April 15

FEAR:  The absence of love 

      What is the opposite of fear?  Would you say it’s courage?  I used to think so.  But as I considered it I realized that fear is an emotion and courage is an action.  As far as I can tell, the opposite emotion to fear is love.  Please let me explain what I mean.

       The same way darkness is the absence of light, and cold is the absence of heat – so fear is the absence of love.  Hot and cold cannot coexist; neither can light and darkness.  Do you think that anger can coexist with peace any more than gloom can mix with happiness?  Absolutely not!  Similarly, fear cannot exist in the presence of love.

       The Bible says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4:18  Below, I have listed several characteristics of fear contrasting them with love… 

FEAR:                                                       LOVE:

1. Withholding                                          Giving

2. Isolated                                                 Communal

3. Antisocial                                              Relational

4. Closed                                                   Open

5. Shortage                                                Abundance

6. Doubt                                                    Faith

7. Superstition                                           Truth

       How will you ever know how to love if you remain full of fear?  How can you give if you are withholding?  How can you be open and vulnerable with another person if you are closed and controlling?  Fear is cynical, disparaging, and trusts no one; love is optimistic, encouraging, and full of faith.  Love is an energy that fills the universe and holds all things together.  If fear is removed from the heart, love rushes in to fill the void.

       The only way for you  to experience love is to remove the fear.  And the only way to remove it is to let it go.  Just let go, and let God.  Fear is not something that overcomes you by sneaking up from behind and pouncing on you suddenly.  You are not its captive, held hostage by forces beyond your control.  Fear can be overcome by following these four steps:  1) Awareness: 2) Admission; 3) Surrender; 4) Affirmation

  •  Awareness:  Develop the conscious awareness of fear in whatever form it may appear (isolation, procrastination, withholding, etc.)
  • Admission:  Come out of isolation and admit to another person the nature of your fear.
  • Surrender:  Turn your fearful thoughts over to the care of God.  Let go of your obsession with the past and the future, and remain in the present moment.
  • Affirmation:  Take time to repeat out loud the truth about yourself.  This will help to turn on the light of truth in your soul

April 14

“Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.”   Marie Curie

       Fear plays a significant role in our lives.  From the time we are born till the day we die, fear shows up regularly.  And it’s a good thing it does.  For example, fear is required when handling a sharp knife; otherwise, we would carelessly cut our fingers off.  And what about the times we cross the street?  Without fear we would foolishly wander out in front of oncoming traffic.  It’s a good thing we feel fear in the face of real danger.

       But there is a type of fear that isn’t real.  It’s based on the imaginary, and lives inside our heads.  Every time you feel anxious about the outcome of tomorrow you are afraid of something that doesn’t exist.  Every time you procrastinate you delay that which you fear.  But what you fear isn’t real; it lives in your imagination.

       What helps to create your reality are your beliefs about yourself and the world around you.  Believing you aren’t good enough, or that you are sure to fail is enough to keep you from stepping out and moving forward.  And if you believe you are not worthy of love you will create a wall of fear that separates you from others.  False beliefs can create a world of suffering if you continually resist taking responsibility for your life.

       False beliefs are based on false information.  People used to think that the world was flat; therefore, they believed that if you got too close to the edge you would fall off.  We laugh at this, yet we have our own false beliefs that prevent us from venturing too far out to sea.  If you believe that “it can’t be done” then for you it is true. 

       Without a proper understanding of who I was and what I was capable of, I became an underachiever and sold myself short.  I told myself that I wasn’t worthy of pursuing anything meaningful and settled for less – much less.  I didn’t really try to pursue the things that I enjoyed for fear of discovering I wasn’t any good. 

       False beliefs about myself caused me to fear, kept me immobilized and  controlled my decision making.  I accepted far less than what I was capable of; and the suffering I caused myself was far greater than the pain of failure.  But I had decided that I wasn’t going to grow up and accept my responsibilities as a husband and a father.  I wanted to stay a little boy forever, locked in a world of childhood fantasy.

       I needed a ‘safe’ place in which to hide; addiction was that safe place.  I convinced myself that my addiction was the solution to all the bad feelings I lived with inside my mind.  As I became more isolated I allowed myself to lay aside my responsibilities and pretend that they didn’t exist. 

