Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Good Reviews Keep Coming

The response to God is at the Meeting has been wonderful. There are seven reviews on Amazon and another on the WestBow web site. That site is www.mauricec.com. So now in addition to the blog, there is a web site. Thank you to those of you who have accessed either one or both sites.
My interest in this project is not for my ego. There is a need for any aid that works to help those in need find a solution to their addictions. Many of my inmate pals have appreciated a simpler explanation of the Steps. While most of them are quite intelligent, their reading comprehension is poor as their education is often abbreviated or even non-existent. The following is a real, current situation that is unfolding.
A gentleman, not yet 40, got out of prison about 4 months ago. He spent 20 years behind bars. If he gets caught violating his probation, he will face another 20 or more in prison. He gets to one meeting a week. He has a weekly UA and he ran the risk of failing the test a few weeks ago. Those of us who have had the blessing of sobriety for some time wonder why he would ever consider taking a drink again. How could anyone run the risk of a day in prison, much less another 20 years. Knowing the pain and grief they would cause their families with another incarcertaion, how can they chance another drink? But alcoholics and addicts do, if they don't get help. Those of us who are sober ought get on our knees daily and give gratitude to God for our reprieve.
Add this man to your prayers please. He is playing with fire and doesn't seem to know it.
One of the fellows from the Wynne Unit, who I wrote about in the book, was released from Huntsville two weeks ago. He is home now. While incarcerated, he improved his skills as a welder and had a job lined up before he went home. This is a great kid. He paid a heck of a price for whatever he did, but went home with confidence knowing his dad, his brother and his sister-in-law all attend A.A. meetings in his home city. I have no doubt he has been blessed with the gift of sobriety. Hopefully he will be going into prisons in his area to pass along the message he has received. The Texas Department of Corrections, encourages ex cons to go back into the system to demonstrate that sobriety works. While there are volunteers like me, the incarcerated really listen a lot closer to one their brothers who is successful in the free world.
Many of the prisoners tune into FM radio station KFPT Houston, on Friday evenings.  They take a radio blog and broadcast it over the air for two hours every Friday evening. The first hour of the program usually consists of an interview with someone involved in the problems of incarceration. The second hour the host takes calls from family and friends of the inmates in the Houston area. The callers get up to two minutes to "call out" to their son or daughter behind bars. The inmates love to listen to the show, especially those who never get visitors. Sadly, there are a lot in that category. I sent a copy of the book to the people who run the show, and there is a realistic chance I will be invited to review the book during the interview hour. In any case, I will try to get into the call que to say howdy to my friends. The only bad part of this process is that it lasts past my bed time.
One of my younger brothers has a good friend, a judge, who runs a alcohol and drug court in Pennsylvania. I have been invited to address the members of the current court class as a result of the book. So, in early June we are off to Harrisburg, PA, after attending Founders Day in Akron, Ohio.
Those of us in the Program are asked to carry a message of hope and recovery to the man or woman who still suffers. We all know there are way too many sufferers. We do what we can and leave the results in God's hands. So pray to be encouraged in the 12 Step work you do. I know I am not telling you anything new, but when we stay involved, for the benefit of another, we get to see the miracles up close and personal.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Feedback from Prison

