This book is a work-in-progress that I am working on and revising. Comments and questions are welcomed. This instalment is about beginning the journey from what I call Crazyland to the land of sobriety and wholeness.
“There is nothing so potent as the power of time.
A great adventure takes time. Time to discover,
time to explore, time to make mistakes, time
to regroup, time to develop new skills…Time.”
Begin where you are
The only way to move forward is to begin, and the best — and only — place for you to begin is right where you are. From this very moment in time, this mundane point in your life, from this moment you begin moving forward. No matter where you are right now, it is from there that you begin your journey to a full life free from the slavery that each of us knows as addiction. That’s where I began, and that’s where everyone begins. From there, it is moving forward one step, one hour, one day at a time. The secret is to keep going, even when you’re tempted to stop and reverse course. A popular speaker once told the following story that illustrates this point very well. A man was walking down the street one sunny day, when another man passed him with a pronounced limp.
“Hey,” the first man asked; “What happened? Did you sprain your ankle?”
“No,” the second man replied; “I’ve got a rock in my shoe.”
Looking slightly puzzled, the first man asked the man with the limp why he didn’t take the rock out of his shoe.
“Didn’t think of it,” the limping man replied. Bending down, he removed the shoe, shook a pebble into his hand, put the pebble in his pocket, slipped the shoe back on and tied it. Standing and shifting his weight around, he smiled. “Thanks!” he said; “I appreciate it!” The man continued on his way, his foot pain free. But about fifty feet later, he began to experience pain in his ankle, then his knee, then his hip and back. When his neck began hurting, he stopped, glared at the other man, bent down, took the shoe off, dropped the rock back in, put the shoe back on, tied it, and limped on down the street muttering to himself about how people should “mind their own damned business.” What he didn’t know was that had he continued on for another couple hundred yards, his pains would have subsided as his body realigned itself. Instead of moving forward, he went back, trading the freedom he was discovering for the pain that he was familiar with.
He is not unique, because we all do that. Even though our lives are painful, it is a pain that we are familiar with. Often we will not give it up until, in order to live, we have to. That was what it was like for me. That last blackout made me realize that I was on the edge of having liver damage, and that if I didn’t stop drinking, I was going to die a very miserable death.
Each person begins from the point of realizing that something has got to change if the circumstances of our lives are going to improve. Whoever doesn’t see that, doesn’t move an inch. See it and you begin to move forward and change. Refuse and you may die
In January 1960, I met a man on my first day of seminary in Berkeley, California. His name was Lawrence Baulch. During his third term in San Quentin State Prison, Larry found a reason to begin his journey to freedom from a life of crime and imprisonment. It was during his third term at “Q” that he made a life-changing discovery: It wasn’t the circumstances of his life that had brought him there, it was his attitude and behavior. He had gotten himself into “Q” three times, circumstances hadn’t. When I met Larry, he was honest, open and willing to learn whatever life had to teach him. He died of cancer at age forty-nine, the head of a successful prison ministry, a poet, a photographer, an enthusiastic fly fisherman, and a wonderful friend, husband and father. The entire time I knew Larry, he talked about the change of direction and the freedom he had found while incarcerated in “Q” that third time. Most of his friends inside? Well, they didn’t learn the lesson; they kept on recycling through the system, afraid to strike out into unfamiliar and unknown territory.
You’ve got to have a reason to begin. What’s yours?
Beginning the journey
There are four steps to the journey of successfully recovering your life from addiction. First is being willing to begin it; second is having a reason; third is being honest about your life and circumstances; and fourth is being open to people and change. I don’t expect you to feel comfortable with these from the beginning, but without them, nothing will change. Without them, your world will continue on its downhill course as life goes on without you. Like it or not, this is reality. As it was for my friend Larry Baulch, and for me, so it is for everyone. We don’t have to like it, but we do need to accept it as reality. Over half of the people I was in treatment with dropped out before it was half over. I didn’t because I realized that if I wanted my life to be different, it was me that was going to have to change.
Be willing to begin. As the old saying goes, “beginning is half done.” Willingness to change usually begins with a realization that if we don’t change, something worse will happen. When that realization hits, deciding to change is a no-brainer. If I stay as I am or where I am, I will die so I pack what I need, and I leave.