 Tomorrow’s topic – Fear:  The absence of love

April 13

The Insanity

       I mentioned yesterday how insanity took over my life and held me in the grip of a powerful addiction.  The insanity was fed from many sources, but I have boiled them down to three:  Fear, Chaos and Religion.  This is my story, and these are the major areas in which I clearly suffered throughout my life. 

       Suffering is caused by resistance:  Resistance to pain.  Pain is not something we can avoid or escape because stuff happens everyday.  Our lessons in life are painful and are meant to teach us about ourselves and the world in which we live.  But we can’t learn from our hurts if we try to escape.  Resistance to pain shows up in different forms, but it always leads to one thing:  More suffering.

       Fear:  I resisted responsibility and permitted fear to immobilize me and control my decision making.”  I was afraid of many things when I was young, but the fear of responsibility must have been the greatest.  I stayed in school for as long as I could, afraid of having to choose a career.  In fact, I waited until I was married with children to find a trade and become a bread-winner for my family.  My constant running away from responsibility obstructed the natural flow of creativity and stifled my willingness to make wise decisions.  When opportunities to take responsibility showed up I would resist and cause more fear and more suffering.

           Chaos:  I resisted change and allowed chaos to spin me out of control into a state of turmoil and constant confusion.  Our world is naturally in a constant state of flux and change.  This chaos is what causes our world to evolve.  The phrase ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ stems from this need to progress and change.  And resisting this change – in whatever form – simply delays the process and causes more chaos.  If you try to control something that is beyond your control, you are resisting change, and this causes more chaos and more suffering.

       Religion:  I resisted God’s grace and let religion keep me on a treadmill of futility that actually blocked my spiritual progress.  I was raised in an environment of religious fundamentalism that focused on the outward form of religion.  It put God into a religious box that we could understand and control.  All those who opposed our religion were going to hell.  We were right; and we were convinced of it!  The concept of ‘letting go and letting God’ was foreign to us.  We preached love, but we fought like cats and dogs.  We understood the concept of grace, but we resisted God’s grace by trying to create our own form of spirituality.  It’s called legalism.  Instead of letting go and letting God, we set up an elaborate set of rules and regulations by which we could measure our spirituality along with everyone else’s.  The tighter I held on to my religion, the more I resisted God’s grace and the more I suffered.

 Tomorrow’s topic:  Fear – resisting responsibility

April 12

The Sacred Path:  My own little book on recovery

 Part I

     The book I would like to write and publish will be based on my own personal story, and my perspectives about the real world in which we live.  First of all, pain and suffering are often thought to be the same thing but they are not. 

a)      Pain is physical.  Suffering is spiritual

b)      Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is a choice, and therefore optional. 

c)      Pain is real and necessary.  Suffering is an illusion and unnecessary. 

    There were three factors at work in my life that I used to increase my personal suffering:

1.    Fear:  I resisted responsibility and permitted fear to immobilize me and control my decision making.

2.   Chaos:  I resisted change and allowed chaos to spin me out of control into a state of turmoil and constant confusion.

3.   Religion:  I resisted God’s grace and let religion keep me on a treadmill of futility and actually block my spiritual progress.

     I wish to reveal my life-long struggle with addiction.  And in so doing I will be attempting to unpack my feelings and unravel my thoughts around this incredible journey called recovery.  I’m trusting my Higher Power to give me the correct words to say as I try to honestly tell it like it is.

     Sanity is something we addicts once had as little children.  We were normal, innocent and free.  But in our formative years something odd happened along the way, and we slowly developed an illness that can only be described as “insanity.”  What we addicts are recovering is our sanity.

     A great deal of this illness is a mystery; addiction can be cunning, baffling and powerful.  But there is a path – a ‘sacred path’ – which leads to serenity and freedom. 

 Tomorrow’s topic:  Insanity – my three sources of suffering

April 11

“Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.”  Thomas Jefferson

       Wisdom is not something that we are born with.  Wisdom is imparted to and learned by any individual who is willing and open; open to the truth and willing to live according to the truth no matter what the cost.  That is why honesty is the foundation of wisdom.

       The word ‘honesty’ is not found in any of the 12 steps, but honesty is a concept that threads its way throughout.  “We admitted” is an honest admission of our powerlessness.  In step 1 we are ready to face the truth about ourselves.  Steps 2 and 3 require that we get real about God:  Do you have a Higher Power or not?  The person who is willing to turn over his/her will and life to God (step 3) is ready to let go of a life of fantasy and faking it.  All the lies and half truths must go.  Step 4 says we “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”  It takes courage to honestly record all of our faults and shortcomings and then admit it to someone else. 

