STEP ONE – The Big Admission

By: Jana Greene

 

BlogSTEP ONE

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. – Celebrate Recovery

Biblical comparison: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” – Romans 7:18

I don’t know if you are supposed to play favorites with the Steps, but I am rather fond of Steps One and Twelve – One because it gives you the opportunity to admit “defeat” over a substance or habit, and Twelve because – having become victorious over an issue or addiction in Steps 2-11  – you actively become the person paying your new life forward by giving yourself to others. From “It’s all about me and what I cannot handle” to “It’s all about you and I think I can help!”

In some of my 12th Step work, I have been given opportunities to help others get involved in the programs, and nothing brings me joy quite like seeing someone pick up their “Surrender Chip” at a meeting. Each of the plastic chips designates a different amount of “clean time,” and the “Surrender” chip is the very first one taken as an act of letting go and letting God. I can feel the energy coming off of my friend, the Newcomer, who is here for the first time tonight.  Although I’ve seen it 100 times, the it’s all new to her. She is waging a war in her own mind about accepting the “Surrender” chip.

I cannot do this. There are so many people here. What if someone knows me? There is no going back once I stand up.

But I must do it. My way isn’t working. How many times have I tried to get sober on my own? I need to find another way.

If I surrender, I am giving it up. There will be a hole left where my drug of choice took up space…..a lot of space.

But these people seem to know another way. Some of them are even laughing and joking!

It’s all I know, drinking.

But it’s crushing my relationships and killing me from the inside out.

Every day I say NO MORE! But every day I find myself right back in the center of drunkenness and drama.

I think I need to surrender.

Yeah, I know I need to surrender.

And with legs shaking and heart palpitating, she rises from her chair and excuses herself as she walks past the people in her row. They are clapping and cheering, like surrendering her addiction was a GOOD thing.

A gentleman holds out the blue chip to her, and embraces her as she takes it. She didn’t realize that she was crying, but she was – tears streaming down her face. When she turns to walk back to her seat, all attendees are on their feet, applauding. They know how hard it is to surrender an addiction. They, too, are powerless over their addictions and compulsive behaviors, and as their lives became unmanageable, they had mustered the courage to walk up and pick up a “Surrender” chip.

Many folks get caught up on the powerlessness angle of the First Step. How DARE anyone refer to me as powerless?  We live in an age in which we are all  expected to be super heroes in our lives, figure it all out, and certainly be the conquerors of our own worlds. Being powerful is highly esteemed by society (although society holds equal disdain for the powerful among us, too)  because being “in control” is where it’s at, right?

Wrong. The only way for an addict or alcoholic to regain control of his or her life is to surrender. My Highest Power is Jesus Christ. When I surrendered my will to him in regards to getting sober fourteen years ago, it was not an occasion taken lightly. I was giving him my very own will, since my will was only serving to make me sicker and sicker. I tried many times to do it “my way,” with abysmal results. Like Paul wrote in the book of Romans in the Bible, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

Ever tried really hard to do something you knew would result in destruction? I’ve tried thousands of times. Why can I not carry it out?

Because complete Surrender must precede the abstinence from alcohol, the drug. Not partaking in drugs and alcohol is a nifty concept, but it just doesn’t work. Unless you want to live the rest of your life as a “Dry Drunk,” it’s essential. Surrender to God has to stay strategy #1, or my life becomes unmanageable all over again.

Admitting “defeat” over the drugs and drink is the most powerful thing you can do.

And in the not-to-distant future, you will be paying your life and gratitude forward by helping a shaky-legged, tearful Newcomer take that First Step

 

 

