The Law of Humility

“…the requirement of humility will result in honor.”

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Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” In our journey through life, it is tempting to take pride in the positive changes we make in our lives. We want other people to recognize our accomplishments. But in God’s plan, honor is something we receive only as we learn to live in humility. It is not something we should seek on its own. Humility is the path to being honored by God and by others. The law of humility is not the easiest law to write about because we can’t point to a day in our own lives when we have finally reached the state of perfect humility—it’s an ongoing, lifelong process, much like recovery from drugs and alcohol. Moreover, because of the self-abasement that now colors our life, we can’t talk about how often we’re admired by others.

We can’t speak of a time when we were so unassuming and self-effacing that we were honored and celebrated by our peers and colleagues—that wouldn’t be very humble, would it? But it can be said that we’ve had some moments of great pride that led to painful disappointments. We have spent too much time wanting to to be honored by others here on Earth rather than seeking the ultimate honor that comes from the One who struck the match to ignite the sun.

If you are at all like the rest of us, you’ve had times in your life when you were overflowing with pride so that there was no room left for God.

Perhaps you came to recognize your own pride, and have spent valuable time trying to appear humble. When we are full of pride, we do things just to be seen; we act in ways that will be noticed by others, hoping that no one will sense the false humility underneath it all. A certain degree of honesty must be part of your “searching and fearless moral inventory.” The most important ingredient in 12-step programs is honesty. Often those who fail at working the Steps fail in the area of humility. Honesty and humility are two sides of the same coin. Without it, recovering addicts and alcoholics are left with a sense of emptiness, anger, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. Trust me when I say the devil loves seeing us suffer under the lash of our emotions. We don’t see our obvious lack of power. Simply put, we cannot drag ourselves out of the dark pit by sheer force of will.

ACCEPTING OUR POWERLESSNESS

It is only a matter of time before we finally must accept our complete powerlessness and begin to cultivate a humble attitude. It is so simple to turn it all around and find a life worth living—a life that includes infinitely more than we might think. Proverbs 29:23 tells us, “Pride brings a person low, but the lonely in spirit gain honor” (NIV). When we speak of humility, we’re not talking about humiliation. When we get puffed up and full of pride, and think we can do no wrong, those are often the times we are humiliated.

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Usually, we have a hand in such humiliation. When humiliated, we tend to seek paybacks. But humility is a choice. It is, in fact, what starts the process of spiritual maturity. Choosing humility and recognizing our powerlessness are what it takes to stop all of our self-defeating acts of futility. When we are able to truly humble ourselves before God, life starts to work out again.

The Apostle James describes a life without humility. He says that all our battles come from evil desires within us. We make ourselves miserable because we crave more than we have, and are envious of those who have more. We forget to want what we already have, instead seeking to get what we want. When proud and arrogant, we don’t see the need to ask God for anything. Moreover, our motives are so twisted that He is not likely to grant us our requests. We come to a fork in the road, where we decide whether we will lay down our lives for God or seek to keep up with the world.

When we humble ourselves before the Lord, all our doing and building and serving in order to look good before others becomes meaningless. It is much easier to humble ourselves from a place of powerlessness than from the pinnacle of pride and self-reliance. To move toward true humility, we must look inside ourselves and uncover our impure motives. We must also acknowledge that on our own we are nothing and He is everything. As we move toward true humility, we must set aside the false humility behind which we often hide. Humility simply means that we recognize God as the source of every good thing. Authentic humility leads us to the conclusion that if anything good is going to come from all the pain, filth, and struggle in our lives, it will come from God.

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One important benefit to humility is the opening of our eyes and hearts to see and celebrate the people around us. When we get outside of ourselves—a phrase I’ve heard often at 12-step meetings—we can humbly evaluate the impact of our behavior on others. This is the very crux of empathy. Because we care about other people, we want to do whatever we can not to repeat or perpetuate the things we’ve done in the past that were hurtful to them. When we’re truly humble, we care enough about other people that our own pain is no longer the focus of our existence. We do what we can to understand their pain, and what we might have done to contribute to it. We seek to help to alleviate it.  More than humble living, this is the life of an honorable person.