Since not everyone takes that kind of action, the question is, why don’t they? They don’t change because, for them, changing is more uncomfortable, or scarier, than staying the way they are, where they are. As bad as it is, where they are is familiar so, like the guy with the rock in his shoe, they go about their business as life deconstructs around them, even when it means certain death. I recall a forty-two year old chronic late stage alcoholic patient at a hospital in Seattle where I worked years ago. He had cirrhosis of the liver, was drowning in fluid that had to be tapped several times a day, yet he continued to drink the booze that his wife, an alcoholic nurse, brought him. Three days after his admission, he died. For me, continuing to drink not only meant pretty certain death, I was sick and tired of the way my life was going. Which gets me to my next point:
Find a powerful reason to change yourself. If you don’t have a good personal reason to change yourself, you will go on as you are. Like the patient at that hospital, it only goes downhill from there. But have a good reason and nothing and no one can stop you from changing your life. How do I know that? I’ve seen it in my own life, and I’ve seen it in those clients over the years that, in spite of deeply entrenched dysfunctional, self-defeating patterns, found a reason to change, and changed. Amazing? It was certainly amazing to me. An example is a tough nut of a guy I once knew, a real hard case, who woke up one day and realized that the misery in his life was caused by his own self-defeating behavior. And when he woke up to that reality, he made a commitment to himself and to his wife that he was going to change himself, and set about the hard work of doing it. His reason? He wanted to be a good husband and a good father, and he realized that he had been the opposite of both, a nightmare reproduction of the father whom he hated. Without a reason to change, you are likely to adapt to the way things are and blame the circumstances of your life for the misery that you feel. If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with where you are, find a powerful reason to change, make it yours, keep it in focus, and move forward. If my friend Larry could do it, if the tough nut I mentioned above can do it, and if I can do it, you definitely can.
Now that we’re on the subject, what reason do you have to begin what is truly an awesome journey of discovering who you are and what your life can be? If you don’t have a reason to change yourself, what reason might you find if you looked for one? Take a moment to think about it. Write down some possible reasons. Make them as vivid as possible, and be sure that they are yours and not ones that others offer you or that you’ve borrowed from someone. All of us have people around us who are full of perfectly good advice for us to follow, and some of it is actually pretty good. You probably won’t follow any of it if you can’t see some way it relates to you or has a benefit that you can see, touch, or feel. Without a clear personal reason to change, a reason that really matters to you, it’s easy to slip back to old familiar patterns, even when you know they don’t work. But a powerful and personal reason will pull you through the challenges that are part of life. That is what has worked for me, that is what worked for my friend Larry Baulch, and that is what will work for you.
Be honest about your life and your circumstances. A line in one of my favorite prayers goes: “I want to see reality as it is.” What is your reality? When you take a good honest look at your life, what is it like? Are things sailing along smoothly for you and people close to you, are things falling apart, or are they somewhere in-between? Do circumstances seem to mostly go in your favor, or are you doing constant battle with them? Are you surrounded with mostly happy people who are willing to help, or are you surrounded by a mob of folks who are, individually and collectively, a royal pain-in-the-rear? What are your mood and attitude like? Are you usually upbeat, or snarly, gnarly and sarcastic? Do you help others, or do you expect others to always help you, march to your beat and dance to your tune? Do you treat others with respect, or do you demand that they treat you with respect? Do you see yourself as a victim, or as on top of things? Do you swagger around, flinging your weight around, or are you aware of others, listen to them and genuinely respect their wants and needs? When things go well, do you take all the credit, or do you share it? When things go badly, do you blame it on others, or do you take responsibility for your part in it? Do people see you as using and victimizing others, or do they see you as making a positive contribution to their lives? Do people seem to want you around, or are they glad when you leave? Do you manage circumstances, or do circumstances manage you? How do you see things? Be honest; lay it out straight. Otherwise living is like taking a trip without knowing where you’re going or what you need to take with you. When you are dishonest, circumstances are in control, not you. But when you’re honest about yourself and your circumstances, you can be in control of both because you are in touch with reality. And, as my good friend Matt Gandall says, “reality never takes a day off.”