       Courage and honesty (rigorous honesty) is necessary to work the 12 Steps.  There can be no half-measures, no short cuts and no faking it.  Once again, in step 5, we “admit to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” A sincere declaration of this nature demands rigorous honesty – the kind of honesty that involves hard work on our part.

       Steps 6 to 9 can be described with one word:  Atonement.  Asking God to remove our sins is asking forgiveness.  Making amends with other people we have harmed is our part in this atonement.  The healing of our rift with God and others is nothing less than repentance – a complete 180 degree turn.  One minute we are headed in one direction, and the next we’re moving in the opposite.  And all of this is impossible until we get real and face the truth about ourselves, about God and about other people.

       It’s not easy to be honest in all our affairs.  We don’t always feel like confessing to every little white lie or misdemeanor.  There’s always something that we want to withhold from God (as if we ever could) and pretend to ourselves and others that it never happened.  When we slip and lie about it we only cheat ourselves.  In that moment our souls begin to shrivel up again and we lose our way as we try to navigate down the path to wisdom.

April 8

“Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.”

Pearl S. Buck

      The 12 promises come as a result of growth.  Without change and growth in our lives we remain stuck.  We contain a great deal of potential when we first enter the program, but we have no idea what’s in store.  Sometimes we need to remind ourselves how far we’ve come.  Here is a recap of our potential growth in recovery:     

  1. We will know a new freedom and happiness.
  2. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door upon it.
  3. We will comprehend the word serenity and know peace.
  4. No matter how far down the scale we have gone we will see how our experience can benefit others.
  5. The feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear.
  6. We shall lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
  7. Self seeking will slip away.
  8. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
  9. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
  10. We will instinctively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
  11. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
  12. They (the promises) will always materialize if we work for them.

      Growth is change.  It is a necessity in recovery.  Our sobriety is not the only result from following the program; our sobriety brings with it a whole host of benefits.  As the promises clearly outline for us, we will grow and change emotionally and spiritually.  And this growth will impact our lives in ways that can only be seen as miracles.

       This new freedom and happiness was a result of a new clarity of thought, the ability to feel again, and the confidence to meet each new day without the fear of relapse.  Our ability to face the truth, accept ourselves and let go of the past has allowed us to trade in our regret for gratitude.  We are now useful human beings able to help others.

       The reason we can experience peace and serenity is due to our inward healing.  Our fractured lives of duplicity were made whole; we are now able to live with integrity.  Self pity is gone because we have learned to accept the responsibility for our own lives.  Rather than blaming others, we are able to reach out and help our fellows.

       We now have an inner wisdom that guides us on our journey through recovery.  Our ability to accept life on life’s terms has given us the courage to embrace the real world instead numbing our feelings in isolation.  It is now okay to feel our emotions deeply.  This is why we no longer feel insecure around other people.  We are no longer overwhelmed by situations which used to baffle us.  We can handle each circumstance with grace and poise.

       Ultimately, we have come to the realization that much of our growth is a result of God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  This is the miracle of recovery.

April 7

The Twelfth Promise 

“They (the promises) will always materialize if we work for them.”

       The 12 Step program is like a recipe.  In order to bake a chocolate cake you must follow a recipe; every single ingredient must be included.  When you decide to leave out some of the ingredients you will find, in the end, that you don’t have a chocolate cake.  The same thing applies to the 12 Steps program:  You must include every step in the proper sequence in order for the promises to materialize.

       We receive the promises as gifts.  But these gifts are not granted without some effort on our part.  No one stands idly by waiting for a miracle to happen; everyone must do the work that is required.  Sometimes these promises are realized quickly, sometimes slowly.  But they always materialize if we work for them.

       These promises come with directions and conditions.  The directions are the 12 Steps; a simple procedure that guides us through this spiritual process.  But following these directions is no guarantee that we will receive the promises; there are also conditions that must be met.  These conditions include willingness, open mindedness and rigorous honesty.  No half measures or shortcuts will do; there is no “fast track” to a spiritual awakening. 

       Some of us have said, “Oh, I believe!  So, why hasn’t God removed my urge to use?”  There is no such thing as ‘easy believe-ism’ in this program.  The promises are hard fought and won with our blood, sweat and tears.  When we say we believe, our words must always be backed up with action.  We must not only talk the talk; we must also walk the walk.   