While writing the book, God is at the Meeting, I truly wondered if anyone would read it.  I committed myself to the project, but needed to be pushed along the path from time to time. While the editor and proof reader encouraged me, I still wondered if I was being too full of myself.  The best encouragement I received was from the men in prison at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, Texas.  I mentioned to them that I was considering writing a book and they seemed more than interested and would ask from time to time how the effort was coming along.  Their continued interest was the motivation needed to finish the job.  I want to give you some feedback from some of them now that the book has been around for a few months.
About a month ago I ran across a fellow at a meeting in Willis, Texas.  His face was very familiar to me.  I couldn't put a name to him, but I knew we met somewhere before.  That somewhere was in the Montgomery County jail where he had attended the A.A. meetings.  When he saw me in Willis he said with big smile, "I have been looking for you for six months."  He reminded me of where and when we met more than two years ago.  He listened at the meetings and told me that, as a result of the meetings, he decided to take the program seriously and to go into a treatment program as soon as he was released from jail.  Now this is not a one and only jail sentence for this man.  He has been in countless jails in numerous states.  He honestly can't remember how many jails, the number is well above 30.  Today he is a new man.  He attends meetings regularly, reads his materials and has been clean and sober for more than two years.  This man, who used to live on the streets and called the underside of bridges home for a long time, today has a good job, has received a few raises and promotions and is supporting himself and his mother.  Yes, his mother who had bailed him out of jails from California to Florida.  She is in her eighties now and lives with him.  They are buying a home together and he is honestly looking forward to caring for her.  I wonder how many countless nights she prayed and cried over him.  Finally she has a son who can love her and care for her.  If that ain't a miracle, I don't know what to call it.
Last week at the Wynne Unit I was sitting at a meeting and two of the guys I have known for a long time came and sat with me and said that they had to talk to me before I left for home.  One of them, a young man from Pampa, Texas, I have known for quite some time.  He was in and out of the A.A. meetings for a long time and never seemed able to sit still for long. He read God is at the Meeting.  He told me it changed his life.  He said he couldn't tell me how much it helped him and that now he has answers to who he really is, why he lived the way he did and now has a new path to take in life.  His mom is an alcoholic.  He was able not only to recognize her in the book but himself as well. He might be getting out soon and I expect to see him at a meeting when he does. Today he is looking forward to the day of his release and now believes he knows and wants to do what is necessary to stay sober. This is a young man who has a lot to give. His ears are open today in a way they have never been.  He is growing closer to his God and has begun attending church for the first time in his life.  Lots of folks skip the church and God idea, but this man has chosen to embrace both. 
Just after I talked with that young man, another fellow came and sat next to me.  I have known this guy for quite some time too. He has spent more than half his life in prison and has no reasonable chance of ever getting out. We have had numerous conversations and he was one of the first guys to tell me that prison life is all he has and may be all he will ever have. He told me once, "this is my life, these folks are my family, it's all I will ever have."  He gave up any hope of living outside the walls.  I don't know his crime.  It is none of my business.  His life sentence is a pretty good indication of what he did as a young man.  He is in his 50s and has been in 26 years.  This fellow is is tough.  He told me the last time he tried to do his fourth and fifth Steps he almost had a nervous break down.  I told him that wasn't necessary and we joked about it later. 
On this night, when he sat down he looked pretty intense.  He had finished the book some time ago and he began to talk in a way he never had talked to me before. He started with "I think I made a big mistake."  I asked what he was talking about and he continued with the following.  For twenty six years he has been telling his mother, his girlfriend and his niece that he was innocent of his crime. He has manufactured lie after lie to keep his falsehood going, and now he finally told them the truth.  His tears started to flow and he went on to say how freeing the truth is. He finally has the capacity to be honest. The Twelve Steps were taking hold of his heart and he was amazed how that changed his relationship with his Higher Power.  Now this is a hardened criminal, crying openly, probably 50 other inmates around us. God is doing for him what he could never do for himself.  He has carried and been haunted not only by his crime, but by the 26-year effort to deceive the one he loved the most about his guilt. I tried to assure him he didn't make a mistake in telling the truth.  While it may hurt his loved ones for while, they will come to believe his new-found honesty is indeed the best policy
I am hesitating in writing about these men and telling their stories because I don't want anyone to think I believe I had anything to do with the changes in these guys' lives.  All I did was what I felt God asked me to do.  Write about my experience in A.A.  That is all I did.  God does the rest.
We hear at meetings all the time about how folks who do some simple work to help another sick man or woman receive the reward of continued sobriety. What was freely given to them they give to another.  They claim no credit, they simply carry the message.  Today, arrogant s.o.b. I have been most my life, have the privilege of sharing  with men who never had half the blessings I have had.  I hope to spend the rest of my "retirement" sharing the gift of A.A.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Honesty is the Best Policy

