Monday, October 31, 2011

Jedi Sobriety - Star Wars and the 12 Steps

As a fan of pop culture and an admitted geek, I like to watch am completely obsessed with the Star Wars sagas.  One aspect of the films that I find fascinating is the struggle between good and evil and the Jedi knights commitment  to maintaining  balance and harmony in the galaxy through their relationship with the Force.

All Jedi trainees, called padawan learners, undergo rigorous training with a mentor who imparts guidance and teachings on subjects of importance. Jedis learn to master their emotions and  eceive teachings on finding a connection to the Force as they understand it.

Jedi knights became powerful through the teachings of a Master Jedi, a master like Yoda.

What would Master Yoda have to say about each of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous?

What wisdoms might he impart to us if he were to take us through the Steps?

Let's find out...

Step 1 - Admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable. 

Yoda might tell us that we ..."must unlearn what you have learned…for, once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will."

Step 2 - Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Master Yoda places his belief in in The Force - a power greater than himself, and believes that only It can bring true balance and sanity.  In coming to believe in a Higher Power, in a Force of our own understanding, Yoda might tell us that “a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force….May the Force be with you.”

Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Master Yoda made a decision to turn his will and his life over to the care of the Force as he understood It. As part of our journey through the 12 Steps, we make a decision to allow a Higher Power into our lives. Yoda instructs us to “use your feeling, and find him you will. When all choices seem wrong, choose restraint, for you must unlearn what you have learned.”

Step 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

In making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, we get a close-up of our  reactions to people, places and things, and the emotions that follow. For many of us, fear is at the root of our resentments. Yoda believes that taking a personal inventory is crucial to growth because “...named must your fear be before banish it you can.”
Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Once we have finished our moral inventory, we are ready to admit to our Higher Power, to ourselves, and to another human being what we have found. Yoda maintains that the fourth step is crucial to uncovering the truth, for “the dark side clouds everything. Clear your mind must be if you are to discover the real villains..."

Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 

In unlearning what we have learned in our alcoholic lives, we must be entirely ready to have our Higher Power remove all our defects of character. It may feel as though we are losing a part of ourselves in practicing step 6, but to a Jedi knight, loss is another element of growth. So, according to Yoda, you must “train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

Step 7 - Humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings. 
A Jedi knight humbles himself to the infinite power and wisdom of the Force, humbly asking that It removes his shortcomings and makes him a better, more peaceful person. This step is an ongoing part of Yoda’s 12-Step training regiment, because he believes that “humility endless is.”
Step 8  Make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 8 suggests we make a list of all persons we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all. Our connection to the Force we have forged comes particularly handy here because, with the Force on our side, we can walk through step 8 peacefully. Yoda reminds us “a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 
When we make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others, we strengthen our relations to those we have harmed. His relations with other groups have strengthened as a result of Step 9, and now he boasts “good relations with the Wookies, I have.”
Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admit it. 
To be the best Jedi knight you can be, we must continue to take personal inventory and promptly admit our wrongs when we notice them. In practicing step 10, we are readily willing to accept the truth about our thoughts, our actions and ourselves. Yoda believes in step 10 because, “to be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose” how we respond to it and utilize it for positive action.
Step 11 - Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out. 
Step 11 instructs us to seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, and to pray only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Yoda continues to practice step 11 each day and tells us that in our prayer and meditation to your Higher Power “to the Force, look for guidance. Use your feeling, and find him you will.”

Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.  
The core belief of a Jedi Knight is to give freely of that which they have received as a result of becoming enlightened in the ways of the Force. Yoda has said that in order to spread the message of the Force, we must “around the survivors, a perimeter create.” Coming to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, we can identify as a survivor of our Alcoholism—find the other survivors and form a foundation of support.
We can be our own greatest support or troublesome obstacle, for, as Yoda prophesies, in the rooms of A.A. “you will find only what you bring in.”

