February 28

“Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.”   Pearl S. Buck

             I awoke this morning feeling tired.  I had to make a choice:  Will I get up, or will I stay in bed?  The longer I lay in bed thinking about how tired I felt, the more I came to realize that I had a choice to make.  I didn’t have to get up; I could have stayed in bed.  But I chose, in that moment, to get up.

             Sometimes we make choices without realizing that we are making them.  We do things out of habit, or we do things because we feel that we have to.  This is not living in the present moment.  This is moving through our day unconsciously; we are somewhere else making choices of which we are not aware.

             I have learned to recognize the times when I am not present, unconsciously thinking about things that aren’t real.  I begin to feel unsettled, irritable, and perhaps even tempted.  This ‘unsettled’ feeling is my first clue that I have slipped into an unconscious state.  An unconscious state is far from the present moment, existing in a ‘story’ that I made up about the world.  It’s not real, but something imagined.

             How do I break free of this unreal, unconscious state?

             One of the ways that works for me is to make a journal entry.  When I become aware that I’m in an unconscious state, I begin writing to pull myself back to consciousness.  In a way, I’m getting current with my own self.  By laying out my own feelings and thoughts, I am able to get in touch with my own state and enable myself to navigate back to reality.

             I find journaling a way to expand the gap between temptation and relapse.  It doesn’t matter how intense it may feel, I can always center myself by getting current – writing it down.  There are other ways to ‘awaken’:  Phone a friend, call your sponsor, pray, get to a meeting.  Doing whatever it takes to delay your decision to act out is an effective way to remedy the situation. 

 You are a strong and resourceful person, able to make wise decisions in the moment.

February 25

“Wisdom rises upon the ruins of folly”   Thomas Fuller

       I make mistakes every day.  I make bad decisions, and wrong choices, even when I know better.  My emotions get the better of me and I end up in a place where I had no intention of going.  I am not perfect – far from it – even though I try hard to better myself.

       It’s human to err; I can accept that.  But I will not resign myself to foolish behavior when I know better.  I can learn from my mistakes.  It’s not a complete disaster if I keep repeating the same errors in judgment.  Sometimes I learn quickly, sometimes slowly. 

       I used to beat myself up when I messed up; mistakes were intolerable, and having my shortcomings revealed to others devastating.  Shame was all I could feel, driving me to repeat the same sins over and over which caused me to further despise myself.

       Shame became a cycle where I  spiraled down into self loathing, and finally turned to addiction in order to cope with the pain.  The pain of self loathing would trigger the tremendous need to act out.  But continually engaging in my addiction would spawn more shame and self loathing ending in more acting out… on and on.

       In recovery I have learned to gain wisdom from my mistakes.  There is always something to gain, even from my shortcomings.  There is no need for self loathing; I know that I am worthwhile even when I go astray.  I can always come back to the program and begin again.

       Over the years my self image has improved, and as a result, my shame has diminished.  I feel guilty about some things I’ve done, and rightly so.  But I don’t need to beat myself up any more.  I can learn and gain wisdom from my foolish mistakes.  It is the blunder that causes me the most guilt and remorse that I can learn from the most. 

       We have to live our own lives, profit from our blunders, and learn from our experience.  Nobody can do these things for us.  The greatest wisdom comes from life’s hardest lessons; therefore, it is the grace of God that allows me to learn wisdom.

 You are a child of God, and wisdom is your birthright.

February 24

“The sun loses nothing by shining into a puddle.”

       There are certain laws that govern the universe; let’s call them universal laws.  Physical laws, like gravity or thermodynamics, are always in force.  They apply to our lives whether we like it or not.  There are also spiritual laws that affect our lives as well.  The law of reciprocity (give and it shall be given) is one such law.  

       The practice of the 12th Step involves giving back to others who still suffer.  There is a slogan in the program that best describes the benefit of giving back:  “If you want to keep it, you’ve got to give it away.”  It helps me to help others because it strengthens me in the doing.  You never give to others without receiving in return.

       My wife teaches little 4 year olds; one of the little songs they sing is, “Love is something if you give it away… you keep on getting more.”  So simple, yet so true.  Just give it away – no strings attached – freely, generously, and you will never be without.

       But we live in a competitive world where winning is everything.  Many of us grew up in an environment where there wasn’t enough to go around.  And the difference between winning and losing meant either having enough or not having enough.  I grew up in a family of six children in which there was only so much food to go around.  If you ate too slowly you didn’t get a second helping because there was nothing left.

       There are so many that suffer from a ‘poverty’ mentality that it is rare to find someone who is actually generous, and who believes that the universe is abundant, able to give back generously to those who share with others.

       Gratitude and generosity are inseparably linked in the realm of the spirit.  Those who are generous cannot do so without first being grateful; those who practice gratitude are empowered to give.  Heart-felt gratitude expresses itself with acts of generosity.  Why?  It’s a four-letter word called ‘love.’