Well the New Year has started, and I should get started too. 
First, happy New Year!  Have you made resolutions?  I'm not a resolution maker, but if I were, a good one for me would probably be to resolve to keep the TV off the news channels.  The BS I hear on the "news" amazes me, but maybe it shouldn't.  Back in the old days before I found AA, honesty was hard to come by.  I was a master of BS.  I could always come up with reasons, excuses, mitigations to explain my self-centered behavior. I pray those days are over.
There will never be perfect honesty; that perfect stuff belongs to God.  But a good run at being honest is required by all of us who want to stay in recovery and in the doors of AA.  In Chapter Five of the Big Book we are clearly told that honesty is the starting place.  If we don't have the capacity to be honest, our chances of recovery are less than average.
It is hard for me to write about honesty.  During my drinking years, I used my silver tongue to get me out of many messes.  My alibis and excuses were always so convincing.  But today I try to live in the real world.  I don't run from reality, I embrace it.  I do my best to see things for what they really are not what I want them to be. 
We all need to be willing to see ourselves for who we are, and not as some character we've made up to convince ourselves and the world that we are okay. Once we can accept ourselves for who we really are, the need to convince everyone that we are something different can slip away.  When that happens, we may find that the freedom to just be ourselves is liberating.  No more need to keep up a false front or try to remember exactly what we told people about ourselves.  No need to pretend anymore!
Every time I think about honesty, I go back to the Fourth and Fifth Steps.  I, like you, in the previous Step, turned my will and life over to the care of God. I no longer get hung up on who God is. I like the idea of being in His care.  But until I really incorporate the Fourth and Fifth Steps into my life, I have little or no knowledge of what my will and life are.  When I took these Steps the first time, I learned a lot about myself.  I found I was resentful, fearful, angry.  With the help of a sponsor, over time I learned why I had these defects of character. I was hiding from myself and everyone else.  In time I learned why I was hiding.  I was trying to keep everyone from knowing how I truly felt about myself.  I learned why I carried old ideas about myself even into adulthood. I came to realize that most of the things I learned about myself as a young man were wrong. 
After studying these vital Steps, I know  many of the lessons I learned as a youngster were wrong.  I no longer have to hide who I am, in fact I can learn to truly like who I am.  I am designed, made, loved and accepted by my God.  If I am good enough for Him, I can learn to be good enough for myself.  In fact it is an insult to God to be self loathing. That acceptance starts within the meeting places of AA..  The acceptance is expressed in the words of the Steps and I find especially after Steps Six and Seven, that no matter what I did, I am forgiven and loved by God.
When we accept this reality,weI can begin to live it. We will find we have no need to be anything but who we are.  We can be honest.  We can accept that we are children of God. The more we live in this truth and honesty, the better we can attempt to do His will in our lives.  And that is what it is all about, doing His will as best we can.
I urge you to let go of the old ideas of who you think you are.  Let go of the old anger, fear and resentments.  Throw away the idea of having to hide the real you from the rest of the world.  Know that God made you and He loves you.  If God loves you, you are worthy of the love of others. God is your buddy. 
So, start the year off with a resolution that will bring peace to your life - resolve to stay close to God this year, and the next and the next.  If you are having trouble finding this place of peace in God, contact me, contact your sponsor, contact your pastor or priest, get back into your regular AA meeting.  I think you'll find folks will be overjoyed to help you in any way they can. 
May 2012 be your best year yet.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Visiting the Old Hot Spots

No, this is not a suggestion to go back to the bars and old haunts, but rather to visit, from time to time, the old "hot spots" that we discovered while working on our Fourth and Fifth Steps.  When we revisit these hot spots, we take away their power. We realize we don't need to be controlled by them anymore, rather we confront them and use the occasion to ask God for His grace to remove the resulting resentments and anger.
I have a good friend who has lots of good years in the Program, but she complains she is still plagued with bouts of anger. Most all of us share her outbursts from time to time.  It may be worthwhile to look again at the roots of that anger.  In her case, it was a terrible relationship with a stepmother. The stepmother had a razor-like tongue and foul mouth and used both as cruel, abusive weapons.  When my friend was working on her resentments, she discovered the stepmother was the cause of her anger and her own resentments. 
The word resentment, comes from the Latin root, re-sentire, or the ability to re-feel.  When we were deeply hurt as a child by someone who should have been protecting us, we can re-feel the same anger today, just as we might have felt it ten or twenty years ago. Today when someone does something which hurts us deeply, we can go back to the well of anger that still exists inside us as a result of what we experienced as a child.  When triggered, we can re-feel the same anger over and over again.
I suggest that we revisit our hot spots not to wallow in them, but rather to defuse them.  If we difuse our anger we can stop the cycle and keep from passing it on to anyone else.  We don't blame the person who caused our hurt, in fact we are better off forgiving the perpetrator of the hurt.  We can learn to believe they were doing the best they could with what they had.  In fact, they were probably passing along what they learned as a youngster. Years ago, when my father was complaining about me and my behavior, his pastor told him, "the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree". My dad didn't like that retort, but it is true. We learn a lot from our parents and caregivers, good and not so good.
Once we can identify where and from whom we learned the lessons we can understand the impact on our own behavior.  The irony is, the things we learned about ourselves were wrong then and are wrong now. We are not the dumb heads we were told we were, but we may still see ourselves that way.  We need to let go of this kind of old idea about ourselves. 
While attending a retreat this fall, I met a man who was working on this topic and experienced a strong awakening.  He is a successful businessman and very popular.  He told us as he made decisions over the years he could always envision his dad standing along side him, criticizing and telling him his ideas were wrong.  Now he realizes his dad was wrong and he can move out from under that negative influence.  The things his father taught him, in many cases, were wrong.  Now with God's help, the direction of the Steps and the encouragement of a sponsor, he can live knowing that he doesn't have to listen to that voice any more.
We all have voices that need to be tuned out if not turned off.  Once we know where the voices come from, we can identify when we imitate them. For example, my anger and frustration with the clerk in the super market, goes back to the anger and frustration I had with----- fill in the blank.  We don't need to pass our anger on to the next generation.  If we have passed our anger on, we can make it part of making our amends in Steps 8 and 9.
John Bradshaw, the well known writer and professional counselor, developed an exercise, where he teaches his clients to emotionally go back in time and confront their hot spots. He suggests they see themselves as the little child who was hurt by the parent or caregiver.  He has his clients take that little child's hand in their now adult hand, and go back. In the example of my friend who was abused by her stepmother, my friend would take her younger self by the hand, calmly see her stepmother and tell her that her abusive words and actions were inappropriate. She would then express her hurt and disappointment, and tell the stepmother to stop her abuse. Tell her she was wrong.  By completing this exericise she could, as an adult, calmly and simply confront the situation she could not cope with as a child.
If you have resentments and anger that still have power over you, try the exercise above.  Take your younger self by the hand and go back to the cause of that anger and tell the person you feel was responsible that they were wrong.  Once you have laid your anger and resentments out in the open ask God to take them all away.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Move Over Albert - New Definition of Insanity

