FeaturedLack Of Power: Surrendering to Win

Lack Of Power: Surrendering to Win

“Finding a Power greater than me, and working to submit myself to that Power are the most important priorities in my life – without which I’ll gain little, lose much, and hurt a lot more people along the way.”

A week ago, a good friend of mine left me with a question, on which, I’m still chewing: “Do you still think that if you took care of the mental and emotional issues in your life, and got on the right med, that you could, then, drink normally?”

The question stopped me dead in my tracks for all the right reasons, and I’ve spent the last two weeks reconciling – with all the self honesty I can muster – where I’m really at with it. It was asked in the context of finding a spiritual solution to a problem that science has determined as both physiological and psychological. Furthermore, addiction science has shown multiple paths toward addressing the twin problems of substance abuse and addiction. For many, a spiritual solution has proven effective, though it is hardly the only pathway to addressing the problem.

The Need

It is the spiritual solution that seems to work best for me. So, his question made me ask myself: “Have I conceded that neither my own willpower, nor the power of someone else, is strong enough for me to recover from my addictive behaviors?  Have I surrendered the long-held idea that I could drink without consequence if only I could get my mental and emotional mess in order?”

As of this writing, I can’t say with certainty that I’ve completely jettisoned that falsehood. I only know that this particular lie is where my diseased brain will take me, when the thought of a drink crosses my mind. So, at the very least, I better be prepared to shut that crap down. And, for that alone, I’m going to need Divine Intervention. Left to my own devices, and without an effective mental defense, that tempting thought will take me toward the next relapse – from which, I’m not so sure I’ll recover. Decades of on-and-off drinking, poor decisions, and not dealing with the mental-health issues – both related to my addiction and apart from it – have put me in a seriously vulnerable spot, which truly means that going back to a life of substance abuse is the worst possible option I can exercise.

A couple of nights ago, this same friend and I had coffee at a favorite spot near his house. Our work at hand involved learning how to believe in a spiritual solution, and addressing the many roadblocks that keep such a thing possible.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that both finding a Power greater than me, and working to submit myself to that Power are the most important priorities in my life – without which I’ll gain little, lose much, and hurt a lot more people along the way. Getting here has taken decades – a few good years, and many bad ones, whole periods of my life colored by depression, some instances of spiritual abuse by past mentors, and years of reticence to get close to anyone in that position, ever again – lest that individual place themselves in an authoritative position in my life. This, unfortunately, is part of the cult-like behavior that can happen within a group of people, when truly sick people attempt to guide other truly sick people through the process of recovery. Or, as an old friend used to put it, “we’re all here, because we’re not all there.”

My last mentor, a man I continue to love and deeply respect, hammered two things into my consciousness: 1) I alone am ultimately responsible for my recovery; 2) The whole point of the spiritual path to recovery is to find a Power greater than oneself, which can solve the problem of addictive enslavement. By existential definition, that power cannot be another human being. Yet, so many of us give other people that kind of power all the time. Otherwise known as codependency, it is, too often, the residual characteristic of family members impacted by alcoholism.

Such was the case for me, as I was incapable of any real partnership with another human being. Simply put, it was a part of my baggage that I had yet to fully face, much less address. Sadly, there’s still truth to that; hence the rigorous spiritual housecleaning that my friend and I are undertaking.

Which Power?

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On my dad’s desk, in his home office, at the family farm. This compass was given to him, as the past Commodore of Duck Club Yacht Club, in St. Charles, MO – along the North Shore of the Mississippi river.

My experience has shown that I can stay sober for long periods of time, but being happy during those periods has – until recently – proven elusive. During one of those early stints of long-term sobriety, I got hung up on finding the right Higher Power – the one conception of God that would work for me. How I landed where I did is pretty typical of how God works in my life – using my weakest points to draw me into taking the actions that work best.

It always starts with a woman.

I became really interested in a female coworker, while at a radio station in West Texas. She was going to a non-denominational church – one that I, later, discovered to have Charismatic roots (Texas is, after all, a very Southern state). Aside from some of the doctrinal weirdness – of which, I would become fully aware later – I heard a pastor who was able to communicate The Bible and Christianity in plain English, and it was there that I began to see the relevancy of Christ in my life.

To this day, I consider myself a professed Christian, having committed to the continual process of submitting both will and life to Christ. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though the process of getting there warrants its own separate post.

The thing with the woman didn’t work out the way I wanted it to (It never does, though she and I are friendly toward one another, today). The slow march toward surrender, however, is what stuck with me. That was in late 2000, and there would be five different relapses into active addiction, over the next 18 years – taking with them a marriage, a job, my financial future, the trust of family and friends, my overall integrity, my mental health, and my hope for a meaningful, rewarding life.

