One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
-Mary Oliver, Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press)
The following piece was sent to me by a friend in recovery whom I both love and respect. I share it with you because sometimes the difference between a Breakdown and a Breakthrough is all in how we perceive what we are going through. The original link to the article appears at the end of the piece.
Struggle is Good! I Want to Fly!
Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.
The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.
One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.
The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.
At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!
The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!
As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.
But neither happened!
The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.
It never was able to fly…
As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.
As you go through school, and life, keep in mind that struggling is an important part of any growth experience. In fact, it is the struggle that causes you to develop your ability to fly.
As instructors our gift to you is stronger wings…
“At times like these God is useless…” – quote from a Minister at a church service in NYC held the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.
That statement may seem harsh, caustic, and even reminiscent of the once famous proclamation of God being dead. But that is far from the truth. Rather, to me, it speaks to a rawness of truth that people who have been through tragedy can relate to, and often need to hear.
One of the biggest obstacles – when we try to experience spirituality and a relationship with God (in recovery) – our images of God are sometimes the greatest barriers to the relationship.
I have discovered that most people believe in a God who has an “EGO” – because only a God with an ego would get “mad” or seek revenge or rain down judgment or have his divine feelings hurt if I spoke some personal truth in anger towards him.
I have actually had people judge me and tell me I have lost faith all because I tell them that when I pray I sometimes cuss, that I rage at God when I pray because that is who I am; I am being true to the man God made, and yet somehow I am supposed to NOT be human towards God? I am also being true to the depth of realness in my relationship with God.
Let me state this as simply as possible, this ‘thing’ that transformed my relationship with God making it more real and authentic than at any time in my life is this change within me: I came to understand and “know” that God does not have an Ego.
Ego is defined as a “person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.” In psychoanalysis, ego has to do with the role the “mind” plays in mediating between the conscious and unconscious mind. See where I am going with this?
God does not need or have a “sense of self-importance” for God is self-contained – utterly whole and complete – the Power Greater Than myself. God does not need anything. God does not need me to placate his feelings with trite remarks of praise. God does not need anything from me, at all. Nada. God does not have a Mind that needs a mediating element. God does not need a mind. God just is. God is the all that is and that is all.
In your darkest times, in your most desperate moments, when all is lost – sometimes literally, sometimes spiritually – you can still bear witness to God’s presence in your life.
In our brokenness, in our addictions, in our depression, in our lostness – as much if not more so in our joy – we can still know that God is present in all things, as crazy as that seems.
It is a gift in recovery when we begin learning to experience God in the absence and darkness – the moments when grace breaks through our walls of despair – that we can share the Hope of Recovery, that God is indeed among us.
As we grope our way into God’s future, we can know that even in the most unchartered waters, we are being led by a luminous Power Whose name is Grace.
“We needed to stay conscious that planting ourselves in the soil of community and showing up daily through meditation or contemplative prayer as a means of surrendering our lives, was not just about our own self-actualization, but was for the sake of a wounded world desperately in need of healing and justice. That healing and justice can flow through us, but is not from us and is certainly not “about” us.
“The Sufi tell a story about a spiritual seeker who was distracted by the sick, crippled and beaten down who continuously passed by as he tried to pray. Finally he cried, “Great God, how is that a loving creator can see such things and do nothing about them?” Out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them. I made you.””
-Killian Noe, Descent into Love: How Recovery Cafe Came To Be.
To learn more about this powerful movement: recoverycafe.org.
If you are in recovery, and if you are a ‘worker of the Steps’ then most likely you are often encouraged to seek and pray for God’s will and ONLY for God’s will to be done. And if by chance you are like me and have a background filled with a toxic bit of the following – evangelical, fundamentalist, charismatic, and/or Catholic Christianity (the toxicity of which I am still healing from as well) – then you are taught to always seek to do God’s will. You are taught at an almost obsessive level to be seeking this specific Will of God and you are simultaneously taught that God has a plan for everything in your life – from finding a wife to finding a parking space!
If you are like me in any way thoughts of God’s will can become an exercise in selfishness, self-will, and self-obsession: what is God’s will for ME; what does God want ME to do? What does God want for ME?