We are now ready to sponsor a newcomer and take them through the steps, for in this spiritual journey, according to Yoda, “...always there are two, a master and an apprentice.” We can now  share our experience, strength and hope with our new apprentices, but we can't become complacent with our achievement and completion of the steps, for “...much to learn, you still have.”

Be well, do good work and keep in touch. 

Adapted from/Inspired By Addiction Blog

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...




In AA and other 12-step programs modeled after AA it is suggested that those wishing to embark on a program of recovery embrace these three things.

Honesty is listed first and I believe that is not an accident, as for me, honesty is the one thing I struggle with the most.

The last 20 years of my life has been a sad, pathetic attempt to find peace, stability and acceptance through making myself into a different person. Different names, different places, different identities. I thought that if I could just assemble the right list of attributes - military veteran, lawyer, multilingual, well-traveled, educated - and then tell a sufficient number of people, it would "become" true.

The problem with this approach is that people are not lists. Lists are two dimensional things. People are multi-dimensional.

Invariably the end result of this fabrication and deceit was that those whom I started out trying to impress and engage with ended up feeling betrayed by and wanted nothing to do with me.

For several weeks now, I have been involving myself in #OccupyDenver, the local manifestation of the global #OccupyWallStreet movement. I don't march or demonstrate much. I prefer to be in the "kitchen" we have set up and hand out food and water to thirsty and hungry people.

Last weekend, this came across Twitter.

Quite immediately I went into a small panic. How would I respond? What would I say? Right then and there I knew that I did not have the ability to respond properly.

I took a breath.

I prayed.

I asked God to guide my fingers.

My fingers, seemingly not under my own direction, tapped out this in response.  

Then this.

I didn't know what was going to happen when I went back to the park the next morning, but I made myself go.

That next morning I spoke with the young lady who asked about it. She said she was glad I am honest and am doing better.


The Denver Post, which is no stranger to my story, breathlessly reported that I had "resurfaced" and the post got minor play on the Twitter.

Since then, other things have happened.

So, what is my lesson is all this?

What insight can I gain from this going forward?

This lesson that I am getting from this, perhaps 20 years to late or perhaps at EXACTLY the right time, is this:

The degree to which I am honest and open with the Universe is directly related to how much I am accepted by the same Universe.

That is all I need at this moment.

Be well, do good work and keep in touch.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


This is the first in a series of posts in which I will explore the relationships I have with members of my family. These posts are written from the point of view of a very flawed individual who does not know the whole story.

Please keep that in mind when reading this.

When I think of my mother, I think of a powerful woman who has been placed into tragic circumstances by life.

It has been told to me in so many words that my coming into the world was not exactly planned. While it has never been EXACTLY said in that way, several years ago I had a candid, open conversation with my mother, she told me "When I saw Alex [the name of the man listed on my birth certificate as my 'father'] and told him I was pregnant, he said "Well, it's not mine."

From my mother I get my resilience. Thinking back, I can recall from an early age, that my mother never had it easy. Growing up, we lived in various places, with various friends and family members - aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc. Rarely did we ever have our own place to call our own. When we did, it was just for a short time.

Perhaps my mother had boyfriends. I know of two. I can only remember one - the man who eventually became her husband, then her ex-husband and father to my two siblings. I will explore my relationship with him in a later post.

In childhood and more so as a teenager, I was, if anything, difficult. There were educational issues, psychological issues, sibling issues, legal issues, etc. My mother tried valiantly, for years, with every fiber of her being and then some, to keep together a family that was tearing itself apart at the seams. Top off this shit sandwich of a life with an alcoholic husband and what to you get?  I will tell you what you get: a bigger shit sandwich.