During that period of time, I became increasingly, gradually, more honest with myself, regarding my part in my life’s troubles, the impact that alcoholism has on the family – and how my growing up with a lot of drinking around me affected me – the mental health issues that have always worked in concert with my addictive behavior, and the childhood traumas that drove my need to escape reality, from an early age.

That last part – that particular set of demons – is the one holding me back. And, I’m tired of it. While I know better than to believe such things can be healed in one fell swoop, my experience shows that facing the crap head on – with the help of professionals, a spiritual pathway…and, frankly, Divine Providence – will allow the greatest progress in this last dark corner of my life.

How In the World?

So, how, exactly, does one surrender, in order to win? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The very concept brings about existential conflict not unlike an internal, civil war. Winners don’t surrender, don’t shrink, don’t give up – or so we’re told. Ask a veteran what he or she thinks of surrendering, and you’re likely to be told off. The idea that we surrender anything – much less, doing so in order to win in the long run – is counter-cultural.

Once, I heard somebody frame it this way, and it’s stuck with me, ever since:

In the throes of my addictive behavior, or during periods of sobriety when I was still hellbent on running the show, I surrendered a lot: my academic goals, a good GPA, my financial health, genuine relationships with friends and loved ones, and a clearer-headed path toward growing into the kind of person God wants me to be. Those were the things I gave up, when I insisted on doing things my way – drunk or sober.

While actively drinking, I surrendered my credit rating, a house, my marriage, a job that – while increasingly stressful within a changing political environment – remained rewarding and provided a career pathway to really making a difference in the realm of local government policy. I surrendered the trust of my family and friends, and for several months I surrendered my dog, because I was incapable of caring for her. I surrendered my integrity, and along with that, what little bit of love I had for myself.

I had become someone that I totally despised, completing the subconscious, self-fulfilling prophecy of self hatred. This alone – for the amount of turmoil this attitude toward myself has created, both within and around me – deserves its own post, as well.

So, what would it hurt to surrender to a God concept that loves me? Since the evidence of my life’s experiences proves I do a horrible job of running the show, what would it hurt to give that job to Someone Else?

And, what, exactly, would that mean? Another astronomically expensive question, I suppose, and one, for which, I don’t have a pat answer. There is none. Different spiritual pathways teach different things on the concept of prayer, Divine Guidance and working out one’s “stuff,” (known in Christianity as Sanctification).

As a practical matter, and because my personal demons involve various addictions, I follow a 12-step pathway in this process of working out one’s issues. This is totally compatible with professing the Christian faith, as all I’ve done is define the Power greater than myself, in a way that works for me.

Regarding my recovery process, I’ve kept everything vague, intentionally, since all 12-step-based recovery fellowships are anonymous. By its intended nature, this blog is a public forum, and that means I have a responsibility to treat it as such. The steps themselves have been featured prominently in all forms of media, and you can find them online. I would encourage you to do so. My linking them would give the appearance of breaking anonymity. And, that I simply will not do.

Suffice it to say, the decision to surrender to a Power greater than one’s self is the crux of Step Three. The action implicit in that decision is to work the rest of the steps – which involve serious personal housecleaning, paired with an even greater dependence on The Divine, in a way that makes more and more sense, as we reach Step Twelve. This isn’t a one-and-done deal, either, but rather, a process – one that will take a lifetime to finish, while in the meantime, providing a clear pathway toward a rich and meaningful life – the details of which are as unique as the people who trudge this particular pathway.

Doing so has made me a better son, friend, co-worker, leader, volunteer, congregant, Christian, human being. I’m only beginning, and have much more work ahead of me. But, I am ready. Finally.

Nine Nine

FeaturedNine Nine

Steady repetition is a compulsion mutually reinforced
Now what does that mean?
Is there a just contradiction?
Nothing much
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord, hesitate

J. Michael Stipe, 1983

Two years ago, yesterday, my then wife and I struggled to find a parking spot, during a rainy September Friday night downtown, our voices ever raising in frustration. We were going to meet up with my friend, former co-worker and drinking buddy at Kilroy’s bar, after the Cardinals game. He ran an expanding side business shuttling people back and forth to the game. Home base for his service was the garage behind the bar. She was irritated that I kept passing up the bar, while trying to find a parking spot, and I was irritated – plainly and simply – with her.

“Don’t you know where this is?” She snapped.

“Of course I do,” I growled, “I just can’t get to it.”

