On January 1st, 2020 I am updating and doing some editing to this blog post that I put together 2 years ago using excerpts from different places in my writing where I talk about getting sober. On Friday January 3rd, 2020, I will be 36 years clean and sober.
“I feel that my life Truly began on January 3rd, 1984. That was the day I entered a chemical dependency treatment center (aptly called the Independence Center) and started to learn how to live life clean and sober. One of the reasons I was able to stay clean and sober was because I had a considerable amount of ego strength. I had some strengths and talents that caused me to think that I was better than other people. That ego strength was my defense against the shame I felt at the core of my relationship with myself. I had a capacity for denial and rationalization that had helped me buy into the lie that other people were to blame for the failed wreckage my life had become.
I used that ego strength – and the false pride that told me I was better than other people – to help me stay sober. One of the ways I did that was to make my sobriety date very important to me. If I drank again, I would lose my sobriety date – and there was no way I wanted people who had less sobriety than me to get ahead of me. My twisted, distorted codependent thinking allowed me to turn sobriety into some kind of race that I was winning over some people.
My ego strength helped me to stay sober in the beginning of my recovery. It helped me to stay sober long enough to get into recovery from my codependency. My recovery from codependency led me into starting to dismantle my ego defenses. Breaking through my denial and rationalizations helped me to start getting emotionally honest with myself. Emotional honesty forced me to start owning the incredible reservoirs of grief and rage I was carrying. By the spring of 1988, my ego defenses had been weakened enough that the dam broke and my feelings started pouring forth. That was when I got the gift of entering another treatment center where I started learning how to deal with that grief and rage.
In that treatment center in Tucson Arizona I met one of the people who was going to turn out to be a true angel on my path. A person who would come to my rescue in the summer of 1988 after an unimaginable experience had revealed to me my Karmic mission in this lifetime. He offered me the use of his cabin in Taos New Mexico. It was in Taos that I started writing.
I later got to watch this “friend indeed” – whose name was also Robert – die because his codependency would not allow him to stay clean and sober.
“As a young child Robert got the message that he wasn’t lovable but that if he was successful enough and made enough money he might earn the right to be loved. He was successful and made lots of money but it did not work to convince him that he was good enough.
My friend had no permission from himself to receive love. When I published my book I listed him among people who had touched my life on the Acknowledgments Page. When he saw his name listed there he cursed me (his generation, and mine, were taught to relate to other men that way, to say ‘I love you’ by calling each other names) and cried briefly (which he felt was very shameful) and then he drank. In his relationship with himself Robert was too shame-based to believe that he was lovable.
I believe that the great majority of Alcoholics are born with a genetic, hereditary predisposition that is physiological. Environment does not cause Alcoholism. Robert was not an Alcoholic because he was shame-based – it was because of his shame that he could not stay sober. He had a blustery, ‘hail-fellow-well-met’, in your face kind of ego-strength that was very fragile. As soon as he got sober his ego defenses would fracture and the shame underneath would cause him to sabotage his sobriety.
That doesn’t mean that people who can stay sober don’t have shame. Some of us just have more ego defenses that buries the shame deeper. That is good news in early sobriety because it helps one to stay sober. It can be bad news later on because it can cause us to resist growth and to not have the humility to be teachable. The reason that I am alive today is because I was able to go to treatment for Codependence in my fifth year of recovery while working as a therapist in a treatment center. I had sworn that I would kill myself before I drank again and the feelings which were surfacing had me close to it when I went to Sierra Tucson. That was where I met Robert.” – The Death of an Alcoholic – codependency kills alcoholic
On January 2nd, 2018 I am putting this blog post together using excerpts from different places in my writing where I talk about getting sober. Tomorrow I will be 34 years clean and sober. An unbelievable miracle that I have achieved one day at a time – sometimes an hour at a time, sometimes 5 minutes at a time. I have immense gratitude for the gift of sobriety – as I say in the quote above, I feel like my life began on January 3rd, 1984.
“When I first came to 12 step recovery I was appalled to think that I had to admit that I was powerless. Then when they told me that I had a disease I was relieved to think that all those years of insane behavior were not my fault. I still had problems with powerlessness and surrender however. To surrender meant to be a loser in my mind. What helped me was when someone told me that surrender didn’t mean I was a loser, it just meant that I was smart enough to join the winning side.
