“In the new year I will live one day at a time. I will not dwell on the past or the future, but only on the present moment. I will bury every fear of the future and guilt from the past, all thoughts of unkindness and bitterness, all dislikes, resentments, failures, disappointments in others and myself, my gloom and despondency. I will leave all these things behind and go forward into the new year, into a New Life.”
Today I brush the clouds away and let the warm sunshine fill my soul. Today I will practice love; for a lack of love fills my life with dark clouds. I will see good in all people, those I like and those who fret me and go against the grain. We are all children of God. Today I will give love; otherwise how can I dwell in God’s spirit where nothing unloving can come? Today, I will treat all with kindness. This I surely know: the more love I give away, the more I will have. Today I WILL brush the clouds away and feel the warm sunshine in my soul.” Adapted from 24 Hours a Day, Meditation for Feb 2)
For a dozen years I was an LDS Home Teaching companion to a fellow who was mentally handicapped. Harold was a wonderful man, full of childlike humility and love. His large stature was balanced by an equally large, continuous and genuine smile. His not always intelligible speech would always be clarified by his patient and repeated attempts to convey what he knew he was saying. But said in “Haroldspeak,” it would take more than a few attempts for me to understand. Harold passed away this past week. My wife and I, along with my little dog, Buddy Wu LI (He is a Schipperke, a Belgium barge dog), drove the 4 hours to St. George (Utah) to participate in and attend his funeral. I was privileged to say a few words. With my guitar, I sang a slightly altered version of the Mormon Primary song, “I Am a Child of God.” The funeral was not a sad affair, more a celebration of a special man. Indeed special: the first mentally handicapped boy in Utah (perhaps in the entire country) to earn the Eagle Scout Badge. Having a certain belief in Life after earthlife, I know I will one day reunite and celebrate with a now perfect, whole, and precious man.
But this blog was not intended to be about Harold. It is intended to be about the homeless hitchhiker I encountered at the halfway point rest stop near Cove Fort, Utah. As I walked into the small convenience store that sponsored the rest stop, a man in his late twenties was sitting on a bench in front of the store. His clothing was dirty and worn. Apparently all that he owned as he had the contents of a small backpack laid out on the bench beside him. There was a piece of climbing rope, something I’m sure he had salvaged in his travels, a cell phone taken apart with the battery outside of it. Again something I’m thinking he picked up. Some soda crackers, and small pieces of cloth were about all I could notice as I walked past him. As I looked at his face, his nose had a large recent scab from a fight or a fall. But what affected me most was the sadness reflected in his eyes. I recognized it. It was a sadness I had known earlier in my life. A hopelessness only those who have experienced could recognize. As I walked into the store, I felt haunted by those eyes. There was no anger in them, no hatred, no victim. Just a profound sadness. I encounter homeless from time to time in the small city I live in. They seem to notice me as they usually ask if I have a “dollar” to spare. It’s probably because I am usually wearing an “Affliction” shirt; or I just look like someone who understands Karma. But this man’s hand was not out and no query was offered. He seemed intent in examining the few possessions he owned. As I entered the small store, a parable I had been pondering earlier in the week came to mind. The setting for this teaching of Jesus’ was in the now-cleansed temple on Tuesday of Passion Week (The week before Easter Sunday). It would be Gethsemane on Thursday and The Cross on Friday. It was a parable that Jesus must have given with great love and concern for those He would soon leave. It ends with “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Having earned, through my alcoholism and addiction, membership in the “Least of These My Brethren,” club, daily encounters with this “social class” are more pronounced. When I left the store, I had to get the man’s attention to hand him the few dollars change I had. He immediately recognized me as the man who was “walking the little black dog and playing the guitar in the grassy area near the rest stop.” I had taken a moment to tune my guitar and practice the song I would sing at the funeral. His intelligent response and keen attention was unexpected. He said, “Do you have a leash for your dog?” I replied in the negative as I never put Buddy on a leash. He is more than obedient to my every command and request. The fellow reached into his bag and pulled out a quality retractable dog leash and offered it to me with the explanation that he had picked it up when someone had left it at an earlier rest stop. He had kept it thinking maybe he would encounter a stray dog in his travels. He offered it to me. I mumbled something about Karma and went back into the store for a bag of chips. I had to leave quickly. He would have noticed the tears in my eyes. I really wanted to just hug him and tell him that in Surrender to God he would be protected and things would be OK. With my purchase, I obtained some cash and, upon leaving the store, handed the man enough money to help him a little on his way. As I walked back to my car, I felt an almost overpowering love for this, just moments before, stranger. His parting gentle “Bless you” echoed through my mind as I drove away. I am sure I will never forget his sad eyes. Truly–he had blessed me; and, surely–He had blessed me!