       It costs nothing to smile into a puddle.  We try to avoid the ‘puddles’ in our lives, the annoyances that easily spoil our walk on the spiritual path.  But the one who practices gratitude can be grateful for all things, even the puddles.  Instead of avoiding and ignoring these little annoyances, we can be grateful for them and generously shine down our gratitude into these lives.

       It costs very little to give gratitude and show generosity, and the rewards are huge.

 You choose to be great when you choose to be grateful.

February 23

“Guilt is what we feel about something we did; shame is how we feel about who we are.”

       I still remember my first therapy session.  We were at a donut shop having a coffee, and my friend and I were talking about addiction – my addiction.  And he was trying to explain the nature of addiction and its proper treatment.  Using my coffee cup, the salt and pepper shakers and the sugar dispenser he tried to illustrate for me how it works.

       Forming a semicircle with the salt, pepper and sugar dispensers, he placed my coffee cup in the middle to represent my addiction.  “If you try to remove the addiction from the equation,” he said as he nudged my cup to the side, “you will find that another addiction  will replace it.”  He then proceeded to push the salt shaker into the middle, which represented another addiction taking the place of the first one.

       Addiction is a disease that is best treated at its root cause.  Acting out (‘using’) is not the problem; it’s merely a symptom of the problem.  Winning freedom over an addiction involves far more than managing it.  If you, for example, stop drinking and manage to somehow stay away from it, you have only treated the symptoms.  The addiction will come back later in full force, either with the same symptoms, or in another form.

       Shame is what fuels the addiction.  Remove the fuel from a car and it stops moving; deal with the shame and the addiction stops.

       The 12 Steps are designed to address the shame we carry inside.  There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t feel a certain amount to shame, the feeling that we aren’t enough and don’t measure up.  The Steps help us to raise our heads from shame and accept the grace of God.

       Upon taking the first Step we admitted our powerlessness over our addiction.  Steps 2 and 3 required that we surrender to a Higher Power.  This exchange of our weakness for God’s power begins a journey, starting from the place of our own unworthiness and moving to a place of love and respect for ourselves and others (Steps 4 through 12).

       Our first defense against shame is exposure.  Just knowing what it is will help us to recognize it when it shows up in our lives.  Working the steps allows us to experience oneness with God, others and our selves; healing our relationships is what helps to reduce shame. 

 You have everything you need as you journey from shame to grace.

February 22

“Excellence is not an act but a habit.”   Aristotle

       I am grateful for this new day.  I am grateful for this present moment.  And this morning I remind myself that this present moment is all there is.  There is no ‘tomorrow’ to which I can defer today; just this moment – right now.

       This means that I can’t put off greatness and excellence until tomorrow.  Excellence can’t be accomplished in one giant leap performed at some time in the future.  An athlete who prepares for the Olympics doesn’t wait until the day of competition; he prepares by training and by competing.  The athlete’s performance develops over time – one day at a time, one competition at a time. 

       Excellence is a series of performances, each built upon the last.  The focus is not on yesterday or tomorrow, but what’s happening right now.  It’s paying attention to what works and what doesn’t work.  Each moment is an opportunity to make improvements to previous attempts.  Excellence is habitual, not a miracle leap that happens once and is never repeated.  

       Therefore, greatness and excellence begins now! 

       I have played the guitar for well over 30 years, and in that time I have developed my own personal style.  I am not a professional, but I would have to say that I have professional “chops” (i.e. I’m pretty good).  This did not happen overnight; nor did I suddenly wake up one day and discover that I could play proficiently!

       It took many years trying to improve my guitar playing (in private and in public) to reach my present status.  When I practiced, I was totally present – in the moment – focused on mastering the latest riff or chord inversion borrowed from another guitarist.  To this day I realize that I have not ‘arrived’ when it comes to music or guitar.  Just like thirty something years ago, I am dedicated to excellence because I know that it’s a process, not a destination.

       Part of my daily practice in recovery is “gratitude.”  This is something that I have decided to focus on because I want to improve my recovery.  Gratitude is what keeps me connected with my Higher Power; it keeps me grounded in humility and deepens my faith.  When I feel tempted to act out, gratitude helps me to refocus my thoughts.

       The practice of something simple like gratitude improves my ability to remain clean and sober.  The 12 Step program focuses on progress, not perfection; therefore, I will remain dedicated to excellence in recovery now.

 You can improve your recovery by focusing on something simple like gratitude. 

February 21

“The price of dishonesty is self-destruction.”  Rita Mae Brown

       I was a two-faced liar.  When I entered into recovery, I soon became aware of how often I would lie.  Dishonesty was almost second nature.  In order to keep the addiction alive I had to remain undetected; that meant flying below the radar. 