Humility allows us to celebrate our success and progress.  When we hit bottom and go ten days without giving in to our addiction, for example, or when we pick up a 30-day chip at a 12-step meeting, God brings honor to us through other people who have been where we are. He honors us through those who almost didn’t make it out alive, and through those who have never stopped building their character, deepening their peace of mind, and fulfilling their dreams by reaching out to help others.

GOD’S GRACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

It is God’s grace through Jesus Christ that allows the worst of the worst of us to find honor in Him and and through doing His work. When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he identified how living a humble life of serving others brings honor to God (and to us as well). In 1:12 Paul says, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).

God asks us to give up on our self-engineered crashes, admit that only He can restore us to sanity, and lay ourselves at His feet. That’s it! Recognize that you will never be strong enough or clever enough to defeat the challenges you face. But God can give you the strength, wisdom, insight, and  courage you need, if only you will humble yourself before Him and seek to know His will.

HUMILITY VERSUS PRIDE

Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend. How many recent sermons have you heard on humility? Probably not many. We hear surprisingly little from our church leaders about either of these subjects. Price and arrogance are conspicuous among the rich, the powerful, the famous — indeed celebrities of all sorts — and even some religious leaders. And it is also alive and well in ordinary people. Unfortunately, few of us realize how dangerous it is to our souls, and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and our love for others.

Humility is often seen as a weakness, and few of us know much about it or pursue it. C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin. The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. After all, it was through pride that Lucifer was cast down from heaven, becoming our chief adversary, the devil.

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Pride is an anti-God state of mind. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of all sin. Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil using pride as the means to tempt Adam and Eve. The serpent convinced Eve that God was lying in order to keep her from enjoying all the possibilities inherent in being God-like. The desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as God’s creatures lies at the heart of pride. Weakened by unbelief, enticed by pride, and ensnared by self-deception, she opted for autonomy and disobeyed God.

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire —when it has conceived—gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

Throughout the Bible, we see the outworking of pride and unbelief in the affairs of individuals, families, nations, churches, and entire cultures. The result is a suppression of the knowledge and wisdom of God. Spiritual darkness grows, and a psychological inversion occurs. In their mind, God becomes smaller and they become larger. Powerful in their own right. The very essence of their being shifts from God to themselves. They become the center of their own world, and God is pushed to the periphery. The result is familiar: People exalt themselves against God and over others. Pride begins to grow exponentially; arrogant or abusive behavior rears its ugly head. Every man for himself.

THE BIBLE ON PRIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

James tells us, “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (4:10, ESV). Proverbs warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18, ESV). Pride leads to isolation, disillusionment, despair, and lack of breakthrough. Think about the so-called know-it-all. They tend to drive people away. A prideful person is not likely to ask for help because they are not willing to admit they need it. They choose to go it alone. Even when help is offered, a prideful person will reject input, and push the other person away. When this becomes habitual, they make others feel unwanted. This leads to isolation.

This can lead to disillusionment — a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. We lose faith. I’ve heard it said that disillusionment is sometimes the aim of a seminary professor. The instructor will argue, “I want to shatter my students’ romanticized notion of church life and replace it with one that is more realistic.” After all, much damage has been caused by unrealistic expectations of life in the church. Disillusionment, as you can imagine, can be quite overwhelming. We would much rather hold on to our dreams.

Jesus one day washed the feet of His disciples. He asked, “Do you understand what I am doing for you?” Of course, He knew the answer before He asked the question. Jesus warned Peter in advance that he would not understand what was about to take place. To our ears, Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet sounds admirable. Humble, even. Only moments ago His disciples had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. But there is an edge to Jesus’ reply. Why does He rebuke Peter instead of praising him? You would think that He would have been happy to see that Peter recognized there was someone at the table who was greater than them all. Peter was not putting on airs. He was entirely sincere. But he was also arrogant.