In my last BLOG, I provided the story of Bill W’s surrender and the spiritual experience that began his lifelong quest to help other alcoholics. The following BLOG, quoted from pages 135-137 of PBH, describes my “hitting bottom.” Prior to this experience, I had been trying unsuccessfully to get sober for ten years. As my alcoholism progressed, I often stayed at alcohol treatment facilities hoping to find help for my addiction. The following entry begins with an account of my next to last visit at a treatment center and ends with my final surrender:
Remaining at this facility for a week, I began to feel alive again. The staff had been extraordinary in their encouragement. Leaving treatment “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” I felt a renewed commitment to my wife, to the clinic, and to myself that I would never, ever drink again. My wife told me that, promise or no promise, she would no longer stand by and watch me die. But this time, I was confident. I was convinced I had reached the lowest bend of the alcoholic pipeline and was heading up the recovery side.
I was wrong. “Never, ever” is too long a time for an alcoholic to commit to. Two months later, I checked back into the same treatment facility. I was crushed. I was certain there would be no more chances with my wife. I knew there shouldn’t be. The fact that I had let her down was one thing, but there was more. The National Guard had relieved me from duty—permanently! Then, following a medical exam at the treatment center for a painful hip, I was informed that, at the young age of forty, I had degenerative arthritis. If I wanted to continue walking, I would need a total hip replacement! “You have to hit your bottom,” the Old-Timers say. Like the funny little fellow with the big ears at the Alcohol Recovery Center had advised me many years earlier, “You have to be willing to crawl through cut glass to get sober!” Well, shattered glass was all around. I had hit bottom directly in the middle of it.
I knew I had. I hit my bottom like a concrete block plunging through a twelve-story building, shattering glass as it went. When I hit, I didn’t even bounce—I just crunched into a lifeless heap. More than a degenerative hip joint, I was a degenerative disease—degenerative addiction, degenerative marriage, degenerative soul. Depression rolled over me like the waves of a dark, stormy ocean. Heavy and suffocating, my condition was more than I could bear. I had no more tries left in me. I despaired. I prayed. My prayers were unlike any I had ever uttered. I didn’t ask for anything. Not to stay sober. Not to have my job back. Not for my wife to stay. Not to feel peace. Not to remove my pain. Not for anything! I was conquered. All I could do was mutter words about my total nothingness and cry out for help.
As my prayers continued, something about the way I viewed life began to change. It was not as if I had been struck with sudden brilliance. I was not filled with the burnings of truth or peace. I realized it was futile to say, “This time I’m going to stay sober,” or “I promise . . .” It was just the opposite. Alcohol had won. I was broken. I knew I couldn’t stay sober—no matter what. As this realization settled upon me, for the first time in my life, I honestly and completely admitted my powerlessness and gave my life totally over to a power greater than myself. With childlike demeanor, I humbly asked for God’s protection, direction and care. As a hopeless beggar, I surrendered all of me into the waiting arms of my Heavenly Father. “Do with me what you will. I can do nothing.”
I began to feel tiny stirrings within me—a feeling of warmth, barely detectable, as if a tiny penlight had turned on in my bosom. A powerful key turned. Somehow, I knew in my heart that it could be over. I stood at that point I had heard described in hundreds of AA meetings—the testimony of myriad alcoholics who had hit bottom and had found the only way up: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (From Chapter Five of Alcoholic’s Anonymous). I knew I didn’t possess the ability to manage all of my life. I couldn’t even manage a small piece of it. I suddenly understood that if I could just focus my energy on today, turning the guilt of yesterday and the fear of tomorrow over to God, then this terrible ordeal could be over. Like finding and putting in place a long lost, last piece of a puzzle, the picture became clear. I understood what to do. My life could be pieced back together—I simply needed to do it in humility and surrender—and one moment at a time!
