Day 8339: Continuing to Face the Challenges of Living Life in Recovery

Recently, I’ve been reminded of how challenging sobriety is. I’ve lived in recovery for over 8,300 days. 8,339 to be exact. Even after all that time, I’m not guaranteed sobriety tomorrow. It’s a decision I make first thing in the morning when I get up out of bed. Every day.

“I’m going to live sober today,” I say to myself.

“Yes,” my Self replies.

Keep in mind that I do this even though I don’t always feel like it. Yes. There are days where the fight to stay clean and sober is difficult. Even 20+ years later. And I still run into people every day who don’t really understand addiction or know what to do with former addicts like me (that’s ok–I don’t always know what to do with myself either).

Recovery isn’t’ something I got right the first time. It took a few tries. I wavered between stringing a few days back to back and over a year of sobriety. That’s right. One year. It ended like this:

“Want a beer?”

“Sure,” I shrugged. And off to the races we went.

For me, alcohol is the key that unlocks the door to a wild ride. Prior to recovery finally sticking, I went out on a 33-day binge that nearly killed me. My binge was fueled by a ton of things I won’t mention here. I don’t want to glorify them. I don’t want to tell you that you can do them and live. You can. Most people don’t. Those that do, usually wind up in jail. A fortunate few of us get rescued, finding refugee in the Halls and solace in the Rooms that offer us a free space to be ourselves. There’s no judgment in the Rooms. At least not usually (we are human after all). I guess a better way to say it is that there isn’t supposed to be any judgment. We each have our own story to tell; our own truth to share.

I’ve seen addiction steal lives. I’ve witnessed addiction destroy dreams. I’m grateful that I found a way up from the Bottoms. Although it’s something I had to do first and foremost for myself, it’s not something I did alone. A lot of people have helped me overcome my innermost personal demons. It’s because of the love and kindness of others that I can claim to live in victory today.

Semi-colons mark a point where a sentence could have stopped; a spot where the story could have ended. But by the grace of God…my life didn’t end with my addictions.

semicolonAre you struggling with addiction? Has alcohol or have drugs taken control of your life? You aren’t alone. You don’t have to keep suffering. You don’t have to keep living a lie. You don’t have to keep leaving a wake of devastation wherever you go. You can change. Life can be different. But you got to want it…

Start here or here.

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Swimming in Could Be’s

I am swimming in could be’s. Maybe you can relate; maybe you can’t. It’s okay if you do, it’s okay if you don’t. Only God can be in the past, present and the future simultaneously. For me, trying to be God is a death sentence. I must live in the moment. I have to remain present in His presence. Yesterday’s spilled milk is done. Get a towel, wipe it up. Move on. Don’t re-live it. Don’t wallow in it. Who, but God, knows what tomorrow holds? We are not promised tomorrow. Today has enough trouble of its own. No sense picking from the future and stealing from today.  Remember how you felt, leaning over the porcelain god, praying that Heaven would part and take you away? You made promises if only God would grant you a reprieve. Do you recall looking down the barrels of their guns? You weren’t sure how many of them it would take to kick your ass, but you knew they brought reinforcements. And they looked determined. If you jumped, where would your run? Life is messy, especially when you’re the mess-maker. Shards of shattered shambles littering in your wake. What have you done? How did you get here? Do you remember? Peeking out of your mini-blinds to see who might be outside. You hear a knock, but there is nobody there. Is it all in your head? What’s that noise? Who is there? There’s a dent in your car. How did that get there? You wonder. You always wonder. High highs. Low lows. Surrounded by a sea of coulda beens, grappling with the present, struggling not to look back, fretting about the future, I lie here. Wondering. This too shall pass. This too shall pass. This. Too. Shall. Pass. 

The Message

2 Corinthians 1: 3-7

3-5 All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
6–7  When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.
Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (2 Co 1:3–7). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

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In Light of My Addictions

Addiction has occupied my thoughts a lot lately. I believe that is due in part to the company I have been keeping. Recently, I have spent a lot of time praying with people whose lives had become unmanageable. Several days ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting a new addiction treatment center and participating in a spiritual dedication of this innovative facility that will focus on helping men get their lives back. In addition to those interactions, I have been knee-deep in completing a paper and finishing a graduate research project fo my two classes this semester. There seem to be a lot of similar behaviors associated with cramming for a class that resembles the behaviors of addiction. As the song says, that’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

By the grace of God, it has been a while, but I can still remember that feeling of recognizing I was no longer in control of my life and that my addiction had taken over. It happened way before I realized it. It was not something I planned or had scribbled down frantically on one of my many to do lists. But there I was, out of control, looking out of the blinds to see if anyone was outside waiting for me, trying to recall the events from the previous days of my last binge. If you know me at all, you have seen my tendency to be a bit of a control freak. Not being in control is unsettling to me. Having my life be unmanageable is downright messy.