Peter’s problem was not that he couldn’t see Jesus clearly. He couldn’t see himself. He was too humble to let himself be washed, but too proud to do the washing. He doesn’t wash his own feet. He won’t wash the other disciples’ feet. And despite his conviction that Jesus is greater, he doesn’t even offer to wash Jesus’ feet. Peter’s objection looks like humility. It sounds like devotion. It is really pride masquerading as false humility. Interestingly, pride attacks us not on our weak points, but on our strong ones. Remarkably, pride is just as willing to encourage self-deprecation as self-congratulation.

LACK OF BREAK-THROUGH

It should be clear that pride prevents growth. It leaves us stagnated. Pride naturally gives us a sense of accomplishment. We believe we have arrived. When that happens, we close ourselves off from learning, from listening, and from opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and doing. We tend to close ourselves off from break-throughs because we think we have it all figured out. Solution? Humble yourself, let the Lord lift you up to new heights never imagined. “Some never get started on their destiny because they cannot humble themselves to learn, grow, and change.” —Author Unknown.

THE MIND OF CHRIST

How do we gain the mind of Christ and humble ourselves?  To put on the mind of Christ, we need to make a firm decision to ponder, understand, and adopt Jesus’ way of thinking; His values and attitude must become ours. His strong emphasis on humility and meekness, and His exemplar for the same, must take hold of our thinking, our desires, our conduct. What did Jesus mean by humility? The Greek word tapeinos means having a right view of ourselves before God and others. Paul discusses this in Romans 12:3 when he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”

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Having a right view of God and ourselves has a profound effect on our relationship with others. As Paul says to the Romans, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (12:16). And as he said to the Philippians, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significantly than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). As we refuse to be preoccupied with ourselves and our own importance, and seek to love and serve others, it will reorient us from being self-centered to being others-centered—serving and caring for others just as Jesus did for us.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Truly, humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s Word, and opens our hearts to His Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God. It imparts the aroma of Christ to all whom we encounter. Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant does not happen overnight. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. As we forsake pride and seek to humble ourselves by daily deliberate choices in dependence on the Holy Spirit, humility takes root in our souls. I’ve learned that I can only be humble when I decrease and He increases.

Live The Truth (Or Die From The Lie)

The origins of self-deception run deep. We have to unravel our web of lies if we are ever to find our way back to the people we were put on this earth to be. We all tell ourselves lies; we all have buried the truth from time to time. Our lives become more and more inauthentic. Human beings have a reflex reaction to psychological pain not much different from reaction to physical pain. We withdraw from it. Indeed, we use many “defense mechanisms” to distance us from bitter reality. We repress our emotions, we rationalize our behaviors, we distort the memory of past events. Chief among these mechanisms is denial, in which we unconsciously ignore distressing facts about ourselves or others.

I studied psychology at the University of Scranton. Life interrupted my education after three semesters, and I am returning to school next September to complete my studies. I noticed during some of my earlier college classes that many psych patients were asking for Zoloft or Paxil or Effexor or some other anti-depressant drug almost immediately upon beginning therapy. Some of those patients were searching for a way to cover up or gloss over the trouble they were having in their lives instead of working to get to the bottom of it. The impulse to keep our truth and our pain hidden is among the most common, powerful and toxic elements of human nature.

So how do we get the tapes playing inside us to stop? You know, that pesky rambling in our mind that tries to convince us of how unworthy we are. For example, to find the self-esteem we need in order to live full lives, we have to look back to when and how we were first deprived of it. Today’s symptoms are usually being fueled by earlier chapters in our life’s story that we are unwilling to read. If we do not open them and learn what set the stage for suffering, no medicine will be powerful enough to keep our anxiety or depression away for ever. That is something that’s just not doable. Please note that the function of pain is to tell us there is something we must do. Living a “medicated” life will not yield permanent results. This is true about drugs as well as alcohol.