One thing I sometimes say in AA meetings is that I was a ‘Frank Sinatra’ type of alcoholic. I used to sit in bars and get teary eyed when they played My Way – because I was doing it ‘my way,’ I thought. One of the first things I had to surrender to, was realizing that my way wasn’t working very good. One of the next things I had to surrender was my subconscious belief that it was not possible to live life without drugs and alcohol.” – The Miracle of The Twelve Step Recovery Process: The first three steps
“Twelve step recovery is a program of empowerment. Many people erroneously assume that the fact that first step involves admitting powerlessness means that 12 step recovery disempowers people. The Truth is exactly the opposite.
It was only when I admitted that I was powerless to control my drinking that I gained the power to stop drinking. As long as I was trying to control my drinking out of ego and will power, I was powerless to stop drinking alcoholically. It was when I opened up to getting help from a power greater than myself that I gained the power to transform my life. (There are some people – alcoholics – who can stop drinking using will power. They are what is referred to in the program as dry drunks. They are some of the most miserable, resentful, angry people on the face of the planet – because they have no spiritual belief system that is Loving.)
In the beginning for me, that power greater than myself was just the group – the people I met at AA meetings. Those people shared their stories, their thoughts and feelings, in a way that I identified with. Previously I had thought I was the only one who thought those kind of insane thoughts and had those kind of feelings of utter despair and hopelessness. When I first got to AA, I realized that I was not alone – I felt a connection to these people, felt a part of something larger than myself.
I however, had a real problem with the talk of God that I heard at meetings. I was raised in a shaming religion that taught me I was born sinful and shameful. I was emotionally and spiritually abused as a young child by being taught that God loved me but might send me to burn in eternal damnation in hell. I was taught that being human was shameful and sinful. (In one of my articles in my series on sexuality, gender, and relationships, I explained that it is not necessary for a person to be raised in a shaming religion to get the message that it is shameful to be human: Sexuality Abuse – the legacy of shame based culture.)
So, I had a real problem with even using the word God. And this was not just because of my personal experience, but also because of what I had learned about the history of the planet. I saw that throughout history “God” had been used as an justification for genocide, torture, plunder, and rape. I saw that a civilization based upon the “command” to go forth to subdue and conquer, not only destroyed peoples and cultures that were much kinder and more Loving than the conquerors – but was an integral part of going a long way towards destroying the planet we live on.
In my younger days I had been involved in activism with Native Americans – whom I could clearly see had been victimized by subdue, conquer, and slaughter mentality of the dominant culture. I found much beauty and harmony in the respect for nature and natural laws that was involved in the Native American concept a Higher Power – The Great Spirit. In the beginning of my book, I state some reasons that I wrote it – which included the following sentence.
“This is my way of standing up for my Truth, and of honoring “All My Relations,” which is a Native American term that refers to the Great Spirit whose essence is present in everyone and everything. We are all related to everyone and everything.”
(Quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls)
If I had been told in January 1984, at the beginning of my recovery from alcoholism, that the only way I could quit killing myself with alcohol was to accept the standard version of “God” – I would never have gotten sober. I would have been dead long ago. But what I was told, was that I needed to find a concept of a Higher Power that worked for me – a Higher Power of my own understanding. That was what saved my life – the revolutionary concept that I could develop my own idea of a Higher Power, and develop a personal relationship with that Higher Power that did not have to conform to what anyone else believed.
So, in the beginning of my recovery, I allowed the fact that people in meetings – whom I identified with – seemed to have found a way to live life that worked for them, to help me stay sober one day at a time. I used the group as a power greater than myself, while I worked on trying to find a concept of a Higher Power that would work for me.
In those early days, I would call that Higher Power: The Great Spirit – or The Force. I remembered clearly that when the Star Wars movies first came out, I strongly resonated with the idea that “The Force is with you.”
It was when I was about 3 months sober that a book came into my life that altered my life, and my perspective of a Higher Power, immeasurably. The miracle of the “coincidence” of discovering that book – a book that reached out and grabbed my attention from the paperback rack in a grocery store – is something that still reduces me to tears of Joy and Gratitude 20 years later. I quoted that book several times in my book – and in this article I am going to use a quote from an online book I wrote that includes a quote from my book within it. That online book is the one that I wrote about the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. . . . .
“One of the first things I was guided to, when I was only about 3 months sober, was a mind boggling, paradigm smashing book called Illusions by Richard Bach. It presented me with concepts that it took me years to understand intellectually. But I knew instantly that the book was full of Truth.
In order to become aligned with Truth so that we can stop the war within and change life into an easier, more enjoyable experience, it is vitally important to become clear in our emotional process and to change the reversed attitudes that we had to adopt to survive. Those reversed attitudes are what cause our dysfunctional perspectives – which in turn, have caused us to have a lousy relationship with life.