During this volatile time, I would frequently reside with my grandparents. I would, in my own weirdness, play my grandparents against my mother, telling them she "emotionally abused" me or was "playing favorites." Much of the time, this was successful. The grandparents would drop everything and drive to our house and "rescue" me from this terrible woman, this awful person, who I thought was favoring my younger siblings over me. When the grandparents would come retrieve me, they would have yelling matches with my mother,a accusing her of being a horrible parent and other various things. After a few days of living at the grandparents house, I would return home and we would repeat the cycle This happened ad infinitum.

At the age of 15, I told my mother and a family counselor of my sexuality. This was at best unwelcome and at worst the catalyst for a severe beating from my father, who was a virulent homophobe and did not want "that shit under MY roof!" The result of me coming out to my parents was that two weeks later I was placed into a group home by father.

For years, I blamed my mother for abandoning me, for banishing me, for sending me into the wilderness. I would accuse her of selling me down river, of favoring my sister and brother over me. I would, as I described above, drag my grandparents into this.

Only recently, thanks to the twin gifts of time and perspective, have I been able to see this from a perspective other than my own, from a vantage point that is not mine. While I have not confirmed any of these thoughts on these events of years ago, simply acknowledging that I was not the only one involved in these torturous events is a quantum leap for me.

Imagine: you have three children and a husband - a family. This family is being torn asunder from forces within and without. You have a choice. You can remove one source, a major source of disruption, one of these children and possibly save your family.

But it's not a sure thing.

Sacrifice one child for the sake of the rest of the family.

What would you do?

For the better part of two decades I blamed my mother for abandoning me, for starting me down the path of sorrow and jail and addiction and homelessness and violence and mental illness that has been my life for the past two decades.

This blame and anger have poisoned my soul, stunted my growth and chained me to the past.

This blame and anger has been the source of delusions, of anxiety and my hate for myself.

It destroyed the relationship with the man who was the love of my life , the man who gave me five years of his life and unconditionally loved me.

It has also protected me and in some ways comforted me. "You are RIGHT to feel this way!" I would tell myself.

All this it has been and now it must be no more. It has served its purpose.

God please guide me and keep me in this time and place.

Be well, do good work and keep in touch.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The God of My Own Understanding...

When you hang around the rooms of AA for a sufficient period of time, or anywhere for that matter, you begin to observe certain patterns of thought, speech and action.

One of these patterns of thought and speech that I find most fascinating is the relationship that alcoholics and addicts have with a Higher Power, the way they speak of interfacing with the God of their understanding.

One of the first things that I learned when I came into AA was that I have a daily reprieve contigent on the maintenence of my spiritual condition.

I am beyond human help. SRSLY. No human power could have relived my suffering.

Realizing this, it was necessary for me to turn beyond myself, outside my previous spheres and modalities, to seek a way to rid me of this pain and anguish - to a God of my own understanding.

Rick's God, Rick's Higher Power, is perhaps one you may know or may not know. I had always believed there was a force at work in my universe, a general guiding hand that while caring, was a bit non-personal - a Divine Flight Attedant if you will.

This force, this Divine Flight Attendant, while it did keep the plane in the air and guided it around mountains and through storms preventing a fiery crash of metal from descending to Earth, it did not particular show any interest in me.

I was, to it, I thought, just a body in a seat.

One of several billion passengers on the airline of the Universe.

Then something happened.

This event is best decribed by the words of a man MUCH smarter and greater than me, "Behold I make all things new; former things are passed away."

Today, my Higher Power is much more.

So. Much. More.

The God of my understanding is not a distant impersonal force, but rather a dynamic, living being that cares deeply and is personally involved in every facet of my existance, if I am willling to let that care and involvment manifest itself.

From the smallest facets, the folding the protiens inside my cells to the largest swaths of keeping the Universe from being erased from existance in a vacuum metastablity event, for example.

And in between those points, where my world lies, the Higher Power in which I have chosen to place my belief and trust and faith in also provides for my temporal needs - food, shelter, clothing, sanity, etc.

Life today is far from perfect as I am homeless, unemployed and broke, More importantly, I  have realized, through prayer and honest introspection, that I am not alone. The program of AA has provided a social infastructure which includes people who take me for what I am - a liar, a drunk and a coward.