There is nothing wrong with the questions, but the focus still is me, me, me. And selfishness is as dangerous to my soulfulness and sobriety as any drink or drug.
So, with that in mind, I am sharing the following quote from a man whom I respect spiritually and whose integrity is high in my book. Enjoy the words of Dallas Willard that are found in his book Hearing God:
There is a neurotic, faithless and irresponsible seeking of God’s will, which is always taking its own spiritual temperature. In this state, people are far more concerned with being righteous than with loving God and others, and doing and enjoying what is good…
We may insist on having God tell us what to do because we live in fear or are obsessed with being right as a strategy for being safe. But we may also do it because we do not really have a hearty faith in God’s gracious goodwill toward us. If so, we need to [do a bit of growing up] and nothing short of that will solve our problem…certainly, more words from God will not!
The story of Addictus, or the Myth of Addictus, was about a slave whose master set him free, but the slave was so used to his chains and his pain that when his master allowed him to roam and be free, the slave wandered the land with his “chains” still intact.
All the time he wandered his chains were unlocked and he could have simply taken them off but being so used to and so in love with his chains and pains he chose to NOT take them off.
That is what it is like for those of who have lived our lives enslaved to drugs and alcohol, or to religious systems and other abusive environments. We are shown a life of freedom, but until a spiritual transformation occurs, we surrender our voice, surrender our very selves to the bondage of addiction.
Addiction is about surrendering our voices and beings over to a master whose end is death. Recovery is about surrendering to healing, community and inevitably to a master whose end is LIFE: surrendering to God (as we ‘experience’ God) in order to find our voice and our very selves.
I stumbled upon an article years ago written by a spirited writer and addictions specialists named Thomas Lavis. I have been unable to find a link to the original article, and I have not been able to reach Mr. Lavin to ask permission, but for the sake of healing and recovery, I have taken the liberty of revising his work to tell the story of the meaning of Addiction. The following is my revision – my Voiced Version – of Thomas Lavin’s article, Please enjoy (and thank you to Mr. Lavin, wherever you may be):
The word “addicted” comes from the Latin word addicere meaning “to give one’s voice over to [something or someone].” So someone who is addicted has no voice. A breakdown of the word is something like this: the word “Ad” means “to or toward” and the word “Dicere” means “to speak”. So, in essence, addiction is when I give my voice over to (or toward) some person, place, thing, or even a process. As most of us who are in recovery know, addiction need not be limited to alcohol or drugs.
I can give myself over, and my inner voice over, to anything: drugs, sex, alcohol, spending, food, pain, exercise, a person, my job, even things like worrying and stress.
The original meaning of the word “addictus” was spiritual – it had to do with someone dedicated to the gods, one whose voice was given over to the Divine for the purpose of worshipping and serving the gods.
In recovery, we are told constantly that the key is surrender. In fact, we are not only told that we are sometimes berated, beaten, and bludgeoned with this spiritual discipline. But whether I like the delivery of the message, the truth of it does not cease to be life-changing.
Surrender or Resignation.
One of them is giving up and one of them is giving in? One of them is active; one passive. Is there really a difference? And if so, would I even know what that difference is?
As I ask these questions I am merely speaking to myself, not to anyone else. At this point in my journey of recovery, and my journey with God, I’m not sure where I stand: am I at a place of Surrender or Resignation. It could be one, the other or both.
I truly do not know. But the good news is that God does.
When it comes to giving up or giving in, faith and fear become guides that in some ways ‘will’ me forward. The question is which one will I choose to be my guide: fear or faith?
Surrender involves faith; faith in a God I have come to experience deeply as Love and compassion. Resignation is about fear; fear that is a poisonous and ruinous drug.
Surrender is about journeying towards something while resignation is about running away from something (or Some One).
If truth be told, I have much and little of both. But the choice is mine.
So which one will it be? Faith or fear?
The answer will change everything!
