“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.” These are William James‘ words – the famous 20th century philosopher and psychologist. They came to me via Earl Nightingale’s talk on “The Greatest Secret in the World.” Earls talk is weighed with authority – his heavy, deep tonal voice captures the authority of a convicted preacher having pasted through fundamentalisms into an emancipated and inclusive world view still grounded by a perennial truth. He communicates over and over the fundamental principle (secret)…that, “We become what we think about.” I’m not boasting here, but the condition of my conscious thought hasn’t been shot through with a beacon of light as of late. Boasting into the darkness. Everyone’s shit is terribly unique, isn’t it? We find this blue-balled attitude in each other’s churches and recovery meetings all over the world, “I’m terminally unique. Haven’t you heard? …my shit!?” But, I digress. I wanted to bring your attention to the power of your thoughts and reflect on mine own recently. I am convicted, or rather, I have borne witness to the truth in my experience that our lives are largely our thought manifest, be it conscious or unconscious. I would very much like to measure my thought. And in fact there are plenty of methods – as many methods as there are traditions. For a number of years I have very much appreciated and referenced David Hawkins‘ conscious calibration scale from 1-1000. I’ll spare you the full disclosure but the higher one rises on the scale the more powerful the conscious thought and thus personal and circumstantial experience. If I reflect on this past weeks conscious thoughts I have to include the desperation I felt at not having a meaningful human partnership nor having manifest my goal to be a paid life coach. This week those thoughts have not only come, descending on me like some cloud of absence, but I have opened the door, wrapped up in them for a time, befriended the unfulfillment. A friend recently told me that having a pity party is the most expensive party you can throw that no one wants to attend. So now the transition… I have come so very far to achieve a new life, with new power and capacity. These desperate thoughts cannot contend with my ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines. It’s impossible for self-pity to continue very long because I get too many hugs, I spend too much time surrounding myself with people whose lives are full of healing, courage, sobriety, and grace. So I think about failure, absence, loss less. I dwell in God more – where God is flow of conscious thought of high calibration. God is an action word – a verb. Courage, acceptance, willingness, open-mindedness, humility, love, fulfillment, peace, neutrality, forgiveness, hope. According to the principle, “We become what we think about,” as long as I keep practicing these high forms of consciousness my life will continue to grow in power and fulfillment.
A few years ago I took a position teaching 6th grade Social Studies at a top independent girls school in Chattanooga, TN. I’ll never forget the first talk I had with the head of my school on a matter of significant importance in my personal life. “Please do not discuss your recovery,” she says. And adds, “All your social media, especially your blog, need to be made private.” At first I was taken aback by the comment, I felt subtly insulted. I have always blogged a great deal about my own recovery. It’s compelling for me – spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. It’s my medicine for the cliche and superficial. As it turns out, speaking openly about the spiritual nature of my recovery wasn’t professionally strategic! Turns out. It’s true that no administer, nor I for that matter, wanted to find ourselves defending against an attack from a concerned parent about their daughter’s teacher being an addict. Still, I was saddened to adopt what I felt was an inauthentic posture, saddened that an intimate part of myself and my gifts of personal transformation would never be a part of my classrooms. It’s akin to quieting the very life blood of education. Oh…the paradox!
Usually folks can get on board discussing “transformation.” Who doesn’t like to entertain becoming something better? But, having the conversation about our dirt, the twisted compromise of heart and mind, the betrayals and shame that makes transformation necessary is much more difficult. So, talking openly about recovery from addiction can become unsettling for many people, especially in bars which I love doing because it is hilarious (for me). Unfortunately though, we seem to be killing the conversation in our schools and places of worship, in the home and among friends, place where it’s really important to have these conversations. In our culture of privilege, excess, and accommodations one of the most frightening questions one can entertain is, “Am I an alcoholic?”
We’ve past the point in American culture/history where its a terrible taboo to identify as an alcoholic or addict. Nevertheless we have our assumptions and prejudicious about people in recovery. We judge them. We watch them on shows like ‘Intervention‘ to remind ourselves that, “Thank, God. We’re not that bad.” The satiating feelings of catharsis are always in direct proportion to the degree of our repression. So, we naturally judge, and we unconsciously shy away from being completely honest about how much obsessiveness we truly face on a day to day basis – food, sex, caffeine, internet, tv, football, porn, alcohol, weed, speed, music, sugar, tech, exercise, movies, co-dependencies of all color – work, especially work. Who is really desperate to do the work of inner transform and face their shadows, besides the folks whose very lives depend on facing the truth about themselves? “And those people are confused, weak, something other…not us, not me!”
The more honest I become, the more transparent and openminded, the more apparent how vital recovery and transformation are for my growth, and my life is dependent upon my growth. Strange how it took such great misery and compromise and addiction to arrive at a turning-point. Folks to do not arrive to the rooms of recovery on winning streaks – the sliding off rainbows and unicorns of light were our twisted, intoxicated imaginations. They arrive, I arrived, with a broken life, and we’re all told the same message, “You’re going to die from this disease, and the only chance you have is to leave behind everything you thought you knew and follow our path.” Reality was our velvet hammer and there was a cost of admission. The cost wasn’t just “my drug of choice” it was my entire life plan – my entire life.
I like to think of my recovery, as my sobriety. In a broad sense “sobriety” isn’t simply not drinking if your alcoholic – there are plenty of sick people out there who don’t drink or who drink a little and go on polluting everything and everyone around them. Sobriety in the broadest sense is purity of heart. That purity brings us into a sacred arrangement with ourselves and our world. It’s an absolute turning – turning one’s life and will over to powers that call us forth, heal us and draw us near to others in service. We gain access to dimensions of our self that would otherwise remain unrealized. In that way each day of sobriety is a promise of transformation, but also death to a former version of my identity no longer fit. Sobriety consistently asks for my entire life – the price is still my life. My life as I know it will be crushed, abandoned, disregarded or ruptured – like breaking out of an enclosure or being born. Sobriety, as I understand it, is a path that never ceases to develop our spiritual fitness. On this path I have grown or it has grown me…and as I continue to grow I elevate my awareness and my own sense of responsibility and belonging.
You come to the rooms of recovery in search of people who have done the seemingly miraculous. They had gotten sober, something I sought to do with increasingly demoralizing failure. I needed them to show me the way. I needed to be nurtured by their presence and energy, their very lives were medicine. Here, today as I write, I am 6 years sober, and I still need this medicine to do things that seem impossible – like build a business, become an author and professional speaker and the president, of course. Or, perhaps, I’ll spend my life in search of way to communicate to my students the message and life that sobriety has given to me without inciting fear in the faces of their parents or my administration.
I would never trade what I have now for the life I surrendered to get here. I live in a place where the miracles I see don’t just pass me by in a cloud of obtuse cynicism and self hate. I have a host of friends and a quality of fellowship about me that few humans experience, and I am of great service to many who find my presence extremely valuable and they let me know, often. I get to continue to work toward my own sobriety and the principles behind recovery, the same principles embedded in the texts of our most sacred books, hymns, poems; principles written into the lives of people whose presence transformed the communities around them.