“Keep coming back; it works if we work it, and we’re worth it!”

April 6

The Eleventh Promise 

“We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

       Before we came to believe in a Higher Power, we had two explanations for the unexpected events in our lives:  Good luck and bad luck.  When good things happened to us it was considered good luck, and bad things were considered bad luck.  We regarded the unexplainable events in our lives as purely coincidental.

       When we were lost in our addiction, the only higher power we had was our ‘drug of choice.’ Having almost no awareness of things spiritual, we relied on things that we understood in the physical realm.  We  learned that we could alter our moods just by ingesting something into our bodies, or by behaving compulsively.  We were in charge because we had the power.

       But in recovery we came to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, and a Power far greater than our addiction.  The program taught us that we are powerless over certain things; no matter how hard we tried there were things that we couldn’t control.  Our efforts to take control of the world around us weren’t working, and we were losing ground.

       After we surrendered ourselves to the care of God, we learned to trust God with our lives.  We didn’t understand how our Higher Power was able to help us; we just knew from experience that the program was working.  Just like plugging a lamp into an electrical socket produces light, we learned that ‘plugging’ into our Higher Power worked even if we weren’t able to fully comprehend it.

       We were doing our part by working the 12 Steps.  And as we worked through each step in sequence, we came to realize that God was doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  We were witnessing God’s miracles of grace in our lives.  And as we continued to observe these miracles in our own lives and in the lives of others, we were strengthened in our resolve to trust our Higher Power.

April 5

The Tenth Step

“We will instinctively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.”

       There was a time when our addiction had us on the run.  We were constantly trying to dodge people and situations which caused us to feel overwhelmed.  The only solution to a problem we faced was to act out; our addiction was the quick fix.

       Like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, we tried to hide from life’s problems.  But when we came up for air the problems were still there.  Our addiction hadn’t really solved anything; in fact, it had made things worse.  Constantly resisting the things we didn’t want seemed only to make them grow larger and more pervasive.

       When we began to attend 12 Step meetings we learned the Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  By repeating this prayer we came to the realization that we were asking for wisdom.  And we received this wisdom by following the program and working the steps.

       Over time we also learned that we had tools we could use for every situation in which we found ourselves.  We knew how to relinquish to our Higher Power the things over which we were powerless (the serenity to accept the things I cannot change).  We also learned how to take care of ourselves (the courage to change the things I can).  Being able to make this distinction gave us great insight into the solving of our problems.  We began to handle these situations with grace and wisdom.

       Setting up boundaries with other people, learning self-care, and spending time in solitude with our Higher Power gave us the confidence to face life on life’s terms.  We were gaining more and more confidence in ourselves to handle situations from which we used to try to escape.  For the first time in our lives we could hold our heads high, look the world in the eyes and stand free.

April 4

The Ninth Promise 

“Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.”

      When we were deep in our addiction, we were ruled by fear.  Most of it was a story – a fantasy – we created in our own minds which consumed us and became our reality.  Our fear of people was one such illusion. 

       Our fear of people was a fabrication of our own minds.  The shame we carried around with us brought up feelings of unworthiness.  We believed that we were second class citizens, not worthy of the love and concern from another.  In fact, we felt like we were a mistake and belonged with the other outcasts of society.  But we tried to cover up our feelings of inferiority; in fact, we were afraid to look people in the eye in case they saw right through us.

       For this reason we became isolated; we wanted to be alone with our shame and our addiction.  When we were alone we didn’t have to worry about what others thought of us, or feel pressured to live up to any of their demands.  We felt very insecure around others because we didn’t trust them.  In our minds they threatened to expose us; they just weren’t safe to be around.

       Even though much of what we feared wasn’t real, our fear of financial (economic) insecurity was quite real.  We had squandered a great deal of our money because of our addiction; we’d even gone into considerable debt.  We lost jobs due to our irresponsible behavior leaving us without proper income, and leaving our loved ones to try to manage alone.

       Whether imagined or real, fear was our constant companion that we’d created.  As we worked through the Steps we found a love that replaced our fear.  We became hopeful, worthy human beings that need not fear anyone or anything.  We came to understand the saying: “When fear knocks, faith answers – and no one is there.”

       Our trust in the things to which we were addicted was replaced by trust in ourselves, other people and our Higher Power.  We were experiencing love for the first time, the kind of love that is open and honest, optimistic and giving.  And this love had replaced much of the fear that held us back.