Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Open-Mindedness and Life’s Straws

I just deactivated the alarm I had set on my phone for this morning. It was set for 5:30, but when I awoke at 4:45, I was not able to go back to sleep.

Oh, trust me, I tried. I did everything I could to settle my mind, and return to sleep. Yet, after 15 minutes of trying, I knew my efforts were going to be futile. I was awake. I am awake.

So, I came down to the lobby of my hotel, as I so often do, for coffee, and to begin my morning routine. When I asked the front desk clerk if coffee was available yet, his answer was a bit abrupt. “Coffee isn’t available until six.” I’m guessing he gets that question a lot each morning!.

In my mind, there was a tiny bit of rebellion that didn’t like that answer. But I’m used to having coffee when I get up in the morning. The hotels I usually stay at always have it. Why don’t you???

Despite my rebellious thoughts, I just thanked him, and found a comfortable place to sit down. Coffee could, after all, wait. Certainly until six anyway!

A little less sleep, and a lack of coffee, are two very minor things. Barely hiccups in the start of my day. Yet, with the wrong attitude, such little things can build. They can accumulate, like straws on a camel’s back. Eventually, that camel’s back will break.

People have a variety of ways of coping with those minor little straws life hands us. Hobbies, fitness, travel, fishing… whatever people find themselves enjoying to relieve the stress of those daily straws. Annoyances that may often go unrecognized, but accumulate nonetheless. Healthy activities that are designed to relieve the daily stresses of life.

Unfortunately, my history of dealing with life’s straws became tainted. I discovered a shortcut that made those inconveniences seem to melt away. Of course, I’m speaking of the drugs I used to feed my addiction. With them, any burden created by life’s straws went unnoticed. My answer to even the slightest inconvenience was simple. “Must be time to get high.”

When I first attempted to stop using, I discovered that I had entered into a terrible new reality. My old go-to relief from those inconveniences, cycling, no longer offered the relief it once had. Addiction was stronger than my bicycle. Stronger than my willpower. It kept demanding that I seek relief from drugs.

That is one of the most disheartening feelings I’ve ever had. Addiction had its hooks in me, and it seemed I was powerless to free myself. Those straws just continued to accumulate until I would finally brake.

When I finally grew frustrated by the cycle of stopping and restarting my drug use, I became willing to work through the twelve steps with a sponsor. What I discovered was life-changing. I no longer found a way to cope with those straws. Instead, I discovered that through a life centered in practicing spiritual principles, I could let them go!

Open-mindedness is one of the key principles that allows me to let go of those daily pressures or disappointments. Can’t sleep? Well, I guess God has a reason for me to get up this early. No coffee until six? That’s ok, not every hotel has to do things the same way… I’ll live.

No, I do not practice these principles perfectly. Open-mindedness can still be a struggle at times. I guess it will always take practice. However, by persevering in my efforts to apply spiritual principles in my life, my burden is much lighter. I no longer feel the need to escape those burdens through drugs. Instead, I do my best to let them fall to the ground.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Consideration and Personal Resources

How much time will I need?

That’s the question I asked myself last night as I set my alarm. With an early morning flight to catch, I wanted to be certain to give myself enough time to get ready this morning. So, my alarm went off at 4:00 a.m.

Right now I’ll sitting in my car, outside a local convenience store, enjoying a large cup of coffee as I write. Soon, I’ll head to the airport, but first, I have taken time to pray and read. Writing comes next. It is my meditation. Together, these three things are what I do daily to bolster my recovery.

They do not happen by accident. Nor do they take a backseat to other obligations. Instead, when other obligations arise, such as this morning’s flight; my time of prayer, reading, and meditation come first. They deserve my foremost consideration.

This type of consideration is one of the biggest changes recovery has brought to my life. I have come to realize that I cannot afford to just “let life happen.” Nor can I allow myself to become overwhelmed by my obligations. So, I practice consideration with my time, resources, and even my emotions.

Not surprisingly, the more I practice consideration with regard to personal resources, the more able I become to take into consideration the needs of others. Even if that means being considerate to strangers on an airplane.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Positive Thinking and the Power to Overcome

The sprinkler system in our yard begins watering the grass and various plants early in the morning. Usually, I am up early enough to see the last few zones get watered. This is one such morning.