The examined life is worth living. Ignoring the facts of one’s life, especially the painful ones, only puts the negative patterns unconsciously fed by these issues more in command of one’s future. As Carl Jung wrote, “That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our life as fate.” You can’t outdistance the past. The truth always wins. Digging deeper for the truth begins like this: You start by identifying what trouble needs healing in your life right now, then you journey back into your life story to see the early conflicts that set the stage for it. Your vision will be clear only if you look directly and deeply into your pain. Never away from it.

This is a big part of why alcoholics and addicts cannot get sober without putting down the drink or the drug. It’s impossible to see clearly. Too much fog. Too many compromised memories. Getting drunk takes away one’s ability to see with any clarity the resulting consequences of alcoholism. Heavy drinking doesn’t only make your face go numb. It dulls your senses, seemingly insulates you from fallout, and compromises your judgment and reaction time.

How this really works is you must identify what you need to address at this moment in order to live a more powerful life. Identify what part of your past you need to look at more closely. Edit out the fiction. Remember, the biggest thing that stands between you and your buried past is fear. It is because of this fear that we tend to live behind shields. Problem is, if we keep trying to dodge the truth, it gets harder and harder to avoid the day when that truth surfaces and slaps you hard in the face. If you keep hiding behind your coping mechanisms, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, excesive eating, or too much sex, you’re going to get blindsided.

Emotional defenses we use to obscure the truth end up obscuring the miraculous qualities that lie beneath those defenses. Qualities such as God-given courage, compassion, empathy, devotion, trust, and (most importantly) the capacity to love. We build impenetrable walls that keep emotional pain at bay. Common to all these walls is the fact that they cover up the truth. Here’s the kicker! Guess who’s standing behind these walls holding them in place? You are, of course. And the walls get heavier with each passing day. Holding up these walls saps your energy. It steals your focus. As long as you’re holding up these shields, you’re living in fear.

I had to think about what some of these walls might be that I’m holding up? Overeating, especially comfort foods. Overspending, usually so I can Look the Part. Perfectionism or obsessing. Abusing drugs and alcohol. Physical pain. Internet pornography. Of course, these walls always mask my deeper pain. They prevent me from addressing core problems from the past that are actually fueling my need to erect walls all around me. Living the truth starts with simply paying attention to your wall-building strategies more than you have in the past. Ask yourself how often you use them. Then, begin to resist them.

It’s helpful to look back at your coping strategies and write down specific plans you can commit to in order to help you see yourself for the first time. As you might have guessed, you can use certain anti-wall-building strategies. Some of mine are cutting comfort foods by fifty percent, being thankful for the material things I do have (rather than being in a mad dash to buy more stuff), go for a fifteen-minute walk every day alone, continue a plan of abstaining from alcohol and mood-altering drugs, address my concerns of physical pain in my low back and take the medical advice given to me by my doctors.

Here’s something to think about. The fact that you will feel anxious or depressed or irritable while limiting your exposure to these things is a sign that you are detoxing from them. In order to anticipate, identify, and overcome your use of these walled strategies (whether old or new), you will need to keep track of them in a journal or notebook. Please remember, as you work to rid yourself of your walls, they will try to reassert themselves through fear. As you free yourself from the burden of holding up all these walls, the self-defeating half-truths and untruths you have told yourself (or others have told you) about your life will lose their footing in your soul.

Perhaps no fear is more universal (and more denied) than the fear of death. We refuse to feel the pain of being mortal. We act as though we have unlimited time to pursue our dreams or tell those we love exactly how we feel, or make amends to those we’ve hurt, or make peace with those from whom we are estranged. Most of all, we act as though there is no urgency to unravel the mysteries of our own life stories; to live examined lives. We have the chance to identify our real talents, pursue our real goals, experience well-being, and find real love. Just know this: We don’t have forever.

No matter how much we try to shield ourselves from painful events and themes in our lives, or to create fictional histories for ourselves, there’s one important fact to remember: The pain does not go away. Emotional pain is symptomatic of an original, underlying problem. Repressed emotional pain and interpersonal conflicts will color our communications with one another. Unfortunately, we bring to each moment every significant experience and relationship we have ever had. These experiences and relationships grow powerful underground roots and tend to contaminate our attempts to build new relationships. When our own history is not clear to us, we have little capacity to separate the present from the past. An unexamined life leads ultimately to chronic conflict.