I am going to quote from a book now, and again a little later, that is my own personal favorite book of Truth. I feel a great deal of Truth in this book. It has guided me and helped me to remember my Truth and to become conscious of my path. It was a very important part of my personal process of enlarging my perspective – of being able to see this life business in a larger context.
It is a book called Illusions by Richard Bach. This is one of my favorite quotations from that book.
The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.
What a caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.
The “depth of your belief” is about perspective. If we are reacting to life emotionally out of the belief systems we had imposed on us as children we will then see change as tragedy and feel that being forced to grow is shameful. As we change our attitudes toward this life experience, when we can start viewing it as a process, a journey, then we can begin to see that what we used to perceive as problems are really opportunities for growth. Then we can begin to realize that even though our experiences in childhood have caused to think of ourselves as, and feel like, lowly caterpillars – we are in Truth butterflies who are meant to fly.
We are all butterflies. We are all Spiritual Beings.
I used to use the caterpillar – butterfly quote a lot when I spoke. I would usually say something like “a measure of your Spiritual Awakening” instead of “mark of your ignorance” in order to soften it a bit. We codependents are such experts in beating ourselves up and shaming ourselves, that we tend to see the word ignorance as being something that is our fault. In fact, the word ignorance refers to a lack of knowledge, of not being informed. The reason we didn’t know how to set boundaries, or have healthy relationships, was because of ignorance caused by not having anyone to teach us – no healthy role models, no resources for learning how to be healthy. We not only did not have resources to teach us how to relate to life and other people in a healthy way – we were taught the very opposite of healthy behavior in most cases.” – Attack on America – A Spiritual Healing Perspective
The caterpillar and butterfly quote was incredibly powerful to me. I saw quitting drinking as a great tragedy – as the end of life as I knew it. And gratefully it was the end of life as I knew it, and the beginning of life as an adventure in learning to Love.
It was the concept that I could develop a belief in a Higher Power of my own understanding that helped to empower me to realize that I had a choice in the beliefs and definitions about “God” that I was allowing to dictate my relationship with life. It was this revolutionary concept that started me on the path to realizing that I was Lovable – that I could reconnect with, and access, an Unconditionally Loving Universal Force in a way that would help me remember that I am a beautiful butterfly that can Fly.” – A Higher Power of my own understanding 2 – the beginning of empowerment
“I am what researchers are now calling a “Type A” alcoholic. That means that my genetic predisposition to alcoholism was so strong that the only way I could have avoided being an alcoholic was to never have taken a drink. I got drunk the very first time that I had the opportunity to get drunk. I also had a blackout the first time I got drunk. A black out is when someone loses consciousness even though they are still walking and talking and appearing to be somewhat normal. There is a gap in the memory (What did I do last night?) because of the effect of the alcohol on the brain. I would wake up the next day not remembering anything after a certain point in time. I wouldn’t know how I had gotten home, where my car was parked, and sometimes I wouldn’t know who I was with. I had blackouts – with increasing regularity – starting with the first time I got drunk and continuing for the 17 years that I drank.
Alcohol saved my life. I think that I would have killed myself if I had not discovered alcohol. I was so terrified of life and people and felt so inadequate to cope with life. Alcohol (and later drugs of various types) gave me permission to be human – which the environment I grew up in had not. With alcohol I could loosen up and interact with other people.
At the end of my drinking days – which had been hell for a number of years – the Universe led me through many applications of the Cosmic stick to go home to Nebraska for the Holidays in December of 1983. While there my parents – who had learned about alcoholism because a cousin of mine had gotten sober – did an intervention on me. They asked me to go into a 30 day treatment program.
I can remember sitting with them in the office of the person who did the intake evaluations and feeling completely trapped. By this time I had no money and no car, and I had been counting on them to be good enablers and loan me the money to get me going again. The thing that really got me though was when my father said to the intake person “We want to get help for him because we love him a lot.”
I had never before heard my father use the term love in reference to me. [He still to this day has never been able to tell me that he loves me. (My father died in May 2005. On his death bed I told him I loved him – and the best he could say in return was “Same here.”)] I can remember thinking at that moment, “Oh crap, now I have to do this.” As if his using the word love was some sort of currency that obligated me to do whatever he wanted.
So I went into a treatment program in Lincoln Nebraska. For the first two weeks I really resisted being there. I thought the people were weird and I certainly didn’t need any of this religious God crap that they were talking about. I called friends back in LA and complained about how I was locked in this horrible place. (No doors were locked.)
The turning point came for me when some druggy friends back in LA offered to buy me a plane ticket back to the coast. That was the point where I had to admit to myself that I had a choice. I had spent my whole life being the victim because I didn’t believe I had choices – now I had a choice.