Watching the sprinklers right in front of me, I noticed that several of them have poked their heads up from beneath the surface to reveal a layer of soil and grass on top of them. Though it’s not supposed to be there, time has allowed it to accumulate. Even to the point of taking root.

Despite the presence of that soil and grass, the sprinkler heads still pop up, just as they were designed to do, and effectively water the grass around them. Of course they do not do this under their own power. They are powered by water flowing through the lines beneath the ground. That water pressure is enough to lift them up so that they can function as designed.

Those sprinkler heads offer an interesting illustration of life. We all have pressures that would try to hold us down. A weight that seems to be centered on the very top of the head, resisting every effort to move. Sometimes, these weights are present for so long that they seem to take root, becoming even more resistant to our efforts to change or remove them.

Such pressures are not unique to recovering addicts. Nor does recovery shield is from them. However, many people, both in and out of recovery, have found a way to carry on despite the soil and grass on our heads.

Like the water that lifts those sprinkler heads, we have discovered a Power greater than ourselves to lift us in circumstances in which our own power alone would fail. We have found power that comes from God. Power that overcomes.

When I first arrived in recovery, I truly thought that God’s power would no longer be available to me. I knew deep down inside that He had provided me with such power for years, only to see me walk away from it. I chose drugs over God. How could He have anything left for me after I had turned my back on Him?

In time, I discovered that God’s power was indeed still available to me. All of those character defects on which I had been acting out had taken root, but God’s power was greater. God’s power is greater!

Many of us were raised hearing God referred to as our “Heavenly Father.” If I had remembered this reference early on in my recovery, I would never have doubted God’s willingness to extend His power and grace to me. I had, after all, a wonderful example of both a father and a mother who refused to give up on me. There is nothing like having earthly parents serve as examples of what a Heavenly Father must be like.

By the same token, I know that many of my peers were not so fortunate. Their experience with parents has left them with negative feelings toward any sort of parent. Much less, one that would be Heavenly. Some even have parents who, to this day, use God as some sort of weapon against their children. This breaks my heart like nothing else.

My prayer today, as I practice positive thinking, is three-fold. First, I thank God that He gave me parents who provided such an amazing example of what God’s love must surely be like.

Second, I pray for those who were not so lucky as I. That they would be willing to tap into the greatest source of power in the universe. That their lives would be transformed by a Power greater than themselves; and they would experience the power to rise up despite the soil and grass that tries to hold them down.

Finally, I pray that I would never forget the Power that allows me to live a full and joyous life, despite my own soil and grass. It is God’s power that lifts me, and allows me to practice positive thinking even when the weight of the world tries to hold me down.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Positive Thinking – How I Stopped Hating Mondays

I don’t pretend to know exactly how it works. I only know that it works. A trick I learned years ago, taught me to reply differently when I cannot remember something. Instead of replying with my usual “I can’t remember,” I now reply “give me a few moments and I will remember.”

This positive affirmation directed toward my own memory almost always works. For instance, before I began writing, I used this trick as I sat here. I knew his first name was Mike, but I could not for the life of me remember his last name. So I quietly told myself I would remember in just a few moments. In the time it took to write that first paragraph, my brain remembered!

This form of positive thinking has so many applications in life. Take Mondays for example. I see so many people complaining about Monday every time it rolls around. Social media is packed with Monday-hating memes. Most of them revolve around a simple theme… “Monday’s suck.”

For years I subscribed to this belief. It’s easy after all, since everyone was doing it. At some point, though, I grew weary of hating Mondays. I knew my attitude was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mondays did suck, because I made them suck. So, instead, I began telling myself that “I love Mondays.”

Guess what. Today, I do love Mondays. All it took was a little positive thinking.

The principle of Positive Thinking is particularly important for me to practice as a recovering addict. My brain wants to take full advantage of any negative thoughts or fears that come to mind. In the beginning of my drug abuse, negativity offered a perfect excuse for using. Haunted by negative thoughts, I could turn any one of them into an excuse to use.

There is a saying in recovery that says a relapse begins long before the first drug is taken. Having had a decent amount of experience with relapses in my early efforts to recover, I can attest to the truth of this statement. I needed little more than a bad day, or worry about tomorrow, as an excuse to use.