I remember being out of control, my life upside down like it was yesterday. That is a good thing. You see, it is better for me that I do not forget where I come from or where I have been. It helps me appreciate who’s I am today. Recognizing my life had become unmanageable I had to hand the keys over to a power greater than me. At that point, a door knob would do, since door knobs back in those days where usually positionally better off than I was. Nothing like having to look up to see the bottom. “It works if you work it,” I heard them say. “Keep coming back,” someone would tell me as I left my daily meeting. I had become sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I  made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood Him, which truthfully, was not very well at all.

In Psalm 18, the psalmist David writes “I love you O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies,” (Psalm 18:1-3, ESV).

Sure enough, apart from God, I could not have overcome my addictions. It took someone way greater than me to deliver me from the pit and pull me out of the furnace.

Addiction, despite all we know and all we continue to learn, is still one of the most misunderstood plagues on our society. People I love dearly and who I believe love me equally as much disagree with me about addiction being a disease. Yet it is.

We continue to try to beat the addiction out of those we love by threatening them with punishment and even confinement. And I agree with the concept that if you do the crime, then you do the time. But understand that nothing short of a six-foot grave will confine my addictions. You can not penalize it out of me. You can not beat it out of me. You can not wish it away. It just does not work that way.

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In the midst of addiction, the addict simply does not care about anything more than they do about satisfying their craving, including life itself. And if I do not care about living, then confining me in a cell is only an addiction interruption.  Once the addict uses, they become powerless over their addiction. That remains true for me today. As long as I do not use, then the power addiction has over me is lessened with each passing day that I stay clean and sober. As a believer, I am a new creation in Christ, made new and the old has passed; behold the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The behaviors of addiction do not simply disappear once the addict ceases using. They stick around, linger, loitering in the mind, littering the soul, waiting to come out. Changing old behaviors and replacing them with new ones is where the real work begins. You got to get rid of that stinking thinking and get real. You got to learn to cope with life and face obstacles differently. Perhaps, most difficult of all is that you have to discover better ways to celebrate and a new way to love. In His patience, through a sponsor, and with the help of genuine friends, you accomplish all of these things. It does not happen overnight. It starts one day at a time. For me, I have found that to be the healthiest way to live. Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future just are not healthy for me.

Later in that same psalm we looked at earlier, David goes on to write:

For it is you who light my lamp;

the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

29    For by you I can run against a troop,

and by my God I can leap over a wall.

30    This God—his way is perfect;

the word of the Lord proves true;

he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

31    For who is God, but the Lord?

And who is a rock, except our God?—

32    the God who equipped me with strength

and made my way blameless.

33    He made my feet like the feet of a deer

and set me secure on the heights.

34    He trains my hands for war,

so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35    You have given me the shield of your salvation,

and your right hand supported me,

and your gentleness made me great.

36    You gave a wide place for my steps under me,

and your gentleness made me great.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 18:28–36). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Addiction is a chronic disease culminating in continued efforts to acquire the drink or drug that will satisfy the craving, and characterized by use that is compulsive and difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.

A lot of people do not understand why or how individuals become addicted. People mistakenly think that addicts lack moral principles or the necessary willpower, and believe that they could stop using by choosing to quit. In reality, addiction is a complex disease. Stopping takes more than good intentions. It takes more than a strong will.

Proverbs 23:28-35

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?

Who has strife? Who has complaining?

Who has wounds without cause?

Who has redness of eyes?

30    Those who tarry long over wine;

those who go to try mixed wine.

31    Do not look at wine when it is red,

when it sparkles in the cup

and goes down smoothly.

32    In the end it bites like a serpent

and stings like an adder.

33    Your eyes will see strange things,

and your heart utter perverse things.

34    You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,

like one who lies on the top of a mast.

35    “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;

they beat me, but I did not feel it.

When shall I awake?

I must have another drink.”

The good news is that there is hope. You and I do not have to battle our disease alone. We have plenty of resources available to us. We can get help. There are people, like us, who will walk alongside us, helping us do this trip called life, clean and sober, one day at a time. By the grace of God, and through lots of prayers, I have managed to string together over 7,850 days free from the bondages of addiction. That equates to over 678,762,250 heartbeats…

It works if you work it.