Kilroy’s is just south of I-64 (still Highway 40, to the locals). It’s the furthest away of all the sports bars near Busch Stadium, plopped in a sea of railroad tracks and parking lots. It was an auto shop, before the owners converted part of that property into a bar, in 2006.

The parking lot is at 7th and Cerre, but getting to it involves traveling south on 8th, turning left on Gratiot, and keeping an eye out for the entrance, before hitting Broadway, which is one-way south. I’d had a couple of large beers to drink, over the evening, but don’t particularly remember being drunk. Also, I was high on pot, all day – much to my then wife’s dismay.

“I asked you not to have any, today, and you couldn’t even do that!,” she screamed, while I was trying to find the damned parking lot entrance in the damned rain, with all the damned parking lot traffic. Damned wife…

The truth is, I couldn’t imagine very many waking hours without it. Cannabis was my anti-anxiety drug, at the time, and it really sucked that weed became a $400/month habit. We had dodged foreclosure, thanks to my dad and stepmom bailing me out one. More. Time. The Wife hated how much I smoked; technically, I was vaping it, thanks to this nifty device. She hated how much time I spent doing it, how much it cost, and how using it opened the door to smoking cigarettes, again. I’d quit those, the day we got married. Which was ten years ago, this evening.

When we set our sights on spending the rest of our lives together, we intended on having a long engagement – ten months, to be exact. Given the fact that we got engaged in June – on my birthday…the logistics of which is another story in and of itself – that would have put us into April. The amount of time was somewhat arbitrary. To me, it seemed long enough that we could thoughtfully consider our next steps. It was suggested that we really use this time to review the strengths and weaknesses of our pairing – and be prepared to walk away, if necessary. Of course, no one wants to face that option. But, I’ve always believed that if more people did, then we’d have less divorces.

My ex wife wasn’t having any of it. And, that should have been my first clue. We had what I would consider surface-level premarital counseling. Even then, we were warned by the pastor who married us, that we would spend considerable time fighting our way through conflicting ways of approaching things, because we were moving so quickly.

Give me a couple
Don’t give me a couple of pointers
Turn to lies and conversation fear

J. Michael Stipe, 1983

After five years, I had concluded it was too quickly. After five years, we realized we had nothing in common. And, we couldn’t communicate without conflict or resentment. Too often, “compromise” meant giving up pieces of myself, one people-pleasing move at a time. To be fair, it also meant she acquiesced on some major decisions – one of which, our home purchase, would haunt us for eight years, and contribute significantly to our marriage’s undoing.

Still, we wanted to make it work. We attempted counseling, although much of it was stuck in mutual contempt, by the five-year mark. I had allowed addictive behaviors to get in the way of loving her properly, she complained. She knew I no longer found her attractive. Looking back, it was much more than physical beauty. I’d come to realize that her chief goal in life had been to find a man who would take care of her, so she could live worry-free as a full-time mom. Individual identity seemed severely lacking. All of her hope and grounding was dependent on me. And, I was increasingly convinced I wouldn’t achieve my own form of self actualization.

We were nowhere near whole enough to partner together. And, we hated each other for it, though we would bury that hatred in myriad distractions: dinners out, expensive vacations, endless TV watching, and a small zoo of animals that we accumulated, once we bought our house. All of that took money we didn’t have, and so cycles of financial insecurity were ad infinitum. We’d get behind, and I’d take on an extra job. She’d get miserable in her work, but struggled to take the necessary steps to find a better path for herself. I stumbled into a rewarding volunteer gig that led to a solid, well-paying career path, and she was fired from her job. Just before that happened, she told me that she struggled with feeling jealous because I’d found something fulfilling. She couldn’t just be happy for me, and as such, was a horrible cheerleader – resentful at the time my new job took.

During a period of sobriety, in which I wanted to give our failing marriage a fair shot, she was resentful that, instead of spending time at the bar away from her, I was spending time at meetings…away from her. When I pointed out that I was a better husband because of those efforts, she was dismissive. This was probably around the eight year mark. And, the more she nagged, the more I wanted to spend time away. So, that by the time I relapsed…again (that was number six, I think), I had checked out completely.

Such was the backdrop that colored what should have been a happy milestone – ten years of living our lives together. Instead, my inability to find a damned bar in the damned rain, with a damned wife nagging me about it while driving, became the perfect fuse.

We exploded on one another in a parking lot, not far from Kilroy’s. Everything I mentioned above, I hurled at her, in catalogue format.

“This has been ten years of nothing but misery,” I shouted, both of us sitting in our car’s front seats. “And, you have to be the least supportive person I know!”