From Practical to Tactical – Making the 12 Steps Matter in Your Life

1,000 miles
Everyone (even pop culture) seems to know that “admitting you have a problem” is the First Step proper. But does that admittance look like? And what about after Step One? And what does “Step Work” look like in practical living?
This series has been on my mind and in my heart for quite some time, because I know how confusing step work can be. The following blog entries will explore the traditional life-changing and oft-intimidating 12 Steps through observations made along the way. Each day will invite you to ponder a different step.  It is only sharing my own experience, strength and hope, nothing more. Take what you need and leave the rest, as they say in the rooms.  If the 12 Steps can help me, they can help anyone. I promise.
“A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” –  Lao Tzu
The first time I darkened the door of an AA meeting, I was a 20 year-old. I wanted recovery, but I wanted it yesterday, and my understanding of the program reflected my impatience. These are actual thoughts I experienced when I first walked into my first 12 Step meeting:
“Well, Step One…..check! I admitted I have a problem, so that one is done. On to Step Two.”
“And I believe that a Power Greater than Myself can restore me to sanity, on account of I’m clearly not in charge here. So, worked that step already. Next!”
“Turning my will and life over to the care of God? Okay, I’m down with that. ‘God, I turn my will over.’ This isn’t so hard…..”
“Step Four: Making a fearless and moral inventory of myself……yikes.”
And with this one, I was stuck. Trust me when I tell you that Step Four cannot be done in one afternoon, even if you have the whole day off. Truly. You can take an inventory haphazardly, but not a searching and fearless one. This is where the rubber meets the road, right here on Step Four. (And sadly, yes … I actually believed that I had ‘worked’ Steps 1-3 in the course of a one-hour meeting. Ta daaaaa! Of course I only believed that because of, um….denial reasons.)
It would be many years before I would get serious enough about working the 12-Steps to truly explore what they look like in ‘real time,’ how they play out as workable ways to live life on life’s terms. Now, in my fourteenth year of continuous sobriety, I am just starting to get it. Here are some of the stones that I picked up on my ongoing walks with God. With them, I am building a future; and a good future at that!
Musing on 12 Step programs:
You will work the steps more than once. If you had a flow chart that depicted each of your issues and where you are Step-wise on each, well, there wouldn’t be enough ink or paper on the planet to print it out. Seriously, there wouldn’t.  It is an overused analogy, but recovery really is peeling an onion. One layer gets addressed and another is exposed. I’ve employed the steps in a number of situations in my life and will continue to do so,  and personally, I think they are applicable for anyone – addict or not – to apply. Unless your life is perfect, in which case you can go ahead and stop reading now, because you will not be able to relate to me at all.
Our addictions may look differently, but the root causes that trigger them are almost always similar. Alcohol was my drug of choice, heroin might be yours. I really don’t care because it matters little what you drink, smoke, or shoot, because I would venture to bet that the core issues that drove you to do so are pretty identical to mine. The answer is the same for all of these problems, as well. Without my Highest Power Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t have survived my addiction to tell the tale.  One of the things I love most about the Celebrate Recovery program is that it is for anyone to experience the overcoming of any hurt, habit, or hang-up. In my estimation, if an issue or addiction is coming between me and God, it’s a problem worthy of applying the 12-Steps to. Alcohol, drugs, food, porn, gambling….you can learn a new way to live as an Over-comer with any struggle.
There is no schedule for working the 12 Steps. Oh how I wished for a timetable for the 12-Steps when I first got into recovery! Someone to say, “Okay, you will do A, B, and C, and then you will never want to drink again.” It does not work that way, at all. You will, if you are honest, become ‘stuck’ on a step.  This used to frustrate me to no end, until I learned to think of the phenomenon as “marinating” in step work. “Working the steps” alludes to  putting in time and energy and waiting for the quittin’ time whistle to blow. Marinating in a step brings to mind a soaking-up, a “take-your-time because it’s gonna be worth the wait” mindset.  A good marinade cannot be rushed. For it to become part of the meat, it needs time. But you don’t want to spend your entire life in a bowl of marinade either.
If you can find a Step Study Group, by all means, please explore it! It is not for the faint of heart, it is for the determined to survive.  But under guidance from a Step Study Leader and some very fine workshop materials, an in-depth study of each of the steps can be a game changer. No longer floating about in the Program of Your Understanding, but in a group in which everyone has Experience, Strength and Hope, and everyone brings it to the table in order to get well. You will bring ESH to your group that only you can bring. The value of having people delving into the steps one-by-one alongside you cannot be overstated. Find a group in your area and ask if Step Studies are being done. They are a separate animal altogether from the meetings, but incredibly worth your time.
There are no two recoveries alike. They are the snowflakes of the wellness world – each and every one is different. One of the slipperiest slopes out there is to see someone else’s recovery journey and decide they are not doing it right. Trust me when I say that your own side of the street is enough to keep clean. Don’t be passing judgement on someone else’s sidewalk, just stay on yours, keep it clean,  and lead by example. I have had people tell me that I’m not really sober because I don’t have a sponsor. I’ve been told a plethora of things by a myriad of people; people who are – just like me – learning to live life on life’s terms. You just do you, and I’m going to do me.
Put one foot in front of the other and ask God to bless your footfalls. And marinate in this new way of living.