So I had to take a good look at myself and my life and see if I wanted to return to the way I had been living. When I looked at how messed up –
(God, what an understatement. As I wrote that last sentence, I started crying remembering what a hell I had been living in. At some point in treatment I realized that the song that described what my life had been like was Desperado – “Your prison is walking through life all alone.” “You’d better get down off you fence and let someone love you before it is too late.” After I got sober I swore to myself that I would kill myself before I would ever take another drink.)
When I took a realistic view of what hell my life had been, I had to admit to myself that I didn’t ever want to live that way again. So I turned down the plane ticket and surrendered to trying to learn the things that those weird people were trying to teach me.” – The Path of one Recovering Codependent ~ the dance of one wounded soul The Awakening Begins in the Joy2MeU Journal
“12/24/11 ~ As my 28th sobriety birthday approaches in 10 days or so, I have been reflecting back on what an incredible miracle my life has been since January 3rd, 1984. This page was originally just an article in a series of articles on “A Higher Power of my own understanding” – an article in which I talk about how the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life. Two years ago, on my 26th sobriety birthday I added some quotes below the article from some of my writing in which I talk about my drinking and early sobriety. This year it was very appropriate for reasons that shall be obvious, that I share something I have shared in AA meetings on many occasions – including I am sure in many of my birthday meetings – but I don’t think I have ever written about. (It possible I have, since I have written so much – but oh well.)
When I first got sober in a 30 day treatment program in Lincoln Nebraska, I got very afraid as it came time to leave treatment. I felt like I had been in a safe haven for almost 30 days, and I wasn’t sure how I would fare back out in the world again. (This was when I learned a very important lesson about working the third step when I went to see my counselor right before I was to get out.)
I couldn’t conceive of staying clean and sober for a year. I couldn’t remember the last time I had gone for more than 3 days without something – drugs or alcohol – to take the edge off. The one exception to that was one time about 2 years before I got sober when I quit drinking for 30 days to see if I wanted to die as much when I wasn’t drinking as when I was. It wasn’t much of a test however, as I was still smoking some dope occasionally – plus I was starring in a play and having an affair with a married woman who was in the play with me, so had plenty of distractions to help me in my dry period. At the cast party for the play I had a beer and just kind of forgot about ever thinking that drinking was a problem. I was back to drinking alone to black out within a couple of weeks after that.
Anyway, I couldn’t imagine a year sober – and at the same time, I saw people who made it to a year and then drank again. I was afraid of making it a goal to get to a year – because it was such a long time away, and also because I didn’t want to set myself up to feel like if I got there I had it made. So, I decided to make my goal to reach 100 days – which was an impossibly long period for me at that point. And then once I got to 100 days, I made my next goal 1000 days. I would mention when I took my birthday cake after I reached 1000 days that my next goal was 10,000 days. It seemed like an unfathomably distant goal. Well, some time this year – in May I think – I passed 10,000 days clean and sober. Mind boggling! Talk about a miracle!!
As you can see from the comments I added two years ago after the article – I am Truly a miracle. Among those comments
below above is a quote from an article in my Joy2MeU Journal entitled: The Awakening Begins. I decided to add an excerpt from the next article in that series – entitled: The Emotional Awakening Begins – to this page to commemorate my 28th sobriety anniversary and to be reminded of how far I have come since 1984.
“When I first came to recovery I knew a lot about emotions and had almost no permission to feel them personally. I had no permission to feel them personally because my emotional programming from the role modeling of my parents in childhood taught me that men have only one emotion – anger – and that it wasn’t OK to be angry at women – since my mother’s definition of love included the belief that you can’t be angry at someone you love, meaning it was not OK for me to be angry at her. My emotional palette, in terms of my personal unconscious relationship with my emotions, consisted of one color – anger – that was only truly acceptable to feel towards men. Consciously, in my personal view of my self, I believed I was a very emotional person with a full palette.
I also knew quite a lot about emotions because I had spent many years in Hollywood pursuing an acting career. I understood the human emotional process enough to see clearly that all humans had the same basic emotions – no matter how different their outside circumstances, or the details of their stories may have been. When I had the right role I could play an audience like a emotional musical instrument.
In retrospect, I believe that my acting was one of the reasons I was still alive. I got much needed emotional release through the characters I played. It was the type of emotional release that did not do anything for me personally in terms of healing (it is very important to own our feelings, crying for someone else is emotionally dishonest – the reason someone else’s pain affects us is because it triggers our own) – it just allowed me to vent some emotional energy, which kept me from exploding or imploding. (The other major reason that I was still alive is that I had alcohol and drugs to help me keep the pain at bay. Without alcohol I do think I would have killed myself before I was 21 because I was so emotionally isolated and had so much pain and rage stuffed inside – in fact I made a bet with a friend my freshman year in college that I wouldn’t live to graduate, the bet was a case of beer.)
