August 26

Vigilance:  Part VI

 Ask for knowledge of God’s will

      Other than remaining sober, what is the will of God for the addict in recovery?  What is the point of knowing the will of God?  There are three benefits to knowing God’s will:     

  • Direction
  • Inspiration
  • Wisdom

      The promises of the 12 Step program suggest that healing will take place in three areas: Physical, emotional and spiritual – the whole person.  The will of God will cover the needs of the entire person – body, soul and spirit.  And where this shows up in recovery impacts how a person thinks (cognitive), feels (emotional) and acts (physical).

      Direction for decision-making is a cognitive benefit.  The will of God is understood by the intellect, the mind.  It’s important that the thoughts of the recovering person are transformed and renewed in order to obtain proper direction for decision making.

      Inspiration for staying motivated is an emotional benefit.  God’s will has an impact on the emotions because the thought life is being renewed and transformed daily.  Change your thoughts and you change your emotional state.  This is how we are able to remain in our new-found sanity. 

      Wisdom for freedom from self-will is an action benefit.  Wisdom is a lot more than just knowing the correct decision, but also the power to take action.  The will of God impacts our decision making and our ability to fearlessly take action.

      So, the prayer for knowledge of God’s will must also be coupled with a request for the power to carry it out.  If God’s will is something that we are powerless to carry out, don’t you think that God would also provide for us the power to do it?

      Vigilance is so important if you are to remain on track in the pursuit of your heart’s desire.  It is the principle that enables you to discover what you truly want.  And this leads us to the last principle: the principle of Reciprocity.

August 25

Vigilance:  Part V

 Improve conscious contact with God

       Prayer and meditation is not just an attitude, but also a practice.  Did you know that you are constantly praying?  “Praying to whom?” you may ask.  Your mind is in conversation with someone at all times; you talk to your ‘self’ constantly.  Self talk is mostly unconscious, and if not practiced on a conscious level can be quite destructive and limiting.

       Prayer can be transformed from merely talking to yourself to talking to your higher ‘self’ – your Higher Power!  Effective prayer is something that you must practice if you are to improve your conscious contact with God, your Higher Power. 

       Talking to God is a conscious exercise.  There are, basically, two things you can engage in when praying:  You can consciously give gratitude for that which you are thankful; you can make conscious petition for things that you need.  ‘Asking’ and ‘giving thanks’ are both very important items that need to be part of your dialogue with God.

       And yes, it is a dialogue; God also must speak.  But not many of us know how to listen.  Even when we’re engaged in a conversation and the other person is talking, we’re not really listening.  We’re thinking about what we’re going to say next!  Listening is hard to do because we don’t practice it.

      Listening is part of meditation.  I had difficulty (and still do) trying to meditate because of the mind chatter – the noise and racket that persist when I first begin.  But with practice the mind does quiet down and listening gets easier.  There is a still, small voice that I can hear if I remain silent and tranquil, allowing my mind to settle down.

      There are very practical ways that you can listen to God.  After a period of quiet listening, you can begin to write down (in a journal) the impressions that come to you.  And you can record what comes to you in the form of an affirmation.  Write these truths down for they are your truth.

      Prayer and meditation is a practice; and with practice you can improve your conscious contact with your Higher Power.  Regularly engaging in quiet, physical relaxation and maintaining emotional calm is necessary to sustain proper conscious contact with your Higher Power.

August 24

Vigilance:  Part IV

Be prompt to admit your faults

      During the first few months of recovery, a wise member of  the 12 Step group of which I was a member would remind me on a regular basis:  “Learn to tell the truth, and tell it quickly.”  This is not an easy vow to fulfill, and I had difficulty following his advice.  Never the less, it has proven to be a necessary part of my recovery regime for three reasons: 

  • Humility
  • Shame
  • Spiritual health

Humility   Surrender doesn’t happen just once; letting go is a daily exercise.  Your decision to “let go and let God” happens moment by moment.  Your will and your life – what you think and how you act – fall under the scrutiny of the Spirit of God.  And it requires your humble willingness to continually hand over your attachments and addictions to Someone greater than yourself.  Telling the truth keeps you in the ‘humble zone.’

 Shame   Giving up perfection is not easy for an addict – anyone who is shame-based.  Willingness to face your imperfections and accept your powerlessness is a daily challenge.  But it’s the only way out of the labyrinth of lies that has kept you walking is circles.  Dealing with shame is an effective way to unlock the chains of addiction and telling the truth is the best way to counter the destructiveness of shame. 

Spiritual health   Without honesty and truth you will have no relationship with God.  Withholding information from God (as if that’s possible!) will only increase the distance between you and your Higher Power.  In order to stay close to God and have access to the power of the Spirit, you must “tell it like it is.”  Telling the truth is foundational to your spiritual health.