Learn to be open to people and to change. There is only one constant in life, and that is change. If you don’t believe it, look at some old pictures of yourself. You aren’t the same person that you were, though your DNA is the same. There’s an old cliché that’s true: You’re either growing or you’re beginning to decay, you don’t stay the same, ever. Which is probably why an addict’s thinking is called “stinkin’ thinkin’” because it’s started to die.
When you were an infant and a small child, you were wide open to people and change. You were an information sponge, soaking up everything around you. Though kids may not understand what they take in, they take it all in: sights, sounds, details, facial expressions, body language, smells; they capture them all. Kids embrace change by the moment, sometimes by the millisecond. They explore, move things this way and that, jostle, listen, observe, see, and arrive at conclusions based on the information they’ve collected. Children are remarkably aware, are at times remarkably perceptive, and are constantly learning from change. Recovery from addiction is, is part, a process of recovering your natural inner ability to embrace life with its challenges and changes; in a sense, it is a process of recovering your lost “innocence,” As you begin, or continue, your journey, remember to be honest, open and willing to learn.
No journey is accomplished without help from people who know what you and I will need to make the journey a successful one. Though this is a vital step, it is one that nearly everyone in recovery—including me—struggles with in the beginning and along the way. Learn this one early. My friend Larry Baulch made it because of the help that he sought, and accepted, from early in his third incarceration at San Quentin State Prison. I made it because I was willing to listen to and learn from Ed Anderson and others along the way, including my wife, Aiko, to whom I owe so much. The biggest struggle that you will have as you begin your journey of recovery is learning to trust and accept help from others. The nature of addiction causes people to focus obsessively on having their wants and desires satisfied now. This shatters trust by disconnecting addicts from everyone and everything around them that doesn’t satisfy what they want now! As a result, addiction even disconnects you from yourself. The end result is that you end up living inside an ever-shrinking world made up of the insatiable demands of your addiction. Eventually the shrinking world that you inhabit fits you like shrink-wrap, and then it kills you.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: You do not have to make this trip alone, though you may not know that or believe it. The secret is to begin, to find and accept help from those who know what you are living with and what lies ahead, and to keep on moving forward in spite of the obstacles that are, in reality, only obstacles, not roadblocks.
Finding quality help. One of the best places I know of to find quality help is in a Twelve-Step group. It is one of the best for at least the following reasons: It is the most successful thing going, it helps people reconnect to themselves and to others, it is often the one place where an addict is accepted without judgment, and it has a program that works when people work it. For support for your journey and for compassionate help along the way, I know of no better place. Twelve-Step programs provide support for your sobriety, your recovery, and your growth; they also provide valuable tools for you to use as you move forward, like the 12-Steps, meetings for information and support, books about recovery, accountability, mentorship, and companionship on your journey. The mentor, called a sponsor, is someone with experience that you can talk with and bounce questions off of who will give you straight talk about yourself and your relationship—or lack of it—with reality, which usually means that we are trying to go it alone, which is what all addicts try to do.
What to pack and what to leave behind
I don’t know about you, but I am never certain about what to pack for a trip. What should I pack, and what is best left behind? What things are essential, and what is “fluff?” It’s vital to at least have a fairly good idea of the essentials before you begin your journey. Whenever I travel I consult my wife, who is an expert at packing the essentials. She insists that I make a list, and take only what is on the list. Anything else I can pick up as the need arises. I have learned to trust her judgment, and it has never failed me. Here are some practical suggestions about what to take as you move forward on your recovery journey. You will probably want to take notes.
Pack light. You’re going to want to drag everything along with you, with enough luggage to fill a truck, but resist the impulse, because all that stuff will do is slow you down and maybe even stop you in your tracks. There is little that addiction enjoys more than a few distractions; so the less you take with you, the better.
What to leave behind. When packing for a trip it’s as important to know what to leave behind, as it is what to take with you for the trip. Here are four essential things to stick in the dumpster before you start packing.
Ego. Ego will block your way by putting its security ahead of your future. Since Ego does not like change, it will object to every new idea and experience that might help you move ahead. And it will come up with plenty of rational-sounding “reasons” to ignore or reject them. Ego will demand that its needs be met now, and that its desires be satisfied before it will consider heading in any direction that might threaten the status quo. Pack what Ego wants to take along and you’ll need a good-size truck to transport it. A result is that you’ll probably decide not to leave because it’s too much trouble.