“You think this has been great for me?!,” she screamed, the rain pounding on the windshield as the wipers keep wiping away water, so as not to notice our voluble argument. “You’ve done nothing but lie to me the whole time, and I am NOT a better person for having married you!”

The next part’s a bit hazy, but at some point before this verbal disaster began, I’d let her drive, so that she’d quit bitching. I think that’s why we were parked.

“Fine, then! I’m walking to Kilroy’s,” I yelled.

“You do that,” she yelled back, “and, stay at (name redacted to protect the innocent bystander)’s house, tonight! We’re done!”

As I got out of the car, she started to take off. I yelled at her to stop and threatened to call the police on her, and I quote, “crazy ass.” I slammed the car door, and she took off, tires squealing. The Honda had excellent anti-slip control, so there was no fishtailing involved. But, she would have, if she could.

Wherein September 9, 2006 was a celebration of two people starting their lives together, 9-9-2016 was the firing shot of that futile journey’s tragic end.

We picked that date, after it was clear to both of us that we were going to kill each other before the wedding, if we didn’t stop arguing about its execution. She wanted a Fall wedding, anyway, and 9-9 was repetitive enough that neither of us would forget. Me being me, I thought of how 9-9-06 is divisible by 3, and 9-9 is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. My ex got amusement out of my first thought. She didn’t get the second one. Is it wrong that sometimes, I think that should have been my second clue?

I suppose it’s a bit shallow to place such a premium on musical tastes. She called me “weird,” and “a snob.” I took those intended epithets as compliments.

books-matter-high-fidelity
I know women who hate High Fidelity, because John Cusack’s character is, in their words, the archetypal, psychopathic nice guy. Totally agree with their assessment. I look at his actions as a primer on what not to do. The music snob in me still loves this film.

So, what did we have in common? Our spirituality…our strong spiritual side, as the pastor who married us put it. She wasn’t wrong about that. It was, in fact, one of the things that attracted me to my ex. Thing is, that strong spirituality had been severely damaged by hurtful acts within her former place of employment, which I will only name as a large church in the St. Louis region. In fact, I had seen enough of that church’s seamy underbelly, that after Christmas 2006, I was all about us finding another place to worship, while she looked for another job…a job hunt that took over four years, and only moved forward after her former employer got strict about enforcing their personnel rules about staff being church members in good standing.

She went to work at a small church that was just rebooting, about three blocks from our house. It was the worst church plant either of us had ever been involved with. While not going into details, the position was a bad fit, budget woes aside. The budget woes only became worse when a former staff member muscled his way into a full-time position, while equally crowding her out of her limited hours. And, the way they handled it only made her emotionally sicker. It was so bad that *I* demanded a meeting with leadership and called them out. We left two weeks later, and she eventually got a job with a large hospital group.

Because of her work history, and my two relapses within our marriage, financial crises were a running theme. In fact, crisis itself was a running theme.

One would think that parting ways and ending such a tumultuous union would bring signs of relief and closure, as well as the necessary motivation to put this mess to bed.

giphy

That was only true of one of us. My ex absolved herself of responsibility, regarding getting the house ready for sale, then hired an attorney who went after everything he could. I pointed out these facts, the afternoon she should up on our doorstep – months after having moved out – crying that I was killing myself. This was October 24, 2017. My five-month flameout involved a heavy dose of alcohol and weed, along with occasional grams of coke and meth. None of it was working. And, I thought her the worst of all hypocrites for pretending to care about me.

My phone had been stolen days before, while I was wrapping up a late-night-to-morning jag on the metro area’s East Side – the Illinois part of our metro, for the uninitiated. I had been robbed, and was so ashamed by what had happened, and too drunk to make my way to work on time (I passed out on an Eastbound train, and ended up near Scott Air Force Base, while I was supposed to be in the office). Knowing that this would be Strike Three, and too ashamed to face the consequences, I holed up in my room, and drank. A former supervisor and that same former coworker knocked on my door, four days later, and took me to Barnes ER. The next day, my dad and sister showed up. Dad put me in his truck, and we went to my work’s EAP, to start the process of getting me back into treatment.

I stayed with my mom and stepdad for over six months, while dad and I worked diligently to get my house ready for sale, put it on the market, and navigated the sickeningly complicated closing process. Selling a jointly-owned house when the court has ruled your marriage “irretrievably broken,” and creditors have judgments against you…well…sucks.