       Lying took on many forms.  Sometimes it meant racing home at dangerous speeds so I wouldn’t be late.  Other times I had to make up a story about why I had to work late.  I would stay up half the night and not be able to say why.  And of course, hiding the evidence was almost a daily occurrence.  You couldn’t smell my ‘drug’ so it was easier to hide than alcohol – but just as powerful.  

       An older member of our fellowship would often encourage us with these words:  “Tell the truth, and tell it quickly.”  If we were going to get better, we were going to have to be honest about everything.  No holding back, no planning, and no acting out.

       I had a tendency to remain isolated;  even when I was home I was off doing something on my own.  I remember not wanting to be with my family for long periods of time, and I could always find an excuse for wandering off by myself.

       The addiction came first, so I would do what I had to do in order to keep it alive.  My addiction became a priority because I needed to ‘use’ everyday.  Each decision was weighed against the need to have my drug, to act out.  But lying was taking its toll.

       I found myself lying about all kinds of things.  I would tell a lie when I really didn’t need to, even when I had nothing to hide.  As my need to ‘use’ increased I became more irritable, and grew more and more distant.  It was destroying my relationship with my family and affecting my performance at work.                            

           Truth telling began the day I willingly went to a 12-Step meeting, admitting that I was powerless over my addiction.  Each  subsequent step required that I look at the truth more closely:  the truth about myself, the truth about God, and the truth about my recovery.

       Today I can truthfully say that I am powerless, and that my Higher Power is able to give me the strength to remain sober for one more day.

 “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

February 18

“The only way to pray well is to pray often.”

       In Step Two we “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  Some in the program struggle with a proper concept of a Higher Power.  Many do not like the term “God.”  Some are ‘atheists’ and prefer to think of the group as their Higher Power.  But the thing of it is:  Our Higher Power is someone to whom we can pray.

       I know, intellectually, that prayer is good and necessary, but I pray only sporadically.  It seems reasonable that, if my Higher Power is the One who will save me from my powerlessness, I should be in conscious contact with God all the time.

       Prayer is an exercise that I don’t always perform when it’s necessary to do so.  I think my postponement of prayer stems from my basic misconceptions.  “Prayers must be correct, well thought out, and perfect, or God will not listen.”  Thinking that my prayers must be perfect is one reason why I do not pray nearly enough.

        Would it be fair to say that we need to pray ‘religiously’?  The 12-Step program is not a religious one, but I fully realize that I am weak in the area of prayer.  I don’t do it regularly, consistently, as if my life depended on it.

       This morning I am grateful that my prayers are heard by my Higher Power.  This is a growing realization that began when I first started the 12-Step program.  Steps One, Two and Three brought about a transfer, my powerlessness for God’s power.  And each subsequent Step was a step of faith to somewhere I had never been. 

       Prayer is a way of maintaining “conscious contact with God” as we travel on this journey of faith.  Instead of praying in a state of desperation or as a last resort (after I’ve tried everything else and nothing’s worked), I need to learn to pray moment by moment – before I take action – not just when I feel tempted.

       I offer up a prayer of thanksgiving today to God for the strength I have received as a result of prayer.  I am grateful for my addiction, my sobriety, my health, and my freedom.  There is so much to be grateful for, and I overlook most of it by taking things for granted.  I resolve to pray more often by remaining in an attitude of gratitude; a thankful heart is one of strength and joy.  

 You shall be strong as you maintain your conscious contact with your Higher Power.

February 17

“It is easier to protect your feet with shoes than to carpet the whole earth.”

       “You know, if it wasn’t for that lousy job of mine, I’d be a lot happier.”  I heard myself say that this morning.  My thoughts drift when I first get up either remembering a dream or thinking about a movie I saw the night before.  It wasn’t that I felt resentful or angry… well, okay, maybe just a little bit resentful.

       I recognize this thought as one of many past complaints:  “I’d be happy if only…”  As if my happiness is contingent on other people and my present circumstances.  I used to love to put the blame on others for the way I was feeling. 

       If the boss asked (told) me to do something I felt was beneath me, I ‘d get upset and question his wisdom.  I tried to stay in control by protesting, loudly declaring my opposition to his unfair decision.  All the while it was I who was controlled by the boss.

       But is trying to stay in control going to produce happiness?  Well, think about it:  Every time someone steps out of line you try to control what they’re saying or doing; and that can get exhausting – not to mention frustrating!  Controlling yourself is the best you can hope for…

       But first thing in the morning is the best time to set the tone for the entire day.  I have plenty of thoughts drifting through my head, but I know they’re just thoughts.  That’s all.  And I am learning to be more aware of them.  I have made the happy discovery that my thoughts don’t have to control me if I remain vigilant and aware of my mental activity.  And this has made a big impact on my own state of mind – my own happiness.