You have to learn not to listen to Ego, because Ego only feels comfortable with what it knows and is threatened by change. Since change is reality, and reality has to be embraced for anything to change, Ego will come up with every possible excuse (disguised as a reason) to delay, quit or turn back. “It’s too hard; you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing; how do you know that you can trust what these people tell you?” and on and on and on. If there is a reason in the world for not starting your journey of recovery, Ego will find it and present it to you with such forceful conviction that you’ll find yourself stopping, putting your bags down and giving up. And if you do, Ego will heave a sigh of relief at your not leaving its comfort zone. Ego is like the guy with the rock in his shoe; remember him? When his body began to realign itself once the rock had been removed from his shoe, he experienced the pain that healing brings with it. Ego, alarmed, shouted in his ear: “It’s the rock, dummy! Put the rock back and don’t listen to stupid people who don’t understand and should mind their own damn business!” The guy put the rock back in his shoe and continued on his way. “There,” Ego whispered in his ear, arm around his shoulder, “that feels better, doesn’t it?” Which makes an obvious point: Expect discomfort, because healing is not pain free (though Ego wishes that it were). A story from my own life made this quaint little tale real to me: Some years ago I experienced frozen shoulder in both shoulders, which meant that I couldn’t raise my hands behind me above my belt without a lot of pain. So I did the sensible thing and made an appointment to see my doctor, who referred me to an orthopedic specialist. I thought, “Oh, great! This guy’s going to shoot me up with a couple of cortisone shots, and I’ll be as good as new within an hour.” Fortunately, the specialist was a lot more realistic than me. Instead of cortisone shots, he gave me two lengths of different diameter rubber hose and exercises and sent me on my way. Know what I wanted to do with those rubber hoses? Wrap them around his neck and pull! Hey, those exercises hurt! But today I can raise both arms behind me to almost the level I could before the frozen shoulder. There really is no gain without pain, and Ego will try to convince you to avoid it.
Is it possible to just leave Ego behind? Not entirely, but here is what works to shut Ego up: learn to shift your focus from yourself—from me and I—outward to others. Ego—The Great Me—will resist this as unreasonable, unnecessary and stupid, because (remember) Ego does not like anything that threatens its status quo, even when maintaining its status quo kills you, Ego’s host. Weird, isn’t it? But that’s the way Ego works.
When you learn to ignore Ego, to refuse to listen to or feed it, it begins to shrink, making room for the real you to emerge to live and grow into the person you were born to be. The rest of this book is about growing the real you as you recover your life from the ravages of addiction.
Fear. The second thing to leave behind is fear. Why fear? Because fear is a natural response to setting off into the unknown. When my wife and I landed in Tokyo for my first visit to Japan years ago, I was seized with fear because I couldn’t read a single sign anywhere. So I kept her in sight every time we were out in public, because she is the only one who could read Japanese. As long as she is around, I have no fear. If the idea of sobriety and recovery scare you, which is a normal response, the best response is to acknowledge the fear, look it in the eye, embrace it, and move forward. It’s only old Ego responding to something new. When I sat down with Ed Anderson all those years ago, not doing what he suggested was a lot scarier than doing it. So I faced my fear and moved forward, taking the first tentative steps toward a new life. An unexpected result was that I learned how to overcome fear.
Distraction. The third thing to leave behind is distraction. The world is chock full of distractions and Ego, skeptical of your recovery, will point out every one of them in an attempt to get you to stop. I know how my mind worked early on; it would focus on everything going on in my mind, and everything within earshot or vision, going from one thing to the next. I felt scattered and out of focus, which left me vulnerable to Ego’s self-serving warnings. Scatter is one of Ego’s greatest weapons, because scatter keeps you everywhere other than here, which is where everything that happens takes place. If Ego can get you scattered, then Ego has you beat, because scatter creates crash by causing you to lose focus and balance. My friend Thom Rutledge, author of a wonderful book titled Embracing Fear and Finding the Courage to Live Your Life has a wonderful way of putting it. He likens living in the moment to learning to ride a unicycle, which takes focus, balance, and practice. Lose your focus, you lose your balance, and then you crash; I can’t think of a better metaphor for one of the core life lessons in recovery, which is balance, and I devote a whole chapter to it (Chapter 10—Finding Balance). Focus helps you to be more mindful of what is going on in the present moment, which keeps Ego under control. To learn more about this part of the journey, read to Chapter 3, Learning To Live in The Present.