According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome.  For addicts and alcoholics I believe the definition of insanity is denying the reality that one, the other, or both controlled our lives.  Insanity is believing that we either do not have a problem or that we can overcome the problem on our own with our own self-will.  How many of us have said or heard, "I can quit whenever I want."  When I was drinking I quit every day - right after finishing a fifth of Jack Daniels.  That is insanity.

One story I relate in God is at the Meeting is a conversation I had with an acquaintance.  He told me he drinks to the point of blacking out and wondered if he had a drinking problem.  I suggested that he might and that he was putting himself and others at risk if he was driving while in a blackout.  He replied that he would never do that.  Of course, the irony is that if he were in a blackout he would have no consciousness of driving!  That is insanity.

Another fellow I know got on an airplane drunk (pre TSA), fell asleep, didn't wake up through a stop and ended up getting off the plane in Las Vegas, expecting to be in Denver.  He had absolutely no idea how he had travelled 700 miles past his destination.  That is insanity.

The first Step of A.A. is admitting the reality of our addiction.  We have to leave the make-believe world behind and come into the real world where we admit that we are powerless over alcohol and our lives are truly unmanageable.  Until this Step is taken, we continue to live in a world where waking up in the wrong city, driving in a blackout or believing that finishing our latest fifth is "quitting" is reality.

If you are following this blog, you have probably already moved into the real world.  If not, take the Step - admit that you are powerless and accept the help of the real Power - the Power that can only come from God.

p.s.  If you'd like to share any of your experiences of living in the insane world of alcoholism, please leave a comment below.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lust and A.A.

Addicts and alcholics usually have several common traits and one of those is lust.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that we are always lusting after or craving the better high and the longer buzz.  Like non-alcoholics we also seek money and the outward trappings of wealth - the faster car, the bigger house, the better office.  We may get caught up in seeking more attention from the opposite sex or finding gratification through pornography.  All of these are symptoms of the same thing - selfishness.  We seek those things that make us feel better, many times ignoring the costs to our co-workers, friends and family.

The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, never talks about how to not drink.  It leads us from Step One through Step Twelve into being better human beings.  It teaches us that our happiness will not be found in drink, drugs, wealth, pornography or anything else outside of ourselves.  Happiness and peace are found when we humble ourselves, admit we need help and let God help us.  It's an inside job.

People reading this blog know me pretty well and will probably laugh at the thought of me trying to be humble and I must admit it's something I struggle with.  I can't say that humility is something I'm working on, because I know that I cannot remove my own character defects.  If I try to remove my own character defects, it remains all about me - I'M going to fix MY defects by MYSELF.  It can't happen.  What I have to do, and I believe we all have to do is found in Step Seven - ask God to remove them for us.  When we ask God to remove our defects it becomes about Him and His Power.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Circle is Wide

The other day I had the opportunity to share a meal with an old buddy of mine.  As we were catching up on each other's lives, I gave him a couple of bookmarks that feature the cover art and web address for ordering God is at the Meeting.  He laid the bookmarks down on the table.  A few minutes later we were joking with the waitress and she mistook the bookmarks for theater tickets.  She picked one up and when we told her it wasn't a ticket she read the title and walked away.  About three minutes later she came back and told us her sister is involved with A.A. in Colorado and she was going to buy her a book.  About two minutes after that, another waitress came to the table and told us she had 18 years in the program, she shook my hand and thanked me for writing the book, and said she would buy a copy as well.

Although I probably shouldn't be, I am still amazed at the size of the A.A. circle and the many ways God uses us to meet and share with others in the program and those who may need the program.  I don't believe these meetings are coincidence.  Step 12 tells us that we are to carry the A.A. message to other alcoholics - to share what we have learned and let them know that they "don't have to live like that anymore".

We never know how God is going to use us to be His messenger - it may be at an A.A. meeting, it may be in jail, or it may be something as simple as laying a bookmark on a restaurant table.

I'd love to hear some of the God coincidences in your life - if you'd like to share, please use the comment section on this page.  Thank you!