In war, an army surrenders when the enemy has sufficiently “beaten” the army into “submission.” In this case, surrender is defeat. To the alcoholic or addict, the enemy is the poison to which he or she is addicted. Eventually-and unfailingly, the enemy wins. The paradox: In this defeat comes victory. We addicts come to understand that it isn’t “willpower” that gets us permanently sober. Just the opposite: It is total and complete surrender to a Power Greater Than Ourselves. Surrender is not “giving up!” It is “giving over!”
A powerful example of this concept can be found in my book’s first appendices: “AA: A Brief History”. I relate the co-founder of AA, Bill W’s, surrender story. This experience occurred after many years of uncontrolled drinking. A fellow “sober” alcoholic had testified to him of the power of God: (This experience can be found in the AA Big Book: Alcoholics Anonymous, published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc, 1976, Pages 7-13.)
“The frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens, or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. She would soon have to give me over to the undertaker or the asylum They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea.”
“But my friend sat before me, and he made the point-blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known. Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not: There had been no more power in him than there was in me at that minute; and this was none at all.”
“That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last. It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than I was. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.”
“At the hospital I was separated from alcohol for the last time. Treatment seemed wise, for I showed signs of delirium tremens. There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under his care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself was nothing;that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.”
In a later record, Bill described more intimately the spiritual experience that occurred during his last stay in the hospital:
“My depression deepened unbearably, and finally it seemed to me as though I were at the very bottom of the pit. For the moment, the last vestige of my proud obstinacy was crushed. All at once I found myself crying out, ‘If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything.’ Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind, not of air but of spirit, was blowing. And then it (the idea) burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers’.” [As Bill Sees It. 1967. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. pg. 2] Note: Bill stayed sober from this experience in 1937 until his death in 1971
In my next BLOG, I will relate my surrender story. Stay tuned:)
In the Epilogue to Perfect Brightness of Hope (page 188), I provide the following quote from Brigham Young, Second President of the LDS Church. In view of the prevailing misunderstandings regarding addictions and alcoholism, it is worthy to examine this quote against ourselves:
“Who has the greatest reason to be thankful to his God–the man that has no strong passion or evil appetite to overcome, or the one that tries day by day to overcome, and yet is overtaken in a fault?
Who has the reason to be the most thankful? The being that has comparatively no strong passion to overcome ought constantly to walk in the vale of humility, rather than boast of his righteousness over his brother. We are under obligation, through the filial feeling and ties of humanity, to more or less fellowship those who do evil . . . If brethren and sisters are overtaken in faults, your hearts should be filled with kindness–with brotherly, angelic feeling–to overlook their faults and far as possible. [Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1977, page 180)] Emphasis added.
I was recently re-reading Essential Teachings: His Holiness The Dalai Lama, (North Atlantic Books, 1995) when I came across this quote. I was taken a back by the awesome power and simple truth of his observation: (Bold and Italics added by Phil)
Look around us at this world that we call “civilized” and that for more than 2000 years has searched to obtain happiness and avoid suffering by false means: trickery, corruption, hate, abuse of power, and exploitation of others. We have searched only for individual and material happiness, opposing people against each other, one race against another, social systems against others. This has led to a time of fear, of suffering, murder, and famine . . . It is because each person has looked only for his own profit without fear of oppressing others for selfish goals, and this sad and pitiful world is the result. The root of this civilization is rotten, the world suffers, and if it continues in this way, it will suffer more and more.” (pg. xii)
His Holiness offers the cure–and he does so with so much love and conviction! Can we not practice and train ourselves daily to comply?
“Training our minds, renouncing excess, and living in harmony with others and with ourselves will assure us happiness, even if our daily life is ordinary. And if we should encounter adversity, others will help us because we have been good and kind. We must not forget that even in the most perverted and cruel human being, as long as he is human, a small grain of love and compassion exists that will make him, one day, a Buddah.” (ibid, pgs 6-7)
Observe everything – judge nothing. I offer this teaching with the deepest of love and gratitude to each of you.