Resentment. Oh, boy, but this is a big one! Resentment poisons everything you do because it holds onto anger and turns it into an obsessive hatred over past events that is corrosive and destructive. A former client defined resentment as “swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The problem is that when I swallow the poison, I get to die. The tragedy is that the fallout burns others as well. If you are seeking a happy life, learning to let go of resentment is one of the most important things you will do.
Resentments are extremely easy to create and maintain. All you have to do is hang onto your anger at something or someone, and it will turn into resentment and take over your life. Resentment focuses on what is past and drags it into the present; sometimes it tries to fling itself as far into the future as possible so that others, as yet unborn, will suffer, too. Resentment focuses on unhappiness and pain. If you want your freedom, if you want your life back, learn early on how to let resentments go, and here’s a good tip on how to do it.
First, identify what or whom you resent, and remind yourself that the event is dead, done, over with. Hanging onto it keeps it alive, and keeping it alive makes you a prisoner the past, where you have no power. Keeping resentment around not only makes you miserable, it makes you miserable to be around. Resentment is one of Ego’s favorite ways to keep you stuck where you are. Second, make a list of your resentments and work on learning to let them go. You will feel a lot lighter, and your trip will be a lot more enjoyable when you do. Remember: you’re supposed to pack light; hanging onto resentments adds a ton to your load. Third, remember that you’re not on this journey alone. You’ll meet a lot of folks along the way who can help you unload—and bury—your resentments. All you need to do is ask them.
What to pack: Two items that are essential to having a successful recovery journey are H.O.W. (honesty, openness and willingness) and laughter, humor and fun, essential elements of making any trip a great one, especially when that trip is recovering your life from the ravages of addiction.
H.O.W. Pack H.O.W. right on top where you can get at it when you need it. Not having to dig around to find it may be the one thing that saves your life. Honesty, openness and willingness are essential to your recovery journey, because they let you know what is really going on around you and what you need to do to make it through the day. Some years ago I met an elderly Estonian immigrant named Peeter Herkul. During World War II, he walked away from a Soviet slave labor camp in northern Russia and walked all the way to India. Why? He wanted to live and he knew he would die if he stayed there. When I asked him how he had done it, he told me that each day he found people to help him, found food to eat and a place to sleep at night, and repeated the same steps every single day for over twenty-five hundred miles. He would not have made it without being honest about himself and his situation, open to what each day brought him, and willing to learn what was necessary for him to make it through each day. Think about it: Peeter Herkul knew nothing about the terrain, the people, or the languages he encountered on that trip. It was his dream of freedom that got him started and kept him going. When I started out in Ed Anderson’s office the morning of March 3rd 1979, I knew only two things clearly: that would die if I stayed as I was, and that I wanted to live. The context is different, but the story is the same. Honesty, openness and willingness make the each step of the journey easier and more enjoyable. Forget H.O.W. and it’s easy to revert to dishonesty, closed-mindedness and unwillingness, which will kill you.
Laughter, humor and fun. If you don’t have a sense of humor, develop one. Hang around people who laugh, especially at themselves. In Chapter 3 there is a little exercise from my book Being Here that will help you learn to laugh. Stop what you’re reading, go to that chapter, find the exercise, read it and practice it. Practice laughing. Watch funny movies, read cartoons (one of my favorites is the old Calvin and Hobbes series by Bill Watterson about a little boy named Calvin and his stuffed tiger pal, Hobbes), go to comedy clubs, dance down the street, wear a funny necktie, listen for jokes that help you laugh at yourself and at life’s absurdities, giggle. Three of my favorite TV comedy series were The Cosby Show, Cosby, and Laugh-In from the 1960s. What I liked about them was there was a lot of laughter, sometimes-helpless laughter. It wasn’t laughter with the hard edge of sarcasm; it was warm, hearty laughter. One of my favorite characters in Bill Cosby’s second comedy series—where he played a laid-off airport worker—was played by a young comedian named Doug E. Doug. All Doug E. Doug had to do was walk onto the set and I’d start laughing. Goldie Hawn has the same effect on me. During the 1960s when she played a part on Laugh In all she had to do was show her face to the audience to get everyone rolling in the aisles. That is good, hearty, healthy laughter. On the other hand, laughter that is at the expense of others isn’t, because it ridicules, derides, and puts down others. Though it is very common in our society and is widely practiced by professional comics, it is not healthy because it makes other people look stupid. For recovering addicts, that kind of humor is damaging. If you don’t already know this, ponder this: When you hear this kind of humor: Who is laughing, the person being ridiculed, or the person telling the joke? And if the person who’s the butt of the joke is you, is the joke really funny?