Whenever I started working on a new character, the first thing I would try to decide was what the characters ‘gut level fears’ were. I would pontificate to other actors about how people were driven by their gut level fears – and feel very proud of my ability to create real living breathing character studies based on my methods. (I specialized in very intense characters who were very wounded – alcoholics, addicts, loners, crazy people, etc. – like “duh” I wonder why. I even once for an on camera personalization exercise did Hamlet’s soliloquy ‘To be or not to be’ where he is contemplating suicide, using a drink instead of a dagger as the prop. My acting teacher was convinced I was suicidal – I thought it just showed how brilliant I was that I was able to ‘act’ suicidal. Denial is an amazing thing!)
So, my focus as an actor was on what fears drove my characters – but I personally had no fear. When I first went into the Chemical Dependence Treatment Center where I got sober I heard people at meetings or in lectures mention being afraid. I have a very clear memory of sitting in one of my first AA meetings where someone talked about being afraid and thinking “Who are these people! So afraid. I’ve never been afraid – they stuck guns in my face and I wasn’t afraid. These people are wimps!”
I had no permission in my subconscious programming, in the definition of what I learned men feel from my male role model, to have fear. I was incapable of consciously acknowledging fear in my personal process because it was unacceptable.
My self image on a conscious level was of being Mr. Nice Guy. I would do anything for you, and I was always pleasant and entertaining. My self image on an emotional level – my protective armor that I wore unconsciously – was of the ‘man in black.’ The strong quiet type that you didn’t want to mess with because you could see in my eyes that messing with me would be very unpleasant. (This was a defense I developed when I was being a revolutionary and carrying a gun – I was in some pretty hairy situations and the defense served to keep me alive.) I had a force field that I put up around myself to protect myself. I knew how to put off vibes that said very clearly ‘stay away.’
One of the important breakthroughs I had during my 30 days in treatment came in my third week there. My counselor was not sure how to handle me because of my intensity and the fact – which, since it was where I derived much of my ego strength, I made very clear – that I was a ‘Hollywood Actor.’ (The treatment center was in Nebraska – a long way from Hollywood.) So, in consultation with the other counselors they decided to keep me off balance by switching me between therapy groups – and giving each of the male counselors a shot at me.
There were three primary groups for men and usually a person was in one group the whole time they were in treatment. In my third week, I showed up for group and was told that I had to go to a different group. They refused to tell me why this was happening. In about the middle of the week, I was in a group where for the first time I got to experience a full-on mirroring of myself. The previous week in my primary group I had been confronted about putting up a barrier to scare people away – and I had responded by denying it and tearfully saying how I loved people and would never try to scare them away. Well, in that other group I got to sit and watch another man get confronted about the same thing and deny it just as I had done – and I saw myself in him so clearly that I had to immediately point out that I could see he was not being honest because watching him I realized that I had not been honest.
At the end of this week of switching back and forth between the three groups, I was in a group with a grizzled old counselor who had been around for many years. He asked me if I had learned anything from all the switching around and then sat and listened patiently while I expounded on all that I had learned.
When I was done, he asked quietly and quizzically “And you didn’t know why we were doing that, did you?”
“No,” I said “I had no idea.”
Then he sweetly smiled and drove home the point, “Well, maybe it is not important for you to know why something is happening then.”
Shot the heck out of some of my control issues right there.
This treatment center worked with what was called the ‘Minnesota model’ in dealing with emotional issues. What that meant was that they identified 6 primary feelings and forced us patients to identify our feelings only using those words. The 6 were mad, sad, glad, hurt, afraid, ashamed. That drove me crazy. One of the defenses that I used to distance myself from my feelings was not naming them. They forced me to start naming my feelings. I couldn’t say “I was confused,” or “irritated” or “apprehensive” or “annoyed” etc. I had to name a feeling. It really drove me crazy since I did not know on a personal level what feelings really were, let alone what I was feeling.
I was forced to start trying to figure out what I was feeling – and to stop being in my head all of the time. One of my primary defenses against feeling my feelings was to be in my head. In my early recovery I had to start paying attention to what was happening in my body from the neck down – because that is where emotions manifest.
Since I was so out of touch with my feelings, I had to come up with clues for myself. Things that I could notice that would be a clue to me that feelings were going on.