What I needed was a change of perspective. No, not some Polly Anna view of life, but instead, a realistic outlook that told me that others had been through similar situations, and stayed clean. Add to that, my personal belief that if I am in God’s will for my life, He will see me through; and I become an unstoppable force.

This reveals another trick, or secret of recovery. Rather, I should say, a commonly known fact: no one has to recover alone. The truth is that this is no trick or secret. I just wanted to treat it as though it were. I preferred isolation to true friendship. Going it alone, without God seemed better. Surely He was mad at me anyway, right?

I now know that was the voice of my disease talking. Isolation feeds addiction, and it was so hungry back then.

Today, I prefer to let my addiction starve. Instead, I choose to feed my recovery; and one of its favorite dishes is positive thinking.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Unity and Warning Lights

I was rolling down I-40 headed to Oklahoma City earlier this week when it happened. My cruise control was on, which means my car’s lane detection and front collision systems were activated. In this mode, the car is practically on auto-pilot.

It was an unusually hot day for mid-June, even on the plains of Oklahoma. Heat is the only thing I can blame for it. Suddenly, all of those features shut down at once. My car slowed immediately as cruise control died. Warning lights and messages began flashing, letting me know that those auto-pilot systems had all failed.

With only an hour or so left in my drive, I was not all that concerned with having to drive the old fashioned way. Surely I’ve done that enough times to manage for a brief time. So, on I went, arriving at my hotel just fine.

A bit later, I went to a recovery meeting, and then to dinner. Warning lights were still on, but they were not flashing quite as insistently as they had earlier. I began to plot out my next day, trying to decide whether I could take time for a trip to a service center to check out what was wrong, before heading north to Wichita.

May just have to take care of it after my 1:30 meeting tomorrow.

Once back at my hotel, I gave little thought to my car. I had a good deal of work to complete, and wanted to talk on the phone with Amanda and Shaun, so thoughts of car problems took a backseat (pun intended) to everything else I had on my mind.

Those car issues are a good example of the importance of unity. All it took was one tiny microchip in a computer overheating to bring down an entire system. When the system went down, even though my car was perfectly able to be driven, I had to begin planning a work-around in my day to address it.

Sure, life would go on, but it would be just a little out of sorts.

As with my car, disunity is, at first, very top of mind. Something goes wrong, and it gets a lot of attention. Like that overheated microchip, the person disregarding unity will be the center of attention for a time. Yet, life goes on. That person once thought to be indispensable, is soon forgotten. The group realizes that they can get along just fine.

On the other hand, the one who stirred up all that attention is left on the outside wondering what happened. I thought they needed me to survive. How is it now that I’m the only one suffering?

I think every group or organization has that one person, or maybe group of people, who see themselves as irreplaceable. Sadly, it is only when something goes wrong that they come to find out how wrong they are. They get left behind as life goes on without them.

The next morning, that warning system light was gone. Apparently that microchip had time to cool overnight. Unity was completely restored in my car, with all systems working properly.

Likewise, when the person who has been left behind decides to come back into the group, unity makes room for them. After all, personal recovery depends on unity.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Surrender – Getting Out of the Reputation Rut

Last night I attended a recovery meeting in Wichita, Kansas. I’ve been to this meeting often enough through the years that I have made many friends there.

Sometimes, if we are not careful, meetings filled with familiar people can settle into a rut. I think the reality is that over time, we each feel as if we have a reputation within a given meeting; and that reputation can stand in the way of honest sharing.

My reputation, if I were to assign one to myself, would be that of the upbeat recovering addict. One who is ready with a spiritual principle for any challenge in life. It’s not so much that I am not honest in my sharing. Rather, my honest sharing is tempered by my desire to be an encouragement.

Last night, the meeting had several newcomers in attendance. I had the sense from looking at them that none of them were comfortable in the meeting. I really sensed that they somehow felt unworthy of being there. Unworthy of anything good.

Sometimes in my effort to be spiritual and upbeat, I can forget my own feelings of being unworthy when I first arrived in the rooms of recovery. Last night was different. Memories of those old feelings came rushing back, and so I shared about them.