August 23

Vigilance:  Part III

 Continue to take personal inventory

       In recovery it is so important you are real and that you are honest; in other words, you need to be real honest!  There is a tendency to overlook what we think is a small matter; but there are no small matters when it comes to your own personal recovery. 

       Your personal victories and failings alike must be kept up to date!  Anything in which you had success should be recorded.  And every time you fail, that also needs to be examined and accounted for.  This is not an exercise in pumping yourself up; neither is it a time to beat yourself up.  Beating yourself up, and pumping yourself up are things you did when you were in your addiction.  This is shame-based behavior that accomplishes nothing, except to cloud your mind with illusions and untruth about who you are.

       Continuing to take personal inventory is an honest approach to self awareness.  It’s means keeping everything up close and real.  You needn’t run away from your truth; neither should you deny it by covering it over with smoke and mirrors.  A therapist once encouraged me to keep the addiction ‘right here’ – (he would then motion with his right hand pretending to hold it in front of his face.) 

      I have found for me the best way to continue to take personal inventory is to keep a journal.  This is not just a record of all my sins and mistakes and foolish blunders (as much as that is important); mine is a gratitude journal in which I record everything on a very positive and uplifting note.  I am careful not to feed into my shame, or add to a poor self image.  The daily use of a gratitude journal – either recorded in a book, or filed away inside a computer – is the best way I know how to remain consciously aware of the addiction, and to move forward in my recovery.

       Another way to stay current involves using what we in the program call a sponsor; a mentor, if you like.  Usually a person who has been through some serious challenges and painful addictions, someone who has successfully come out the other side with some emotional healing, is the one who can identify with your weaknesses.  This is a safe person who completely understands where you’re coming from and what you’re dealing with.  Either by phone or in person, this trusted individual is someone you can call on for support when you are struggling or slipping into addictive-like obsessive / compulsive behavior. 

 Remember:  “You alone must do it, but you must not do it alone.”

August 22

Vigilance:  Part II

       As I worked the steps, freedom from bondage to self came to me.  I was granted a spiritual awakening; and a light was now shining in my darkened soul.  But it was up to me to stay on track.  Steps ten and eleven represent the sixth principle of the freedom of desire. 

 “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”

 “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out.”

             Maintaining vigilance to all the steps will ensure that you remain on track and stay focused.  For the addict, this is so important; once the first nine steps have been completed it’s often tempting for the recovering addict to think the work is done, and leave the program.

      But that is what steps 10 and 11 are for:  To keep the recovering addict focused on continual healing and recovery.  Like I said earlier, this race is not a one hundred meter dash, but a full blown marathon!        

       What sometimes happens in the life of a recovering addict could only be classified as a departure from step one – the first principle of recovery:  Powerlessness.  Recovery is not based on our power, but on the power of God, our Higher Power.  As soon as you think you now own it, you have lost it. 

 “For it is by grace you are saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast…”  Ephesians 2:8

       If you try to remain sober in your own strength you are in trouble.  Trying to control everything on your own is what got you into trouble in the first place.  Don’t be lulled into believing that you can do it on your own steam; remind yourself every single day that you are powerless over your condition as a human  being. 

      But let me remind you again that – just because you are powerless – you are not helpless!  There is a lot you can do, and must do; a great deal about which you must be vigilant.  Happiness is a choice, and getting what you truly desire is a choice.  By your thoughts and actions, you will show to the world the choices you have made.

      So what are these choices that you should make?  What must you be so vigilant about?

August 19

Purification:  Part IV

Forgiveness

       Ultimately, the person we must answer to is God, the Source of all life, and the Creator of all things.  It is God, your Higher Power, that has the power to forgive, absolve, pardon – and execute divine surgery, the removal of all your shortcomings.  And divine surgery is what it is going to take to clear out the weeds – choking the garden in your soul – in order for you to experience the freedom of desire.

      Step six, “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” suggests that we make ourselves ready.  Let’s take a look at how we are to prepare ourselves for divine surgery. 

      First of all, I’m going to suggest what it doesn’t mean:  “Getting ready” doesn’t mean that you have to polish yourself up to be worthy of God’s love and acceptance.  No amount of working out, cosmetic surgery, or a rigorous health regime will prepare you for this kind of surgery.  There’s no big test that you need to study for; you don’t need to get your Doctorate in psychology, or philosophy, or even theology.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what you might think.

      The ‘secret’ to being prepared is found in the seventh step, “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” 

      Humility has often been misunderstood and misrepresented by so many of us who want to live according to this ideal.  In my family of origin, I was taught that a humble person always put everyone else first.  If you were going to exhibit humility you were going to have to put yourself last.