By the time I got done with the 30 day program I was really in touch with my fear. I realized that rather than never having been afraid – the truth was that I had been afraid of everybody and everything since I was a kid. I was absolutely terrified of leaving the treatment center because I was so scared that I would drink again. I could see clearly what a hell my life had been and I did not ever want to go back to living the way I had been. I swore to myself that I would kill myself before I took another drink.
So wanting a drink became my most important early clue to tell me that I had some feelings going on that I needed to deal with. When I caught myself, while watching TV, really watching the beer commercials, I would have to stop and say, “whoa, that beer really looks good – I must be feeling something.” Or when I was driving down the street and noticing every cocktail sign and liquor billboard – that would be a clue that I needed to do a little emotional inventory.
One of the classic moments came because of a friend who was a musician. He was having trouble staying sober while he was playing – so a few of us would go to an AA meeting on Friday or Saturday night and then go to whatever Lounge he was playing at. It was a very good opportunity for me to be around drinking with a bunch of safe people and get used to not drinking in a social setting. But there was one night when I realized that I had some feelings going on that made it unsafe for me to be in a bar. My clue came when I started tearing up while my friend played what to me was a very sad ballad. It was real progress for me to recognize that I was emotionally vulnerable and needed to get out of there. Pretty funny in retrospect. The sad ballad was “Jose Cuervo, he was a good friend of mine.”” – The Path of one Recovering Codependent ~ the dance of one wounded soul The Emotional Awakening Begins in the Joy2MeU Journal
A very valuable lesson – I don’t have to know why something is happening in order to accept that it is part of the Divine Plan somehow. Things often haven’t gone the way I wanted them in the last 28 years – and over and over again I have been grateful when I looked back and saw the perfection of my Higher Power’s plan for me. (Something I talked about in the comments I added to my working the third step page (next excerpt) in commemoration of this birthday.) Onward and upward for the next 10,000 days. Happy Birthday to me!!!!!!!!” – Joy to You & Me and Joy2MeU Update February 2012
“I celebrated my 17th sobriety birthday on January 3rd. 17 years is pretty much incomprehensible for someone who couldn’t go for 3 days without a drink or a drug. It doesn’t seem like it went fast though – rather it seems like I have lived 7 or 8 lifetimes since 1984. It is important for me to remember where I came from, and how far the Spirit has lead me on this journey. As they say, the qualities of my problems has greatly improved. 😉
It is especially important for me to remember that right now, because I have been going through one of those difficult times in recovery. There are times when everything is flowing fast and furious, with miracles popping up every time I turn around. Then there are other times when it seems dark and murky – like I am trying to move through quick sand and not making any progress.
When I am in one of the difficult times, it is so important to observe myself so that I can catch myself when I start going into shame and judgment. This disease is so insidious and powerful. It puts up huge resistance to change and then turns around and tells me that I am not changing fast enough – that I am not doing enough, not doing it “right.”
As I say many times on my web site, the challenge for us is to have compassion for ourselves, and to accept wherever we are at as being a perfect part of the process, rather than punishment for being bad. My critical parent voice wants to beat up on that wounded little boy in me whose father raged at him, who couldn’t protect his mother, and who was taught that god was judgmental and punishing.
I have to call on the defense attorney within to stand up to the prosecuting critical parent and the judge who wants to sentence me to suffering. Sometimes it is easier than others. Sometimes it is important just to accept that I am feeling overwhelmed, alone, and worn out – and to let myself indulge a little. A few days ago, I let myself just kind of wallow in the part of me that feels like a wounded animal who wants to crawl into my cave and lick my wounds.
Accepting and embracing that part of me for a few hours – allowing myself to crawl into bed with a book and some chocolate – allows me to get through it and come out on the other side in a way that fighting it never does. The disease wants to tell me that when I am feeling bad it will last forever. That is a lie. Accepting where I am at without shame and judgment and reminding myself that this too shall pass is an important part of maintaining some sense of balance today.
I think part of what I have been going through is a planetary thing – the process has cycles and this seems to be a murky one. Part of it is the changes I am making in my life that I spoke about in my last newsletter. Being in transition is always a difficult time. I sometimes think about how it must feel to be a caterpillar in the cocoon – being torn apart and put back together as a butterfly. That is kind of what happens in recovery – except we get to be conscious of the tearing apart process in a way that I am sure caterpillars are not. A dubious gift if you ask me.
I also, have just gotten aware in the last couple of days that I may have had some denial going over the holidays. I thought I had sailed through the holidays without hitting any of those pot holes of grief over being alone – the pot holes that used to be huge abysses (is that a word?). I even congratulated myself on how I had succeeded in taking all of the emotional charge out the holidays – when I used to really feel lonely and have great sadness over being alone.