In my case, feeling unworthy did not start in my youth. I shared about how my parents had instilled in me, a true sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. I entered adulthood with everything going for me.

However, I eventually moved away from my parents and their influence. I found myself in a position in which, over time, I began to feel less and less worth of anything good in life.

At first, my drug abuse provided a welcome escape from such feelings. Before long, however, drugs only exacerbated feelings of being unworthy. That was my condition upon arrival.

I surrendered my image last night, and shared about those feelings. I’d like to think that my honest and transparent sharing had a positive impact on those newcomers. Two of them shared later about wishing for that sense of worthiness.

Regardless, I left that meeting with a renewed sense of gratitude. Recovery has done so much more than merely eliminating drugs from my life. It has also eliminated that sense of unworthiness that had built up over years. That thing from which I once sought escape is no longer present.

By surrendering my perceived reputation, I not only helped others, but I also helped myself. I was reminded of the reason that I continue to attend recovery meetings. Reminded that we do recover, and from more than just the drugs.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Humility and the Shell Answer Man

The Shell Answer Man was a character featured in commercials for Shell gas stations back in the 1970’s. Note that I said “gas stations” and not “convenience stores,” because back then, it was a place to get your car filled up with gas, and to get repairs made.

The Shell Answer Man was featured as this wise, caring, and of course handsome mechanic who could build any car from the ground up. Flat tire? The Answer Man can fix it. A/C won’t blow cold? No worries, he’s got you girl! Yes, he can even give you directions to the best restaurant in town.

I remember watching those commercials growing up, and wondering why my parents didn’t buy all of their gas from Shell. Never mind the fact that there wasn’t a Shell station anywhere near our home town. The Answer Man was surely worth the drive!

There is a little part of me that still envies the Shell Answer Man. He was, after all, the go-to guy. Respected, admired, and most of all, worthy. His years of service and training had obviously prepared him for his title. There was nothing he could not do, and because of those commercials, everyone knew it.

Who wouldn’t want that, right?

Of course there is a problem with the whole “Answer Man” concept. No one is capable of being everything he was portrayed to be. Not even me.

In recovery, we have this thing called “sponsorship.” I have a sponsor, and I have even been a sponsor. I like to think that I’ve always had a realistic view of the role of a sponsor. It’s that person who helps guide us through the twelve steps. They help us understand the process of moving from self-will to God’s will. Sometimes, they even become our friend.

Trouble comes when someone decides that a sponsor needs to be the “Shell Answer Man.” This attitude can turn a beautiful concept into a destructive form of co-dependency. Practicing humility is a way to avoid allowing sponsorship to become toxic. Humility reminds me that it is ok to admit that I don’t have all the answers.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Perseverance and Lieutenant Dan

He just retreated back into the office. The night auditor of the hotel I’m at wanted to retreat back into a safe place. The power is out here this morning, and people are not handling it well.

When I awoke, it took me a few moments to realize what was happening. The light next to my bed would not turn on. Burnt out bulb, I thought to myself. When the bathroom light would not turn on, it dawned on me that the power must be out.

Sure enough, when I left my room, and made my way to the lobby in search of coffee, the emergency lights had kicked on. Coffee? Nope. Air conditioning? Nope. Hotel guests taking it in stride? Nope!

Soon it struck me, I’ve never been in a hotel that had lost power before. I’ve survived hotel fires, tornadoes, and flash flooding. Yet I’ve never awakened in a hotel to a power outage before. Something new in my little book of hotel experiences!

I feel a little bit like Lieutenant Dan from the movie Forrest Gump. While people around me are freaking out, in my mind I’m thinking “You call that a storm?” I mean, seriously folks, can’t we get by for a little while without electricity? Is this really the end of the world for you?

You mean I have to take the stairs? Where’s my free breakfast? Where’s my coffee???

Ok, so I get that last one. A little coffee would be nice.

Anyway, when it comes to perseverance, being a recovering addict gives me a bit of an edge in such situations like these. I survived a real dumpster fire of a life, and then had to go through withdrawals. I had to let family and friends know I was an addict. Even had to tell my employer of my struggles.

A little power outage? I think I’ll be just fine. It won’t take all that much perseverance to see me through this one.