Humor helps you in several ways as you begin the awesome journey of your recovery: (1) It makes the journey more enjoyable, (2) it attracts good people to you, (3) it improves your health, and (4) it just makes you feel better.
If you schedule it, you’re far more likely to begin than if you don’t. So write your “departure date” on your calendar, commit it to memory, and act on it. It may seem absurd to remind you to do this, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t do it. It’s like planning a trip “soon,” and not scheduling it. Ten years from now you still haven’t taken your trip, and no one is listening anymore. On the evening of Sunday, March 2nd 1979 in the freshness of having just emerged from that blackout, I said to myself: “Call Ed first thing in the morning.” And that is what I did. When he told me he could fit me in at ten, I left my apartment, caught the bus, and took it to his office. Whenever my wife and I make plans to travel, we plan it, schedule it, and leave. Not scheduling is the same as not having a plan; as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If you don’t schedule your next move, chances are good that you won’t make it. So be sure to schedule
Once the scheduled time arrives, leave! The only legitimate reason for not leaving on your journey into recovery is that you have died. All other reasons are just more of Ego’s worn-out, fear-based lies. Ego is great at making excuses appear as reasons and convincing you of their validity and the craziness of leaving Ego’s comfort zone. So when you find yourself making excuses for not moving forward (“No time, I can do it by myself, who needs it, etc.”), remember that it’s Ego’s discomfort with change. When you hear excuses inside your head, it’s time to review what’s gone wrong with your life and what you need to do to change it for the better. Then tell Ego to be quiet, get on the bus, and begin the journey of your life. It’s definitely worth it, and so are you.
A couple of final words for the road
I don’t know what your reasons are for considering leaving addiction behind and beginning your awesome journey of recovery; perhaps it’s like Peeter Herkul’s and mine—a bolt of reality burst through and hit you between the eyes with the truth that if you stay as you are, you’ll die, and you don’t want to die, you want to live. Maybe it’s being sick and tired of being sick and tired, or always the victim of circumstances, or always losing, or the dawning of the notion that if things are going to get better, it will only happen when you get better. What I do know is that you have to have a powerful reason to change or you won’t. And here’s a point to really burn into your brain: Like the guy with the rock in his shoe, you will have to move through discomfort and sometimes downright pain before you are gong to feel better, more confident and free. None of us have to like that; it is just the way it is. It’s called reality.
When you are ready to set out, toss your excuses in the trash, remember H.O.W., and leave. One foot in front of the other, keep going and keep moving forward. You will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams!
As life coach Michael Strafford says in the quote at the beginning of this chapter, “There is nothing so potent as the power of time.” Everything you and I do involves time, from the tiniest nanosecond to years. That may be obvious, but, early in your recovery, it is easy to forget it. We are, after all, an impatient bunch. “A great adventure takes time, time to discover, time to explore, time to make mistakes, time to regroup, time to develop new skills… Time.” So remember to enjoy the moment and learn to live in it. When you do, you learn, as I have, that time is on your side, and is your ally and friend.
1. If you have begun your journey of recovery, ask yourself why you have begun it. Make your answer as clear, and as simple, as possible. Write it down.
2. If you are thinking about beginning your journey of recovery but haven’t decided yet, imagine yourself as having decided to begin. Imagine in detail, and make the picture as positive as you can in terms of how you would benefit.
3, Write down three strong reasons why you’ve begun your recovery. Carry your list with you so you can have it to refer to when you’re not sure.
4. Make a list of at least six people who support your journey of recovery. Who are they?
5. Write down their names and phone numbers where you could reach them in an emergency. Carry the list with you and program it into a folder in your cell phone. These people are your “companions on the way” who will give you support and encouragement to keep going.
See you next time when the next chapter is here.