Author’s Note: This blog post is a revision of a forthcoming Op-Ed piece that is being published in January 2019 in a southwestern Virginia newspaper. I have edited it to speak more to any community affected by addiction and how promoting recovery is a tool for community betterment and community development.
In 2018, everyone knows something about addiction; whether from personal experiences or news media reports, addiction – especially opioid addiction – is front and center. Everyone has heard the horror stories about the opioid addiction epidemic and its decimation of rural and small city American. Everyone has heard or knows about people who are living with drug and alcohol addiction.
We keep hearing stories of addiction and the epidemic. But where are the stories of people in recovery and the powerful positive impact recovery has upon entire communities?
Don’t get me wrong, the addiction epidemic is a major, catastrophic problem who negative consequences ripple out to all of society. And I keep saying addiction epidemic, because although the numbers around opioids (overdoses and mortality) are atrocious, more people are addicted to and dying from alcoholism than opioids and cocaine combined. That we are an addicted society is not changing but what we are addicted to will fluctuate based on anomalous trends.
When we talk about addiction, the focus is far too often on the ‘problem’ element of it: the rise in overdose deaths; the lost days, weeks, months and years of peoples’ lives as they spiral out of control from drugs and alcohol use; the rise in crime; the losses; the scourge, the stigma, and the death.
But what if the greatest thing we could do to start creating long-term solutions to addiction was to begin a major shift in perspective?
What is if we started focusing more on the solution to addiction which is recovery? What if we stopped the blame game (blaming addicts, families, communities, law enforcement) and started pointing towards solutions?
What if, rather than focus on the problem of addiction (and in sensationalizing it), and focused more energy on the solution of recovery?
What if we started looking at recovery and funding recovery services from a broader, community building perspective?
“We are not called to love God or the world. Rather, we are called to love God IN the world. We love God by loving the world. We love God through and with the world…[and] this turns out to be a sacrificial love.”
– Sallie McFague
Here we are again at another Advent season (for those of us who like the “liturgical calendar”). It’s that time of year again where we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace by proclaiming “Merry Christmas” as we over shop and overeat, rabid consumers in an age of technological saturation.
During Advent, I try and re-center myself by getting back to the simplicity of what this season means: the God of all creation entered our realm to be with us and to live and love as one of us. And so we are called to do the same: to enter into the world and love it. We are called to love the world as God loved the world, which included dying for it; which included dying for our enemies, those who are different, those who are not like us, those who do not believe as we believe. That is the kind of love we need this Christmas.
We are called to love God through the world, by loving all that God has made: all of creation, all that is created, all people, and creatures and the entire cosmos. For every created thing is but a mere reflection of God, a glimpse of the Beauty of the One Who is Infinite Love.
For if I say I love God but hate another then it is plain and simple: I am a liar. Anyone who says they love God but hate another (regardless of whether that “other” is queer, gay, Muslim, atheist, republican or democrat, Russian or American, white or black) is a LIAR.
1 John 4: 7-8; 20-21
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And [Jesus] has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
And every Christmas it happens, that thing I find almost hilarious and odd this time of year: people seem more concerned about “keeping Christ in Christmas” than they are about actually loving people as Jesus loved people – unconditionally and lavishly.
And Jesus loved people where there were as they were, seeing them as images of his God, people created in love. And I also find it odd that many of the people who are screaming about keeping Christ in Christmas don’t really care too much about keeping him in all the other parts of their lives or times of the year…
There is much hatred and fear mongering all around us; from politics to religion to my country versus your country. But in the end, it is Love that will lead the way. And if I am judged because I try daily to love as Jesus loves, then so be it. I would rather be judged because I am to gracious and messy with love than to be judged for being an asshole.
So, I will show my love for God by loving this world as God loves this world; by actually loving it as it is, not as I would have it.
For God so loved this particular world – this hate-filled, messy, mixed up beautiful world – that God chose to come into it, as a fragile human being, to be close to us, to love us face to face, to love us even unto death. And it is this love – this divine love – that is still scandalous even to this day.
Maybe the best thing I can do this Christmas is more about keeping Jesus in my living and loving throughout the entire year than just focusing on keeping him in my holiday greeting….