We tend to automatically introduce our unresolved guilt, anger, fear, sadness, disappointments, jealousies and doubts into our new relationships. It takes being comfortable with conflict, not being drawn to it or afraid of it, to minimize its role in our lives.

Being willing to confront the truth about your life story, to face your pain and express what you feel about yourself, can not only change your life, but can literally save it. Some people are so determined to run for the hills rather than face their pain. They often resort to a variety of behaviors designed to distract themselves from it. If they don’t, they will literally anesthetize themselves.

Perhaps the most common failed coping strategy to avoid pain is to begin abusing alcohol or drugs. Alcoholics and addicts demonstrate a marked inability or unwillingness to confront the reality of their true life story, and explore its most painful chapters. They are literally choosing to use drugs or alcohol on a frequent, often daily, basis in order to escape the past and not feel. The toll this type of running from pain will take on the individual is simply not predictable.

The attempt to keep your pain buried deep within you will lead you to eventually resurrect it in one form or another. Again and again. Nothing can compete energetically with the demons we have stored away since childhood; we remember them, after all, with a child’s heart and mind. The toxic dynamics we have buried with them will retain some of the magnetic force many years after we dig them up again. Recognizing them as the old, burned-out demons they are is key to resisting them.

We can own our futures instead of being owned by our past. Learning from our pain, from which we’ve tried so hard to run, is indeed a true source of power. All psychological suffering, even when it comes with a label such as “bipolar disorder” or “OCD,” has meaning which is rooted somewhere in our personal history.

The human impulse to avoid painful emotional realities seems to be hard-wired into our nervous system. Running away now becomes a neurological reflex reaction based on suffering we endured in our past. People show the same avoidance of emotional pain. No surprise there. Of course, this deprives us of learning that the world can offer us as adults much more than what it did when we were children.

One reason it takes work to fight against this is that the human brain seems anatomically equipped to bury specific memories of what caused us pain in childhood, while “remembering” and reproducing the techniques we used to avoid it. Our entire being, our brain, our gut, our heart, and our five senses, are all trained by what we have lived through. We screen out certain events and perceptions, and screen in others. What we respond to and how we respond to it depends neurologically on what we have concluded about the world in the past.

There is no excuse for raping a woman, hurting your wife, beating your kids, being cruel to your family pet. The people who are most “together” in life may be the ones in the most denial about where they’ve been in their past. The person who hasn’t been willing to “forget” about what happened may be the one who is most obviously struggling with shifting moods, more prone to anger at others, or who is shunned by others entirely. All the anger, sadness and anxiety you may experience  has been inside you all along, kept buried by unconscious psychological stress and hurt that distracts you in present day. Coping mechanisms can be anything from drug or alcohol abuse, troubled or repeated relationships that never tend to go anywhere, compulsive eating, gambling, literally anything that takes your attention away from any bad feelings or disconnect you may be experiencing in your current life.

Of course, this is where I tell you that forgiveness and letting go is possible. It truly doesn’t matter how deep the cut you’ve experienced. Everyone has something in their past they thought would truly crush them. For me, it was ending up in county prison on a one-year-old bench warrant. Perfect! Icing on the cake. I was one week from being homeless when the state police picked me up, getting high every day, and starting to drink Vodka again. Twenty months of sobriety gone in one swallow. No way I’m going to live through this crap again. I was sitting in my cell, eyeing up the bare light bulb, and just about to take it out of the socket, break it, and slit my throat.

Then I called out for the guard. “Hey, C.O!” He came up to the cell door. “I feel like I’m going to kill myself.” He looked at me for what seemed like half-an-hour, then sighed. “Do you realize the amount of paperwork you’re gonna cause me now that you’ve said that?”

“Sorry.”

“What sort of future is coming up from behind, I don’t really know. But the past, spread out ahead, dominates everything in sight.” (Robert Pirsig, from “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.)