Today I know that I cannot MAKE my life perfect as such a thing does not exist.

Thank God for that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

All Uphill From Here...

So here I sit -  in this Starbucks, in this city, in this life.

So here I sit - homeless, unemployed, mentally ill, addicted, reputation ruined by my own misdeeds.

So here I sit - and  I am grateful to God for ALL of that. Sometimes. 

When I am not grateful for ALL of that, I try to ask for the capacity to be grateful for ALL of that. Sometimes.

When it all came crashing down, and I realized that I was all of the aforementioned and not the respected, successful natural resources lawyer with a military past who alluded he may have connections to a shadowy intelligence agency that I had convinced myself into almost believing I was, it may have been the most psychologically and spiritually painful realization of my life.

Many people do not know the detail to which I had planned out the alternate reality that I was inhabiting. 

In this world, I had created a whole social infrastructure of friends and family hat I visited in different locations. To support this I had found ways of convincing Foursquare that I was ACTUALLY in different locations, thereby allowing me to check in at places near and far. I had even gone as far as concocting the license plate on my 2007 Audi Allroad - "BTCHPLZ." 

Why did I need to do this? What process in my mind determined that the best way to handle the situation was to construct a parallel reality and attempt to inhabit that reality? Perhaps it was done in an attempt to make up for what I felt was an inadequacy in my life, that I did not measure up to others in some way. Maybe it was done to protect myself from something I was threatened by, that was going to somehow hurt me. Maybe some day this will be revealed to me. Maybe someday it will not. 

That reality is no more. I am now in this reality. This reality with all of its' flaws and perfections and misery and joy and heartache and wholeness. My link to this reality seems, for the moment, to be strong. I am on a medication regimen. I'm doing counseling and checking in routinely with a case manager at a local agency. Old friends I never knew I had are coming back into my life and new friends are emerging. I am trying to be here in my brokenness and my imperfection and destitution. 

It is terrifying. Utterly. Fucking. Terrifying. 

Moment by moment. 

Thought by thought.

Hour by hour. 

Word by word. 

Day by day.

Deed by deed. 

Be well, do good work and keep in touch. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power of Doing The Next Right Thing...

One of the most subtly powerful passages in the Big Book of AA is from Chapter 11, A Vision For You

It begins on page 154 - 
One dismal afternoon he paced a hotel lobby wondering how his bill was to be paid. At the end of the room stood a glass covered directory of local churches. Down the lobby a door opened into an attractive bar. He could see the gay crowd inside. In there he would find companionship and release. Unless he took some drinks, he might not have the courage to scrape an acquaintance and would have a lonely week-end.
Many of us have found ourselves in a similar situation. 

On one side we have instant gratification and familiarity. We will find immediate relief from our problems and cares. The weight of our situation will be lifted for a short time. But there is a price - a heavy, painful price that we will pay at the end. 

On the other side, we have what in the rooms of AA is often called "doing the next right thing."  

Will it be pleasant? Probably not. 

Will it be fun or enjoyable? Highly unlikely. 

Will it involve thinking and acting in ways that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable? You can count on it. 

Our story continues - 
Of course he couldn't drink, but why not sit hopefully at a table, a bottle of ginger ale before him? After all, had he not been sober six months now? Perhaps he could handle, say, three drinks — no more! Fear gripped him. He was on thin ice. Again it was the old, insidious insanity — that first drink. With a shiver, he turned away and walked down the lobby to the church directory. Music and gay chatter still floated to him from the bar. 
I have been at a similar moment, standing at what the Big Book of AA calls "the turning point" (note it does not say "a" turning point, but rather "THE" turning point) where I am aware of the nature of the decision that stares me in the face, a hair's breadth from me, waiting to see which route I shall choose. It hearkens of the scene from "The Matrix" in which Morpheus tells Neo  "You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."