      Similarly, I was taught that a humble person was self deprecating – even to the point of allowing others to “wipe their feet” on me.  (Because, after all, I’m just a maggot on the dunghill of life!)  When we make reference to ourselves, we ought to present ourselves as the lowliest of the low, unworthy to be considered of value or importance.

      But this is not authentic humility!  This is, actually, false humility; the worst kind of arrogance that comes disguised as meekness and modesty.  A self-proclaimed martyr is nothing short of egotism.  A self-proclaimed victim of abuse and unfair treatment is nothing short of trumped up superiority.  (You truly feel proud of your own humility!)  Playing Mr. Nice Guy will never get you what you truly desire.

      Let’s get real for a minute.  Humility – if it’s going to work on a spiritual level – is based on a realistic attitude of yourself in relationship to your Higher Power.  And a reasonable approach is one of simplicity:  God is Creator, and I am the creation (the creature).  You are who you are because God made it so.  Can you accept that God is in charge, and you are not?  Does it anger you to realize that all things do not revolve around you – that you are not the center of the Universe?

      A proper and accurate assessment of your relationship to God can help you to realize three things: 

  • That you are valuable (you are God’s own creation)
  • That you are worthy  (you are a child of God and loved deeply)
  • That you can ask confidently, expecting your humble request shall be granted without reluctance.

      A humble prayer is filled with gratitude and expectant joy.  A humble prayer is always accompanied by a declaration of thanksgiving in advance.  This reveals the faith of the one who humbly asks.

      There is a flip side to this prayer:  Not only do we ask to have our shortcomings removed, but we must expect to have them replaced with certain virtues.  Perhaps it goes without saying that when a character defect is removed, a better quality of character must replace it.  Nature cannot tolerate a void, either in the physical realm of what is manifest, or in the spiritual realm of the un-manifest.

      Purification – the sacred purging of the weeds in our soul – must be done fearlessly, rigorously and thoroughly.  The desires of your heart will never be realized until this is accomplished.  The fifth principle follows naturally from the completion of the fourth:  The principle of Atonement – making amends.

August 18

Purification:  Part III

       Confession

      Another reason you need to record your personal ‘inventory’ is so you can have it as a reference when you make an honest confession.  Doing a personal inventory is like peeling back the layers of an onion.  The hurts and fears and resentments that lay hidden beneath the surface will require some time commitment and rigorous effort in order to tap into your subconscious.  Things that bubble up will need to be catalogued; otherwise, much of it could be lost in the process.

       Once you have confessed to yourself all the character defects of which you are aware, you will feel heavy, and in need of relief.  Keeping this inventory to yourself will not help you at all.  You will need to unburden yourself; you will need to confess to God, and to another human being.

      God is ready to hear your confession.  There is so much love and compassion with God, your Higher Power, that you can be sure that God will listen.  Realize that this personal information about yourself is not news to God.  You just need to say it; and say it clearly with feeling.

      Finally, you must find a safe person – someone you trust – to hear your confession.  If you’ve broken the law, you need to confess to a lawyer.  If you have deep psychological needs, you need a therapist.  If you are a member of a church, you can confess to your minister or priest.  If the above scenarios are not on your radar screen, there is likely someone you know with whom you can entrust this personal information.

August 17

Purification:  Part II

Self examination

      It would be ludicrous to ask that you sit down and objectively take stock of you’re self, listing all your character defects, without some help and guidance.  It wouldn’t be fair to expect that of you because you are incapable of doing a rigorous and honest search on your own.  There are so many things that we as humans can’t see about our selves – the things that are buried under years and years of unconscious and addictive living.

      But if you had a guide – like a list of questions that you could ask yourself regarding your family and friends, and the painful experiences you remember from your youth and childhood – you would have a better chance of discovering what is eating away at you.

      When conducting a painful search of this nature, you need to be gentle with yourself.  Don’t forget to list all of your good qualities and strengths – the parts of you that are, actually, quite remarkable!  Knowing you are much better than pond scum will actually encourage and strengthen you to be brutally honest.

      There are basically three areas that need to be explored: 

  • Your resentments – about the past
  • Your fears – about the future
  • Your hurts – you’ve caused others

      Making a list of all the significant people in your life is a good place to start before taking a painful look at these emotional areas that lie hidden beneath layers of attachment and addiction.  Zeroing in on your relationship with these people gives you the focus you need to pin-point the problems.

      Listed below are some good questions that will help you explore your resentments, fears and hurts – the parts of you that are a result of your attachments and addictions. 

  1. Who are the individuals that I resent?  Why am I angry?

      Where am I at fault?  What are my mistakes?

2.   What am I afraid of?  Why am I fearful?

      Where am I at fault?  What are my mistakes?

3.   Who are the individuals that I have hurt?  In what way did I hurt them?

      Where am I at fault?  What are my mistakes?