 

Celebrate Recovery 12 Steps and Biblical Comparisons 
 
1) We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” – Romans 7:18 
2)  We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:13 
 
3) We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” – Romans 12:1 
4)  We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:40 
 5)  We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16 
6) We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” – James 4:10 
7) We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” – 1 John 1:9 
8)  We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31 
9) We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24
10) We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” – 1 Corinthians 10:12
11)  We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” – Colossians 3:16
12) Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1

In Recovery Magazine – “But it’s Super Bowl Sunday!”

I’m honored to be among In Recovery Magazine’s new bloggers. Here is a link to the piece just published at InRecoveryMagazing.net, titled, “But it’s Super Bowl Sunday!” It explores the sticky wicket that special occasions can feel rife for drinking, and how a reality check can reel us addicts back in with the truth. The truth is that the whole world doesn’t drink on Super Bowl Sunday. And the truth is that every day in recovery is the real special occasion. God bless us, everyone!

BUT, IT’S SUPER BOWL SUNDAY!

EDGEWISE book giveaway time!

EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God
EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God

It’s book giveaway time again! I am happy to announce that two copies of my recovery memoir, “EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God” will go to winners in the http://www.goodreads.com giveaway event. The deadline to enter the contest is July 20.

It’s easy to enter, and there is no obligation whatsoever.

To enter, CLICK HERE.

God bless you!

 

When Recovery Means Saying Goodbye

REEL

Goodbyes are hard.

They are hard enough when made seamlessly – a  Bon Voyage before a long trip, planned and executed with love and attention to detail.

Goodbye is difficult, even under the best of circumstances, but there is closure to a well-rounded farewell – an “Until we meet again.”

When I got sober, I said goodbye to alcohol in all it’s forms. It was a very hard break-up, because the connection was so intimate. We snuck around, alcohol and I. We had memories, a history. Goodbye to tart Chardonnay and mellow brew. Goodbye to neon beach drinks with little umbrellas. Goodbye Nyquil.

The parting was long-wrought but swift. Abstinence – unlike mere absence – does not make the heart grow fonder. The further I separated from my lover alcohol, the clearer it became that I was better off without it. Good riddance.

But a funny thing happened during our breakup. Not unlike the separation of any two coupled entities, our friends took sides. But instead of Team Alcohol and Team Jana, my loved ones seemed to belly up to one of two bars: Team Drunk Jana and Team Sober Jana. And I wasn’t expecting that development, honestly. I had naturally assumed that the people who loved me would rally behind Team Sober, but that is not what happened.

My whole world changed, one tenuous moment at a time. Every single nerve in my being was on high alert, but everyone else just kept living as though nothing was happening. As if nothing had changed. It was at this juncture that I had to erect those pesky boundaries. But boundaries with others are only good when they are respected, and as we know – people in the throes of addiction themselves are not great respecter of boundaries.

Sometimes, that means saying goodbye to people we love.

In truth, “everyone else” did not become more dysfunctional as I grew in recovery. The dysfunction just became clearer to me. It is a testament to my level of disease that I had not realized it before. I developed a mental allergy to high drama, and an emotional allergy to the abusive drinking and using of others.

The sad truth is that there are people I’ve known my whole life that will always prefer Team Drunk. They found me more laid-back, easier to manipulate, and less confident when I was active in my addiction. But the problem with the former me is that I was a dumbed-down, numbed-down version of myself before I got sober. I am a new creation in recovery.

Where does healthy acceptance of others meet healthy self-care? I don’t purport to know.

Is “you make me want to drink” enough of a reason to cut ties? I think it can be.

Is “you hurt me” enough of a reason to distance? Team Sober says unequivocally, yes.

My heart still longs for a connection for some of the people to whom I have said ‘goodbye.’ It is  a very hard break-up, because the connection was so intimate. We had a history. I love them dearly, dearly.

What to do with the jagged, messy edges of goodbye in recovery when the amends I’ve tried to make with others don’t match up with the edges of self-care in a nice, neat seam? When the closure has no well-rounded farewell – an “Until we meet again?”

Team Sober says to approach it just like every other recovery issue – this Bon Voyage before the longest, best journey of recovery – planned and executed with love and attention to detail for the sake of my life.

One single day at a time.

 

Skewer the Stigma: In the wake of losing a star, an addict shares “who we are”

Philip_Seymour_Hoffman_2011
Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman.

He had enjoyed 23 years of clean time, previous to his relapse.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

In the announcement of his recent death from a drug overdose, CNN refers to Hoffman as “everyman,”  and indeed, he was extraordinarily talented while still remaining personable. I know in my head that people with two decades of sobriety “fall off the wagon,” but it is always jarring to my heart when I hear about those occasions. Addictions will not be taken for granted.