It seems I may have some of that grief and loneliness after all. It is natural in my process that, sometimes when I am consciously choosing to focus on the part of the glass that is full, I overshoot a little and indulge in a little denial about the part that is still empty. Oh well. Got caught being human again.” – Joy to You & Me and Joy2MeU Update January 2001
“On January 3, 2002 I will celebrate 18 years of being clean and sober. I have actually been clean and sober now for longer than I drank and used. An amazing miracle that has unfolded one day at a time. Some of those days were excruciatingly painful – full of hopelessness and despair. In early recovery, I didn’t make it through those days sober because I wanted to be sober – or because I wanted to be alive. I made it through one day at a time because I was terrified of returning to, and getting stuck in, the hell I had been living in for the last 4 or 5 years of my drinking.
There is an old AA saying that: Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t open up the gates of heaven and let us in – it opens up the gates of hell and lets us out. When I got released from my alcoholic hell, what I found myself experiencing was life. The very thing I had been drinking to cope with!
What I realize now, is that I was released from alcoholic hell and found myself in codependent hell. My relationship with my self and with life condemned me to codependent hell – and alcohol and drugs had given me a vacation of sorts from dealing with the fact that I did not have a clue of how to live life in a functional way.
I am very, very grateful now that I am a recovering alcoholic. If I had not found alcohol and drugs, I would have killed myself in one way or another in my late teens or early twenties. My 17 plus year drinking career kept me alive long enough to be present when planetary conditions changed so that the New Age of Healing and Joy could dawn in human consciousness. Long enough to have available to me, the tools and knowledge to be able to heal my wounded soul and learn to live life in a way that works. Long enough that first Adult Children of Alcoholics, and then Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings, were available to help me in my healing process.
The dysfunctional dance of Codependence is caused by being at war with ourselves – being at war within.
We are at war with ourselves because we are judging and shaming ourselves for being human. We are at war with ourselves because we are carrying around suppressed grief energy that we are terrified of feeling. We are at war within because we are “damming” our own emotional process – because we were forced to become emotionally dishonest as children and had to learn ways to block and distort our emotional energy.
We cannot learn to Love ourselves and be at peace within until we stop judging and shaming ourselves for being human and stop fighting our own emotional process, until we stop waging war on ourselves.
Detachment and Delayed Gratification
I can see now, that the reason I was able to stay sober was because of two concepts that are invaluable to any healing or growth. The first one made the second possible. It is the first of these concepts that is the single most important step in the inner healing process – the one that I stress so much to anyone I am working with on how to change and improve the quality of their lives.
That concept is detachment.
Codependence is a compulsively reactive condition. I had gone through life like a pin ball – bouncing / reacting from one point to the next, from one person to the next. It was never my fault. Someone, or something else, was always to blame for how messed up my life was – for how awful I felt inside. I focused on blame and resentment because the only alternative that I knew was to blame myself. I was at war inside of myself – and because I was taught to look outside for definition and worth by the society I grew up in, I tried to assign the blame externally for that internal war.
At the core of codependency is shame about being human. This shame was caused by a polarized, black and white intellectual paradigm that empowered the perspective that the only alternatives for evaluating worth, for determining value, are right and wrong. Human beings are incapable of being perfect based upon a perspective in which the only alternatives are right and wrong.
Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship with life, with being human. It is the dance I learned to do as a little kid. It is a dance whose music is generated from fear and shame, to a rhythm dictated by black and white thinking. It is a dance characterized by movement between extremes – blame them or blame me, overreact or underreact, less than or better than, success or failure, win or lose, etc., – which makes balance impossible. There is no middle ground in a dance that can only be done right or wrong. There can be no inner peace.
Since I was continually attempting to do life perfect (or rebelling by going to the opposite extreme) according to false beliefs about the nature and purpose of being human, I could never have any inner peace. I judged my self and my life experience, both consciously and unconsciously, out of a dysfunctional polarized belief system – so that it was not possible to stop being at war within. At the core of my being I felt like I was a defective monster, some kind of shameful, unlovable loser – and I tried to deflect some of that pain by blaming others.
No wonder I drank. Alcohol – and later drugs of various kinds – saved my life.
The first thing I had to do to get sober was to detach enough from my personal reality – from my hellish emotional pain and shame, from the intellectual garbage generated by my twisted codependent thinking – to become conscious of the reality that alcohol was not working for me anymore. I had to get conscious enough to be able to realize that it had been many years since alcohol had given me the relief and good feelings that it had when I started drinking.