       I have come to realize that I can choose my thoughts if I am aware of them.  The trouble with addiction is that I seldom want to let certain thoughts go; especially the ones that are angry and resentful.  There’s something addictive about thoughts that stir up negative energy.  They seem to feed the story in my head that I can remain in control by feeling angry and bitter towards someone else.  But the opposite is true; in fact, I am the one being controlled by my feelings.

       I have decided that for today I will accept the world for what it is.  There’s no point trying to change it, or all the people in it.  My circumstances are what they are and it’s important that I accept my life as it is.  If I want to be happy, I will work on my attitude; this is where happiness begins and ends.

 If it is happiness you want, change yourself, not other people.

February 16

“Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.”   Anonymous

       I don’t know – call me a nervous Nellie, but I’m feeling more ‘anxious’ these days than I normally do.  I suffer from ‘SAD’ (Seasonal Affective Disorder) which becomes a challenge this time of year.  Apparently, I don’t get enough sun in the winter months, and this causes me to feel gloomy and anxiously depressed.

       If you live north of the 49th parallel, you probably feel this way when the days get shorter and the nights longer.  It’s a Canadian thing; unlike our neighbors to the south we are quite gloomy this time of year.  I don’t think it’s the cold, so much, as it is the lack of sunlight.

       I tried using a sunlamp last year but I found it annoying.  Believe it or not, I found it to be too bright!  I took it back, and began taking several thousand milligrams of vitamin D every day instead.  And within a few short weeks I started to feel better.

        Gloomy depression and sleepless anxiety are close cousins; the flip side of the same coin.  I usually feel the anxiety – shortness of breath and a tightening in the chest – long before the depression sets in.  So, here I am wrestling with a vague sense of dread and apprehension on a Friday morning before I head into work.

           Be as it may, I choose to give thanks for the day – gloomy or not.  I am grateful for the fact that it’s Friday; the end of a week, and the beginning of a relaxing weekend.  I am also grateful for my health; a lot of people at work are suffering through colds and the flu.  I am blessed with good physical health, and on a good day, good mental health.

       I particularly want to give thanks for my recovery.  There was a day when I turned to my favorite ‘drug’ especially this time of year.  My addiction would only increase in an attempt to medicate these feelings of anxious depression.  I don’t have to do that anymore; and for that I am grateful.

       There’s no need to struggle against this feeling of anxiety and depression.  I can accept that it is here today… and most likely gone tomorrow.  Anxiety will increase and eventually develop into depression if I try to fight it, resist it.  I choose to embrace it and use it as a reminder to be grateful. 

       Fear is a dark void that can be filled with the light of love.  And what better way to create love than to be grateful?

 You can walk in the light when you practice gratitude.

February 15

“Entertaining hope means recognizing fear.”  Robert Browning

       Today I woke up feeling anxious.  It’s not unusual for me to feel this way this time of year.  So, it comes as no surprise… I remember last year at this time; it was doom and gloom without any light at the end of the tunnel.  I think I even took a few days off work as sick days.

       When allowed to run amuck, my anxious thoughts can really knock the stuffing out of me.  Fear is the great motivator for some, but it only serves to stop me in my tracks.  I meet up with anxiety and fear only to turn away and look for a ‘safer’ place.  And this begins my slow decent into addictive and accessory behavior.

       A little over a month ago I made a New Year’s resolution:  To be happy.  I made this resolution because I recognize that happiness is a decision (see Meditation called “Happiness”).  And it truly is – I can literally choose how I am going to feel by choosing what kinds of thoughts I am going to entertain.  Everything hangs on my attitude, which is determined by choice.

       Today may prove to be a little more challenging; anxiety can weigh heavily sometimes.  I have a history of shutting down when faced with fear.  And anxiety can really do a number on my head if I give in to the temptation to slip into isolation.

       I begin first with gratitude.  This is a choice I can make no matter how I feel.  I just simply do it:  “Today I am grateful for my aches and pains – it means I am still alive and able to move around.”  This is where I begin. 

       Gratitude is difficult at first when I’m feeling anxious.  My own sense of shame and unworthiness is apt to bring me to my knees.  But on my knees I can make a conscious choice to give thanks for the things that I have momentarily forgotten; like life itself, and the air I breathe.

       Fear is certainly one reason we hope; what we hope for is based on what we fear.  It’s always running in the background.  And I can learn to encourage myself in the face of fear.  In fact, I can face what I fear and do it anyway.

       Anxiety is a bit harder to define when I’m not sure what’s causing it; however, it can be addressed much the same way.  I’m afraid to face the day when I feel anxiety, so I can “face my fears” with an embrace.  That’s right.  I can welcome the anxiety – not as an enemy – but as a friend that inspires me to be more grateful.

  You can meet your day with either fear or hope; choose hope.