Recovery has many benefits. Working through the steps helps bring perspective to life, and its challenges. Practicing perseverance allows me to look at a situation like this, and say “You call that a storm?”

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Service In the Zone

Tim worked as a bagger at the grocery store in my hometown. As a young child, he made me want to be a bagger at a grocery store when I grew up. Tim was always smiling and cheerful. He was meticulous in his method. He was also a bit of a show-off, tossing cans of vegetables in the air, letting them spin, and catching them just in time to place them in the paper sack. (There we’re no plastic sacks back then.)

Once those bags were filled, he would happily escort Mom and us two boys out to her car, where he would dutifully place the bags in the trunk. “See you next time Mrs. Ayers.”

Tim didn’t work for tips. In fact, I would imagine that tipping back then would have been discouraged. He seemed to just work for the simple joy of working.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that Tim was developmentally challenged. I began to see the man I had idolized as a child in a different light. Tim was perhaps no longer an idol, but he was respected. Just imagine being so determined in life that you find a task at which you are good, and hone your skills until you are great!

I don’t know what kind of personal challenges Tim faced. My guess is that his limitations did not exempt him from life’s challenges. Rent was due. Or drama among family members may have tried to steal his serenity. Regardless, when Tim was at work, he was in the zone. He was too focused on serving his customers to be anything but joyful.

That is the primary reason that service is important to me. When I serve, I am in the zone, just like Tim. My problems do not disappear, but for a time, they lose their hold over me.

That is why service is so vital for the recovering addict. Service accomplishes two things. It allows me to get out of my own head, if only for a while. At the same time, it allows me to focus on a task that is actually important to someone other than just me.

Another aspect of service at work in my life, is its power to stretch me beyond self-imposed limits. When asked to serve in recovery, unless there is an overwhelming reason to say “no,” I have been taught to say “yes.” Not only does serving help me grow, but it also helps put me in touch with God’s will for my life.

For instance, I have discovered that being a sponsor to other recovering addicts is not one of my strengths. Between travel, work, and home life; I am very difficult to pin down. Plus, my existing obligations take priority for me. Thus, when in a meeting the chair asks those willing to sponsor to raise their hands, my hands stay down.

On the other hand, I have had individuals ask me to be their sponsor despite my un-raised hand. My answer to these requests is always “yes.” For one thing, I never want to be a discouragement to another addict seeking recovery. Additionally, I see such requests as a direct indication from God that He has something in store that I want to be a part of.

I am grateful for Tim, and for his servant’s heart. I bet he never thought a little boy would want to grow up to do what he did. Today, when I am of service, my childhood dream of being like Tim comes true.

Have a remarkable day!

Addiction, Recovery, Spiritual Principles, Twelve Steps

Selflessness and The Good Wife

Last night, my wife Amanda was exhausted. It was the end of the summer day camp program at our church, where she had been the leader of a group of five-year old girls.

The day-long camp began on Thursday. Then, on Friday, she helped deliver food as part of her weekly service to our church’s food bank. Followed by another day spent with the girls.

Like I said, she was exhausted. So when she announced that she was going to bed early, I gave her a kiss and told her what a good wife she is.

“Why would you say that? I feel like I’ve been ignoring you this week?”

I went on to explain that to me, her long days of service to others reveals her heart. It’s that kind of heart that anyone would want to find in a spouse. A heart of selflessness.

Of course, then there is the other part of the matter. The fact that I do not expect, or even want all of her selflessness to be focused on me. On the one hand, if I expected that, what kind of partner in life would I be? Oh, I expect you to be selfless, but I want to be selfish! Yeah, experience tells me that doesn’t work so well.

One of the most terrible aspects of active addiction is that we lose the ability to be of selfless service. In my own case, the drugs became so central in my life that serving my addiction was a full-time job. There was no room for anyone else’s needs. Shoot, there was hardly even time for my own needs. The drugs demanded my complete devotion.

The presence of selflessness in the life of a recovering addict demonstrates that they are clean. It also demonstrates much more than mere abstinence. Selfless service demonstrates the kind of spiritual growth that leads to a new way of life. A life devoted to seeking and following God’s will.

So, yes Amanda, you are a very good wife!

Have a remarkable day!