matter because, if you read my post Priceless, you'll know that I couldn't possibly be paid in dollars and cents what I'm truly worth (neither could you). But I am very grateful to receive a direct affirmation that I am appreciated where I work. I noticed, however, that I had mixed feelings about the news - I felt good that I'm being noticed and my work is appreciated, but I also felt some guilt, and I thought, "Why should I feel guilty?" So I decided to break it down. 

I've written recently about discovering that what was keeping me in a depressed mood or vibe most of the time can be called my Attributional Style - that I was living with the belief that everything 'bad' that was going on in my life was the result of me being a bad person, and that if something good happened to happen, it was a fluke, and I would surely screw it up. With that attributional style, it's difficult, if not impossible, to get out of depression. So what I'm learning to do is to break things down, and look at events, my thinking, and my feelings individually so that I can see if they really fit who I am or who I want to become. In other words, I turned off the autopilot and started to fly manually more often to see if I might end up at a different destination.

So this incident at work, my receiving word that my name was put in for a raise, and the subsequent mixed feelings, gave me the perfect opportunity to break things down and see where my feelings were coming from. (At the end of this post, I'll share what could have happened if I hadn't broken it down).

The question came to me, "Why do I feel guilty about receiving a raise?" and the answer is, I don't. I show up at work, usually on time, I've never called in, I'm honest, I do what is asked of me and more always to the best of my ability, and I'm good at what I do, I'm pleasant to be around, and I have a positive (outward) attitude, and occasionally I offer helpful suggestions. I deserve a merit raise, based on my performance. Ok, so where are the guilt feelings coming from? 

There were two places from which the guilty feelings stemmed. The first is that I know my own inner thinking, and I think it needs improvement. I'm not happy with some corporate policies that I think make my job more difficult or frustrating. I'm not happy that I think the store's (and maybe corporate's) management is short sighted, and is pennywise and pound-foolish. I'm not happy that I believe some of my co-workers don't give a shit about doing a good job. I'm grateful I'm not an outward complainer (most of the time), but I know that much of my thinking while I'm working takes away from my effectiveness - so that I am not the best worker that I possibly could be. However, I am doing my work to change this aspect of myself, and I am improving. There is no reason to feel guilty about having a bad inner attitude so long as I'm working to improve.

The second reason I was experiencing guilt was because I am not planning at working for my employer forever. I am currently in the process of becoming a certified Peer Specialist again - I'm aiming at employment that is a better utilization of my gifts and skills. And I'm not ungrateful for working where I am - despite my shitty-at-times thinking, I'm very grateful for the huge opportunity that has been given me by my current employer! But, most important, my store director knows of my plans - I've asked off for the 2 weeks of training in May, and I've spoken with him directly about my plans. So he knows - if he wants to give me more money despite the fact that I won't be there forever, who am I to say no? I'm not deceiving him in the least. So there's no reason to feel guilty.

Ok, a quick paragraph or two about guilt and shame, because I think the following points can't be driven home enough. Guilt is bad feelings about what I've done, or am doing, and shame is bad feelings about who I am. Both are negative states of consciousness, but guilt can be used in a positive way, whereas shame is useless (in my opinion). Shame says that I am a bad person, and nothing I can do will ever change that. I may strive to be 'good', and do all sorts of good stuff, but deep down I'm always going to be a piece of shit, and if anybody ever knew what a really shitty character I am, they wouldn't have anything to do with me. Maybe I'm a bad person because of my gender, my race or ethnicity, or the religion into which I was born, or because I was born with or acquired a disability, cognitive and/or physical - whatever! It's some aspect or fact about me that can't really be changed at the deepest level that, somewhere along the line, I've learned that I should (there's that s-word!) feel bad about. Shame can only be let go - there's nothing in this life I can ever accomplish that will erase shame. I have to simply (but not so easily) begin to judge myself differently and let it go.

Guilt, on the other hand, is bad feelings stemming from something I've done, or, something I'm thinking about or thinking about doing. Guilt is good when the feelings keep me from harming someone else or myself in some way. Guilt can be bad for me when I feel bad about doing something that is not harming myself or someone else - for instance, I can (and often do) feel guilty about asking for help. I'm not going to elaborate on that, that's a whole 'nother post. But here's an example of positive guilt:

I work right in the middle of the addictive section of my store - between bakery, liquor, and ice cream. Because of good practice, I am rarely bothered by thoughts about alcohol, but I still often have to make tough choices regarding the bakery and the ice cream, so guilt surrounding those items hasn't been helpful yet. Here's a guilt story about liquor: At the store, we get rid of stock that doesn't sell or is outdated or going to be outdated. We do this by offering it for half-price, and then, eventually, distressing it (getting rid of it and calling it a loss). For whatever reason, when I see a skid full of liquor or beer is basically trash, my interest is piqued. Most recently, it was some Stolichnaya Vodka. If you're not familiar with it, it's a fairly high-end vodka that I've never sampled. Anyway, thoughts of stealing it or drinking it give me feelings of guilt - bad feelings inside because if I follow through on the thought, I'm being harmful to myself and others. That's good guilt - it says there are consequences from following this line of thinking that I no longer want in my experience. The way guilt turns bad is if I do not listen to it, or, again, if I have constant guilt about taking (or not taking) actions - then it can turn to shame. Guilt is often a useful tool if I use it.

So there you have it. And, as I promised, I will let you know what can happen if I don't dissect how I'm thinking or feeling. If I were to assume that I should feel guilty about getting a raise, rather than analyzing what's really going on, I would continue to feel guilty and add it to my shame bucket. Eventually, I would do things to sabotage my job, like calling in, or not doing what is assigned to me, or giving voice to the complaints in my head. Eventually, probably more sooner than later, I would feel like my whole life sucked, and I would create evidence to prove that I don't deserve the good that comes to me. I would drink again, and I would go back into active addiction and depression, and I would be unable to keep my job, my apartment, and, eventually, my life. That's just how the cycle runs. So it's important to me that I nip relapse in the bud and at the source - my thoughts and feelings. Once I release something by taking an action, I give up control; however, I do have tools to help me steer my thinking and feeling into better actions.

I am grateful today for the insight that has been given to me, and I'm especially grateful for the willingness, motivation, strength, and courage that it takes to use this insight to allow life to be good.