And, what should have been the lifting of a Sisyphean burden became simply a shifting of Sisyphean tasks, as I moved out, struggled to pay living expenses, faced a major repair on a car I had just bought, and strained to find joy in a job that didn’t pay enough, and certainly didn’t justify the daily maelstrom I encountered, every time I clocked in. Yet, I was unemployable in my former field – having been shut out of a hiring process conducted by a friend, with nothing more than a generic rejection letter.

Sleep became my only way of coping. Slowly, I began to isolate – as I usually do in times of strife. Late May through early August were among the darkest months I’ve ever weathered. I fought the urge to drink, as well as the temptation to end it all. But, I knew this stuff was beyond the scope of my recovery program, and despite the completely unprofessional way my psychiatric referral was handled by the medical group, I kept calling. And, calling. And, calling. Until I got someone willing to break through the bureaucracy and just schedule a damned appointment for the next day – which resulted in a med change for the absolute better.

I should also mention that one incredibly positive development that helped keep me going was my growing engagement with The Gathering – a United Methodist Church with multiple sites in the St. Louis area. I remember when I first heard my pastor utter words he has since said multiple times: “If you’re new with us, and you show up at one of our services, or at an event like this (a get-to-know-the-church forum, then hosted at a local microbrewery) we want you to feel as though we’ve been expectantly waiting for you. Because, we have.”

I went to a recovery meeting a day, plugged into a “home group,” where I hold a service position, made myself available to sponsor other men, and found a new sponsor, after mine left the country for a job opportunity in Beijing.

The job that formerly seemed like a daily exercise in futility (and, still doesn’t pay nearly enough), became a challenge to be surmounted. And, I acted like the leader I’m training to become. The current financial failures became an exercise in failing with integrity, and holding my head up high in the process.

My immediate family wouldn’t let me drift too far away from their contact, and I didn’t want that anyway. So much has healed over a relatively short period of time.

Two months ago, I made a formal amends to my ex wife, and admitted with full contrition all of my wrongdoing in our marriage – with intention to make right all that I could. We now talk, occasionally, as friends who still love one another with the history that only a divorced couple can share. I know that our cats are in good hands, and I know she could watch our dog (of whom, I have custody) in a pinch. For that matter, she knows she can ask for the dog whenever she wants, to get her bonding time in, with no complaint or resentment on my end.

Because, it’s not about me.

I’ve learned that the most important person, with whom I can be honest, today, is myself. I’ve learned that success isn’t so much living the best version of myself, but the most honest.

In the midst of last year’s insanity, I managed to get a pretty clear picture of my ideal partner – the sucker punch being that I need to be that person, as well.

Last night, I told the woman I’ve just started dating that this post was in process. She was in pretty strong agreement that this was a story worth telling. Time will tell if I’m the partner that I seek, but so far, I’ve been happy with my progress – even if it’s meant revisiting painfully old insecurities, in order that I might put them in their rightful place, with the help of a Power much greater than me. In fact, that she’s around at all is testament to God doing for me what I haven’t been so capable of doing for myself.

9-9-18…life’s far from perfect, but I’ll take it. Gladly.

 

Sunday

Sunday

I am a person of faith without a church home. I’ll get into that in a later post, but for now, let me share what I’ve recognized in the meantime.

The teachings of Christ are real to me and valid. The institutions responsible for shepherding the flock have serious issues.

Stepping away from institutional groupthink has forced me to come to terms with my faith on a much more personal level. It’s forced me to be more open, less concerned with being right, more concerned with being true to myself.

Because of other issues relative to my personal growth and development, it’s been important to seek and accept professional help. I’m lucky that my therapist received his MSW from a local Jesuit university, and is familiar with the delicate balance of incorporating some form of spirituality in a plan toward mental health and emotional growth. The two are not incompatible, after all; and, in my opinion, both are necessary – essential, even – for holistic change.

As a result, I’ve been reading a book, lately, called Christian Zen, by William Johnston – a Jesuit priest, serving in Japan during the early 70s, on the heels of the Second Vatican Council.

Because mindfulness and meditation are becoming part of my daily practice, I’m using this app. It makes the practice super easy. It was recommended by a good friend, who just started a new blog. He’s better at the whole blog thing, so you should check it out.

I suppose I should get all “churchy” and read my Bible, but I haven’t been feeling it – aside from a recent re-read of the book of Job. I might do that, again, under the current circumstances.

Suffice it to say, the last six months have involved a tremendous amount of personal upheaval, requiring me to come face-to-face with some truths about myself. Some good, some not so much. All necessary, as the same time period has brought about an unprecedented amount of personal growth. I just wish it could be less painful, sometimes. I may get into more details when I can. For now, it’s inappropriate.