 

 

But What If I Can’t Be Fixed?

I’m so down the scale from where I want to be. If I’m not careful, I can buy into a back story that I come from pain and badness and dishonesty and using people. A place where forgiveness can never be had. Second changes are just words in a country song. Where people say, “We’ve heard it all before Steve.” To them, nothing sounds different. And I don’t blame them. They HAVE heard many versions of this “apology.” I don’t want to hear it again, they say. Nothing’s changed.

Oh, but I have changed! I’m completely different now. First, this is not true. For the moment, your attitude has changed. You’re speaking the words of apology, but there has not been a core change down in your soul. The rewiring in your brain that tends to get you thinking and obsessing over drugs and drinking has not changed. It cant’! Not that soon. It took years to rewire your brain to behave in a certain way. Years! Your brain has been hard wired and that’s a big thing. It’s the only thing. The sound of a lighter flicking, the smell of a match burning, the gurgling of a bong, the crackle of a rock of crack, hell, even the smell inside your favorite drug store (if you are into pills) will bring you face-to-face with the desire to get high. These memories are jammed full of memory. Of experience.

This is why the newcomer is told to stay away from all situations that remind him or her of using drugs or getting drunk. Your mood changes when  you’re triggered. Perhaps you’re mad at someone, and may feel completely justified in your anger. You’re ready to walk away from everyone just to be right. It is those positions that tear at your sobriety. It eats at the last bit of self-control you have, and you’re off on a tangent. Sobriety is the least thing you have on your mind right now.  You’re in dangerous territory. The land of primal hatred and total meltdown. This is the type of anger that will make you run red lights with your kids in the back seat. It’s the kind of anger that will build in to a resentment.

This change in brain wiring is so subtle, we don’t realize it happened. Certain chemical reactions are already being set up. Repeating the behavior tends to make certain the same neuronal firing will happen again. As this pattern gets stronger, the habit gets stronger. It becomes harder to pick up the phone and call someone to talk about what’s up. I know the analogy that the phone becomes twelve-hundred pounds, but it’s worse than that. The desire to even try to pick it up is not there. In fact, the phone is not even on your mind. Nerves, fear of rejection, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and even chest palpitations. All designed to keep you from using the phone.

This cycle has to be broken or you will live a sad life of using and lying and breaking hearts and ruining relationships, You see, people get tired of hearing the same old excuses. Interpersonal relationship are a funny thing. They form in any situation. Eventually, the feeling comes that you are being objectified and lied to by your addict loved one. That you are not hearing what the person is actually up to. Instead, you’re hearing him or her read from a one-act play where he or she is in the leading role and is also directing the action. This type of dialog never leads to growth.

What is the key? Willingness. If the addict is not willing to change, everything you say is bullshit. It’s all part of a play you wrote called “I’m okay now. Everything is different.” In fact, everything is wrong. You are struggling with cravings. Things you think about or people you run into are triggering you to want to use. Hell, even songs on the radio and smells in the pharmacy can trigger you. It is during this period that you must use the phone. You have to call and tell on yourself. Get in tight with God. Go to him when you are tempted in this way. There is no amount of human power that can relieve this suffering. Only God can. And He will if you call upon him.

It’s simple, just get on your knees and ask Him for His help and protection. And get to a meeting.

The Psychology of Dual Diagnosis

I am  powerless over my mental disorder. I am powerless over my addiction. It has taken me a long time to admit these facts. Before I was able to admit my powerlessness, my life was unmanageable. I was unable to handle life without drugs and alcohol or to take care of my mental health. I thought that drugs and alcohol would make me feel better. They did, at first. I have some fond memories of partying and hanging out. But ultimately, those substances had control over me. Today, I truly accept the fact that I am an alcoholic and a drug addict with an underlying mental disorder. I accept both diagnoses.