We return to the Big Book for the final sequence - 
But what about his responsibilities — his family and the men who would die because they would not know how to get well, ah — yes, those other alcoholics? There must be many such in this town. He would phone a clergyman. His sanity returned and he thanked God. Selecting a church at random from the directory, he stepped into a booth and lifted the receiver.
The legacy of this choice remains with us decades afterword, for we people in recovery ARE its' legacy.

There are millions of people across the Earth of every race, every nationality, every religion, every orientation at all socioeconomic levels who owe our very lives to that singular choice.

Please stop and consider that immense and powerful idea - a single human being made a single decision at a single moment and because of it, millions of lives were saved.

Now here is the where the magic for us, as people in recovery - the wounded, broken and spiritually bankrupt people we were and in some cases, may still be, here is where the magic begins.

Every moment we are alive holds the same power, promise and possibility as that one moment so many years ago. Every breathe taken, every thought that passes from our minds, every time we turn this way or that way, carries with it the intrinsic ability to change everything.

And that is the power of doing the next right thing.

Be well, do good work and keep in touch.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Of Things As I Thought They Were and Things That I Now Know Are.

For the uninformed (read that as fortunate) the title of this blog is taken from pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - a section those in the program refer to as "The Promises" which reads as follows:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.
A little over a year ago, I stopped drinking and using. It was not for want of a better way of life, but rather because I ran out of money to fuel my drinking and using. To proud to panhandle for booze and drug money and to out of my mind to get a job, I simply existed.  I was a dry drunk, white knuckling it through this so called life - minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day - doing what I could do to make it seem like I was not homeless, jobless, suffering from untreated mental illness, spiritually bereft, broke and alone.

I sat in various Starbucks and other locations with my laptop, my reusable coffee cup, my Sigg water bottle,  with expensive fancy shoes, wearing my Northface jacket while engaging in heated conversations with non-existent people on a disconnected cell phone. The ease with which I convinced myself that all was well did not come as much of a surprise to me, as I have a well-documented track record of convincing people to believe things that are not true.

Did I ever do a good job of convincing myself.

95 days ago, I sat there, in that Starbucks on 16th and Blake Streets, convinced that I was not homeless, jobless, suffering from untreated mental illness, spiritually bereft, broke and alone.

A nice couple sat across the coffee shop from me.

As they sat there, in all their nice coupleness, a storm broke in my soul.

Was it the caffeine or the low blood sugar I may have been dealing with? Was it the light glinting off a parked car on a bright summer morning in downtown Denver, Colorado?

It may have been all of these or none of these.  Who can say? Whatever it was, it pierced me and all the realization of reality, all of the denials, all of the hiding, all of the projections, the facades, the self-avoidance came crashing down around me.

I sat there and for the first time and I knew, in my heart of hearts, in the inner most crevices of my mind and felt with all of my being the reality that I was homeless, jobless, suffering from untreated mental illness, spiritually bereft, broke and alone.

I cried.

Not that I realized it then, or that I fully realize it now, but that was my rock bottom. I had reached  what the Big Book of AA calls a "jumping off place." When this place is reached the Big Book says, in Chapter 11, the alcoholic "...will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do...He will wish for the end." Never before has a place been simultaneously more real and metaphorical.

As I sat in that Starbucks at 16th and Blake streets, I might have well been at the corner of Delusion and Grandeur streets, for the unreality I had been living in, the world of prosperity and abundance and happiness that I had constructed for myself, was instantly no more.

As I find myself in my life, I am now telling my story. Part inventory, part personal need to vent, part need to be heard - even if by no one other than the God of my understanding, this is me reaching out to the Universe.

You may read it, you may not.

I hope in time, once a job, shelter and other life accouterments are acquired, to transfer this blog to a  dedicated domain where I can continue it in a more appropriate format.

We shall see.

As someone much wiser than me says, Be well, do good work and keep in touch.