With any addictive, mind / mood altering substance / behavior, the very thing that brought some relief from the internal war and mental anguish – the substance or behavior that gives us feelings of being high, of rising above our lives of quiet desperation, of feeling good – becomes something that we feel is necessary just to feel normal. Then eventually, normal becomes very low indeed.
I had to detach from myself enough to look at my life from a perspective that allowed me to see that maybe my behavior had something to do with why I was so miserable – but that is was not because I was a shameful being. The twelve step concept of powerlessness – the idea that alcoholism was a disease rather than a weakness of character – allowed me to detach and view my behavior, my drinking and using, with enough objectivity to start seeing reality with more clarity.
Once I surrendered to the reality that alcohol was hurting me rather than helping me, then I could make some effort to start living life differently. It was necessary for me to get a detached, objective look at myself in order for me to get honest enough with myself to decide that it might be better for me to get sober. I did not stop drinking because I wanted to stop drinking. I stopped drinking because alcohol and drugs were not working for me any more. When I was able to look at reality with some detachment, I could see that what I thought was the solution had actually become the most pressing problem.
The second concept that was so valuable in staying sober and starting to change my life, was the concept of delayed gratification. When I first started recovery, I thought that living life one day at a time was a revolutionary concept for me. But looking back now, I can see that living life one day at a time is what I had been doing all my life. The difference was that I had been living out of instant gratification.
As I describe on my page The codependent three step – A Dance of Shame, Suffering, & Self-Abuse, codependency is a vicious, compulsive, self-abusive dynamic – an prison that we are trapped in as long as we are reacting. In my codependent dance I was the victim of myself, I was my own perpetrator, and I rescued myself in ways that were ultimately self abusive. The shame and pain I was feeling was causing me to feel like a victim, the critical parent voice in my head was beating me up for being a stupid loser, and I was rescuing myself with drugs and alcohol.
In early recovery, I learned to think the next drink through to the consequences before picking it up. In other words, think about how I would feel about myself tomorrow if I take a drink today. And be conscious enough to tell myself the truth that I didn’t want just one drink – I wanted oblivion, unconsciousness.
So, I started living life one day at a time from a detached place of consciousness that was aware of cause and effect – and understood that not indulging in instant gratification today would help me to not hate myself so much tomorrow.
Detachment allowed me to start aligning myself with the way life really works – cause and effect – and choosing delayed gratification one day at a time.” – Co-Creation: Owning your Power to Manifest Love
I have often said that Gratitude is not nearly a big enough word to describe how grateful I am and how blessed I feel to be in recovery. January 3rd
2018 2020 is my 34th 36th sobriety birthday and I am profoundly, deeply, everlastingly grateful for the gift of recovery in my life.
“I am profoundly, deeply, everlastingly grateful for the gift of the 12 steps. The process of learning to apply the Spiritual Principles in my life has changed my life from an unendurable hell to an adventure that is exciting and enJoyable most of the time. The twelve steps work. That is the bottom line. They work to help a person transform their experience of life into something better. They work to help a person learn to develop a relationship with life and self that allows room for inner peace, happiness, and Joy. The twelve step process works to help a person open up to Love.” – The Miracle of The Twelve Step Recovery Process – a formula for integration and balance
There are probably 5 or 6 million words in the two subscription areas of my site that I quote from in this entry. I have a page with special offers on lifetimes subscriptions to those password protected areas: Dancing in Light and the Joy2MeU Journal. Millions of words of content not available on Joy2MeU.
It is possible to get personally autographed copies of my books from my website Joy2MeU or You can get my Books, eBooks, and Audiobooks through Amazon, Books or eBooks through Barnes & Noble, or eBooks through Kobo.
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to quote from: Illusions “The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach. Copyright 1977 by Creature Enterprises, Inc. Reprinted in Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney by permission of Bantam Doubleday Dell, New York, NY.
“I am inserting a note here for anyone who feels offended by what they see as a violation of the Eleventh Tradition of AA’s Twelve Traditions. The 11th Tradition of AA is:
Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
I routinely break my own anonymity in regard to the fact that I am a recovering alcoholic / addict and codependent because I do not believe I would be alive today if Betty Ford had not broken her anonymity in the late 1970s and brought the subject of alcoholism out of the closet into public view. She is one of the people I dedicated my book to because I believe that I personally owe her a debt of gratitude for her courage and honesty. Breaking my own anonymity is one way that I carry the message of hope that saved my life. Anyone whose black and white thinking is causing them to rigidly interpret the Twelve Steps and Traditions enough to be offended, desperately needs to get into codependency recovery in my opinion.” – Robert Burney 2/10/04