Being honest with myself did not come easy. I wanted to blame others for my dilemma. As I reviewed my past, I saw that I lied, cheated, stole and manipulated people. I was dishonest, self-centered, self-seeking, inconsiderate and frightened. I lived in absolute opposition to the truth. I tortured myself with cocaine, crack, opiates, marijuana, LSD, mushrooms and booze. I found out that I suffered from a mental obsession to use drugs and get drunk, and that once I took a substance into my body I unleashed physical cravings that spiraled out of control. I would lose all touch spiritually and mentally, in full flight from reality.

Drinking and taking drugs frequently made my mental disorder symptoms worse. No words can describe the torture I felt. I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital in the mid 1990s. I was a week from being homeless in 2008. I was overrun with despair and self-pity. Drugs, alcohol and my mental illness had mastery over me. I only stopped using drugs and drinking when I was incarcerated or hospitalized. When released, I started all over again.

I really have to focus on my first problem: addiction. At some stage of my drinking and drugging, I reached a point where, as soon as I started using, I would lose control over the amount I would use. Craving became sufficient reason in and of itself to keep using. I was both physically and mentally impaired. I literally could not resist. So I had to be honest with myself that once I put alcohol or drugs in my body, it seemed virtually impossible for me to stop. Accepting that fact is key: once the substance is in my system I lose control and cannot stop. I have to remember that addiction is a disease that tells me I don’t have it.

The process of addiction may be a gradual one. For me, I found over time that I built up a tolerance to various addictive substances. Most recently, it was opiates. I could take a number of Percocet tablets and literally feel only a slight “buzz.” I needed more and more to get the same effect. Not only that, I was becoming dependent on it. Before I knew it, I needed a pill just to relax and not feel any pain. When I tried not to take Percocet, my back pain and overall body aches increased and I became restless and irritable.

I had to be mindful of the second part of this picture. Is my struggle with addiction compounded by a mental disorder? With regard to mental health, it is wise to seek professional help. But we must come to a point where we “own” our particular diagnosis. When we’re told we have a mental disorder, we have to take it seriously. We have to take a look at our life experience and see where our mental health gets us in trouble. Our mind will lie to us — about its own health and about our addictions. We need to search our own experiences and honestly ask ourselves  Am I powerless over alcohol and drugs? Do I have a mental disorder?

We become honest by discovering our own truth. Understanding comes through awareness and acceptance of conditions as they are. We know we have problems. That much is obvious. But the truth is hard to accept. In order to recover, however, the truth must be accepted. We come to know this as a fact in our recovery. Admitting powerlessness is not a sign of weakness. It simply means that when it comes to substance abuse and struggling with mental disorders, we are not in charge. Willpower has no meaning when it comes to controlling our use of drugs and alcohol and our mental processes. We certainly had a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us before we addressed our addiction and mental illness.

Honesty sets us free. Once we accept our powerlessness, many of us experience being freed from active addiction and from the obsession to use again. Here is the paradox of recovery: that in accepting our powerlessness, we become empowered to stop using drugs and alcohol and to work on our mental health. This comes at a great relief. With recognition and acceptance, we are free. We never need to go back to drugs and alcohol again. Instead of being filled with our addictive thoughts of self-destruction, remorse, despair, rage and sadness about our past, we look with great joy and comfort at these precious moments we are now given. Admitting complete defeat is not what we wanted, but it is what we needed. For me, there was a part deep down inside that always wanted to be free. I was so tired of living a life of active addiction. I kept saying I would do something about it tomorrow. Not now. Not today. Obviously, a part of me was still committed to getting drunk and high.

I came to realize that my addiction was greater than my will. It was a monster with an insatiable appetite, and I let it take from me all my self-sufficiency and my will to resist its demands. If you still think you can handle that monster, try this simple test. Go ahead and stop. Now, stay stopped. Do without. If you can do this, there is no addiction. But if you cannot stop and stay stopped, no amount of willpower will change the fact that you’re addicted. You need a program to help you stop. It won’t be easy at first, but it is more than worth the effort.