There seems to be a slight shock that Hoffman, who suffered the same disease as Amy Winehouse, died from the same disease. His spin was not that of a train wreck, but of an accomplished and revered performer.

The article goes on to describe Hoffman as an actor so versatile that he “could be anybody.”  I’m not sure the author of the piece really appreciates how true his statement is.

We are everyman …. everywoman.  We alcoholics and addicts. We are legion.

Hoffman is Winehouse,

Who is the twenty-year old kid who died in the bathroom of a fast food joint with a needle in his arm,

Who is the elderly gentleman in the nursing home, stealing pills from a roomate,

Who  is the wealthy businessman drinking in the wee hours of the morning to get going,

Who is a soccer mom who cannot stop at three glasses of chardonnay,

Who is me.

If the silence of those ripped from the landscape of the entertainment world is deafening;  the gaping voids left by loved ones lost to addictions are life-swallowing sinkholes.

We alcoholics and addicts…..

We are not weak. The strongest people I’ve ever met have been recovering alcoholics.

We are born with super dopamine-seeking brains, susceptible to a hijacking of our brain chemistry. We know that our choices can keep our disease at bay, but we usually have to learn that the hard way.

We don’t want to make excuses for the train wrecks we pilot; we just want you to know they are not by design.

 We are sensitive, and are often creative forces to be reckoned with.

We contribute to the landscape of the world. We make music and poetry and art. We make business deals, and partnerships. And we value relationships more than you can imagine.

We love deeply, intrinsically…..sometimes so deeply that our souls cannot seem to bear it sober.

We punch time clocks and live ordinary lives. And truth be told, it isn’t always the pain that makes us want to drink and use, but fear of the ordinary.

We love our children fiercely. Yes, we would change  “For the sake of the children” if only we could.

We have heart.  We grieve so for hurting people. We often lack the instincts to handle that grief without self-destructing.

We really don’t want to self-destruct at all, but we don’t always know how to keep it from happening until the process has begun.

We crave the ability to handle life on life’s terms “normally,” like you do.

We don’t mean to embarrass you.

We don’t want to inflict the pain on others that our brain chemistry urges us to.  Addiction is as a plaque in the arteries of the spirit, a disorder of the brain. Like any mental illness, nobody wants to have it.

A good portion of any recovery program worth it’s salt is accountability. We want to make ammends with you (and if we don’t want to, don’t despair….we are working on it.)

We are brought to our knees in a desperation that normally-wired brains cannot fathom.  And we can get better – if we stay on our knees.

We need each other for survival. We sit in meetings in drab church basements drinking lukewarm coffee with others like us who are cut from the same colorful brilliant, thread-bare, sturdy cloth – because we want to go on living and contributing to the world, just like you.

We need God most of all. He is the Power Greater than Ourselves that can restore us to sanity.

We are “everyman” and “everywoman.”

And we get sober. We even stay sober, with work. With the understanding that our disease will not be taken for granted.

But we need you to understand some things:

You can support people who are trying to win – and daily WINNING – the footrace with tragedy.

You can try not to shame them. They feel guilty enough.

You can start here to educate yourself on the realities of alcoholism and drug addiction.

You can know that you are NOT ALONE – if you are everyman or everywoman, too.

You can ask someone who struggles with addiction – past or present – to church.  Our spirits, above all else, need to be nourished.

You can ask a recovering friend to go to the movies with you, or out to dinner, or for a walk on the beach.  Our minds and bodies need to be nourished, too.

You can ask questions.

You can pray for us.

You can just not give up on us.

You can know this, mothers and fathers. Your child’s addiction is NOT YOUR FAULT.  You did not cause it.

You can be tender to us in recovery, just as you would anyone in treatment for a disease.

By simply talking about it, you help strip away the stigma. Because the only thing worse than battling a disease is battling a disease that many people don’t believe exists. A disease that – if treatment is not embraced as a way of life – can be fatal.

For everyman.

Please take a moment to consider the loss of life and talent that alcoholism and drug addiction has taken from the cultural landscape.

And then think about the voids left by the vastly more important “everyman”  lost or still in the trenches of addiction – the children, spouses, friends and family that you love.