      These questions could also address institutions, principles, places, and circumstances.  Shame can show up in our lives in a variety of ways, but the above questions will help you focus on most of them. 

      Write them down in a journal.  In order for you to deal with these intangibles, they need to be recorded clearly and concisely.  Writing them down makes them more concrete; and you are going to need to be clear about everything.  It’s hard to hit a moving target, particularly one that is seen through your rearview mirror.

August 16

The Fourth Guiding Principle:  Purification

       Before you can acquire, or even know, the thing you truly desire, you must root out all that comes between you and your ultimate goal.  There are weeds in the garden of your soul that have been allowed to grow, thorns and thistles that you have unknowingly cultivated and nurtured.

      Are you aware that there is a garden within where wild things grow?  What are these weeds, these thorns and thistles?  How did they get there in the first place? 

      I’ve asked myself some of these same questions regarding my own garden behind my house.  Before I planted anything at all in my backyard plot of virgin soil, I noticed wild, unwanted plant life had sprung up without the least effort on my part.  It was truly amazing to watch this happen so quickly; and it left me wondering how and where these intruders got in – I certainly didn’t put them there!

      Be that as it may, I can assure you if the garden of your soul has been left unattended there is a jungle of tangled growth choking out your authentic seeds of desire.  These weeds are there as a result of the attachments and addictions we humans have – the things, people and places that we latch onto with a willful grip of iron.

      In this section we are going to examine more closely the emotional weeds that choke the human psyche.  And you are going to learn about the purification process that you must experience in order to nurture your truest desires.  There are three aspects to this process: 

  • Self-examination
  • Confession
  • Forgiveness

      The three aspects listed above relate to the 12 Step program; I’m referring to steps 4, 5, 6 and 7.  Each one follows the other in a logical sequence:

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

 “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.”

      These four steps suggest how we ought to seek to purify ourselves.  The principle of purification implies that something is corrupt and in need of surgery. Just like the home of a hoarder in which there are too many unnecessary and useless things crowding out living space, we need to experience a cleanup and a purging of major proportions.

      In order for you to even begin to root out that which doesn’t belong you will need to take stock of what is actually there.  It will be necessary for you to make a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory’ of yourself.  This is a big step, but an important one, because it involves the removal of all that is choking out the very thing that you truly desire.  Only a careful and thorough assessment will render an effective outcome.

August 15

Surrender:   Part III

      Acceptance

      One of the road blocks to surrendering fully to God is resentment.  If you have certain expectations about how others should treat you, or about how an event should play out in your life, there’s a good chance you will face resentment.

      Acceptance is the road to peace – letting go of resentment.  Acceptance is very different from resignation.  When you resign yourself to a certain fate, your present circumstances, you open the door to resentment because you have failed to accept responsibility.  Acceptance, on the other hand, is not some passive-aggressive way of dealing with failure and disappointment.  Acceptance means you are prepared to examine your part in all of it, and accept your responsibility for where you find yourself.  It allows you to be ‘okay’ with your present set of circumstances

 Acceptance opens a door to the achievement of what you truly desire.

Trust

      Addicts know, all too well, the limitations that surround their human experience.  That’s why they turned to their ‘drug’ in the first place!  When insecurity is combined with powerlessness, shame and addiction is born and grows into an evil and idolatrous force that feeds their basic need for control.

      Trust is letting go of our limitations.  It’s recognizing that we are powerless over certain things, even though we may have lived our lives as if we were fully in charge.  Instead of trying to teach God what we need, we allow God to teach us… this is the essence of ‘letting go and letting God.’  Our limitations can only be overcome when we trust our Higher Power with the things we cannot change.

      The ability to hand over our will and our lives reveals our trust in the process; and our trust in the process will allow us to relinquish cynicism.  The attitude “Life’s a bitch, and then you die” is somehow transformed into “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”

Trust allows you to jump the hurdles that come between you and your truest desires.

       Surrender results in a relationship with your Higher Power that is based on love.  And a loving relationship will demand action because love is a verb.  You don’t just feel love, you do it!  Surrender is not passive, but active:  Courage, acceptance and trust all require action on our part. 

      I was raised in a very conservative, religious family.  I learned to sing “Amazing Grace” and listened to hundreds of sermons on “Salvation by Grace.”  But a lot of religious people don’t understand grace.  And I was one of them.  I understood very little when it came to my own personal experience of God’s grace. 

      I accepted a kind of ‘cheap grace’ that kept me safe (so I thought) from the flames of Hell, but did little to transform my life.  Even though salvation comes by grace, it is also through faith.  In other words, there is a great deal of effort involved in working out your own salvation.  This brings us to the fourth principle where you begin to work at getting what you truly desire.