Goody Two-Shoes

I behaved myself in school for the most part. I wanted all of my teachers to like me. I learned how to write a sentence, a paragraph, a short story. I practiced diagramming sentences. My compositions were smart, clear and concise. My mind was filled with hundreds of original thoughts. Sometimes it was like a committee meeting in my head! I was eager to share all these great thoughts and ideas with the world.

In college, I was in love with philosophy and psychology. I had a rough patch from the summer of 1977 to the winter of 1979, ultimately ending up in prison at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview for three years. Too much booze, too many drugs, too much antisocial behavior. This seemed odd to me after I sobered up and got over the initial denial that I was in prison. I could not seem to explain my behavior. I was one of those students who loved to be busy. I worked on the yearbook, a local history project, did some sports photography and other photography, joined the debate team, and even participated at a state-level forensics competition in State College, PA.

I was able to enroll in college-level courses while a “guest” at Rockview. I applied every waking moment to reading course materials, assigned books, collateral reading, and to journal entries about what I was learning. My favorite courses were English, public speaking, creative writing, rhetorical writing, and psychology. I did very well. After all, I had nothing else to do but read and study. I ultimately graduated with an associates degree holding a 3.95 GPA. I was granted early release to a half-way house run by the corrections department in Scranton, PA. I was accepted as a transfer student at the University of Scranton. My studies there were mostly focused on philosophy, psychology and helping others.

I was going broke. After three semesters of classes at the University of Scranton, I quit to accept a full-time job as assistant manager of a local Pizza Hut. Nevertheless, I kept reading and writing journal entries. I got engaged twice inside of eighteen months. Needless to say, only the latter one stuck! Romance was very important to me. In fact, it defined me. I had to be with someone in order to be someone. Many years later, I have found this to not be true. In fact, I have to be somebody before I can be with somebody. I don’t need to be defined by someone else.

I have never taken an official writing workshop. This is mostly true because I don’t live in areas where they are given. I have not been motivated enough to drive a great distance to some workshop or seminar in a big city. But I did begin to read how-to books about writing. The Weekend Novelist, by Ray and Norris. The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. On Writing, by Stephen King. The Forest For The Trees, by Betsy Lerner. I highly recommend them all. Each has given me insight into the creative mind, the writer’s life, and the discipline needed to become an author. I heard it said on one occasion that writing is your “practice.” It’s a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane. This is especially true for me. I get pretty squirrely without putting my thoughts down on paper or in a computer document. (A note here: Writing by hand will actually feel different to you than typing words into your word processor. Try using both methods.)

I was born with the tendency to write. A predisposition, if you will. But I was not born with all the necessary skills and habits of a writer. In that regard, we need to learn to write. We need to take hold of that so-called innate ability and “gentle” it like we would a wild horse. There is no one definite way to become a good writer. There are many truths and disciplines that apply to the process. Natalie Goldberg said in her great book, Writing Down The Bones, “To do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life.” I think to do less than that, in other words to leave parts of your life out of your writing, is to tell a lie.

Whether you were a goody two-shoes (a perfect student), or a hellion you can latch on to the creativity that is in you. You can begin to talk to the world about stuff you never realized you felt. You can communicate, instruct, advise, suggest. You can create something out of nothing. You can tell your story. Or, you can tell the story of others. Whatever you write about, however, you must write what is true. The A.A. anniversary coins have it right: To Thine Own Self Be True. This is the only way to, as Natalie Goldberg puts it, “Write down the bones.” Write clearly and with great honesty. Technique is one thing. Voice is another. I’m talking about telling the truth. Only in this manner can you truly become a good writer.

Get started. Have fun. Dig down deep. Come back to visit me from time to time, and share what you’re working on. We’re a community, we creative types. You’ll find that no one else understands you. Not really. They will be baffled by the fact that you spend hours, nay, weeks or months, alone, writing in that crazy journal or on your laptop. They wonder who is ever going to read all that stuff. Just remember: Initially, you are writing because you have to or you’ll go crazy. If you keep at it, and if you remain honest, you’ll discover your own voice. You will see that you too have things to say. And eventually people will read what you write.