Amy Winehouse, musician; Brian Jones, musician with The Rolling Stones;   Chris Farley, comedian, actor;  Cory Monteith, actor  and singer;  Darrell Porter, American professional baseball player ;  Elisa Bridges, model, actress;  Elvis Presley , musician, singer, actor, cultural icon; Freddie Prinze, actor;  Hank Williams, Sr., country music singer-songwriter; Heath Ledger, Australian actor;  Howard Hughes,  business tycoon, movie producer and director, aviator, engineer, investor; Janis Joplin, musician; Jim Morrison, musician, singer; Jimi Hendrix, musician and singer-songwriter;  John Belushi , actor and comedian; John Entwistle, bass guitarist for The Who; Jon Bonham,  drummer  and songwriter for Led Zeppelin;   Judy Garland, actress and singer; Keith Moon, drummer for The Who;  Kurt Cobain, Nirvana singer;  Len Bias, Boston Celtics player; Lenny Bruce, comedian ; Marilyn Monroe, actress, model, singer;  Michael Jackson, singer and icon; Richard Burton, actor; River Phoenix, actor;  Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the founding father of psychoanalysis; Tommy Dorsey, jazz musician; Truman Capote, writer; and Whitney Houston, singer and actress.

For a more comprehensive list of the famous who have passed away due to substance abuse, click here.

A Tree Grows in Prison – addiction and the harvest of God-seeds

TREE

By: Jana Greene, thebeggarsbakery.net

Hebrews 13:3

“Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.” – Hebrews 13:3  (MSG)

 

God,

I’m thinking today of all the saints in the early church who prayed to you from the cells of prisons. Wrongly persecuted, they mustered their faith and lifted it to you, because they had been stripped of everything else they owned.

I know you’ve gotten your fair share of letters from prisoners.

Jails and prisons are often the venue in which lost souls lift their last remaining possession to you – faith – but the truth is that many have been stripped of that possession, too. Many, before even arriving for intake to be processed by a legal system, were already processed by another captor – Addiction – before ever setting foot in jail.  Addiction is a thief of hope.

Today, I have a broken heart for a dear friend and Sister in you, whose adult son is both literally, and figuratively, a prisoner. He is addicted to drugs, God. He has reached the end of himself. Right now, he seems a shell of himself.

But a long time ago, this friend raised this man up by filling him with God- seeds. She took him to church, and youth group; she talked out her active faith in you….all the way forming rows as she raised him, and planting  seeds in the soft soil of youth.

He is familiar with you. But he has made some bad choices, covering that fertile, planted ground with all the world has to offer, including substances that distract him from You. He has filled his life with all the plastic distraction that keeps the sunlight from getting in; that keeps the water of life from reaching the seeds.

Society sometimes has very little compassion for those who bring woes on themselves. Society forgets that it is only made up of infinite units of just the same kinds of people – sinners.  It’s easy for them to open their bibles to the letters that Paul wrote as a prisoner, and feel compassion.
But you don’t forget to be compassionate, because you never forget that we are infinite units of people who sin, but whom you love dearly.  All people must come to you from their knees on the floor of a prison cell, its only a matter of what four-walls constrain us.

Today, this man – this addict – is on the floor of a cell. I like to think he is calling out to you right this minute, but I know how stubborn addicts can be (being one myself) – I know how insane the cycle is, and how hard it is to let go of that tarp of denial we keep covering ourselves in.

But I am asking you – right now, in Your Holy Name, to crouch down on that prison floor with this man. Scrootch up so close to him that You feel familiar, that the seeds planted in his spirit in his growing-up-years feel like beads under his skin. Crack them open, and as they are opened, let him feel surrounded by love.

The supernatural feeling all addicts crave, that many addicts are willing to go to prison for – to die for – is only just a craving for you, Lord.

This young man is feeling the pain of the chemicals leaving his body, as we speak. Let the suffering he is experiencing  be for the cause of one little Seed of Faith germinating. Fill up the space left by the chemicals, the hurt, the loneliness, the shame and pain. I’m sure he will remember you, God.

Be with his family, who is suffering beyond comprehension. Fill them up, too.

Since this precious son of my Sister in You is currently  in no position to “write letters” in your name, and lift prayers from his broken spirit, mind and body, today I am interceding on his behalf. I ask that everyone who reads this to pray along with me.

For the addicts, the prisoners. The broken, the sinners. For my friend’s son.

Remind them that they are full of seeds of Truth, let them receive water and light, in their own personal prisons, and let those seeds grow healthy and strong and take root in You. So they can go out and tell other prisoners that there is life waiting to be lived.

Give them HOPE, Jesus.

In the name of the Father God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

AMEN