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To my dear sober AA friend,
(excerpts from a letter I wrote to my friend Stewart)

While I was on vacation I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time sitting on the sand dunes where I read and did some writing. The writing started to pick up faster and faster until I was going at it at a furious pace. I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I gathered together in words some of the things I’ve come across in my sober journey. In 30 years a lot of stuff’s come across my desk but most of it just whirls around in my head – there’s been no solidity. So I decided to try to create a holding place for some of this stuff. To get it more clear in my own mind and to share via paper with others if they care to know. This way I won’t be cornering them but at the same time get a small sense that I’m contributing.

Stew, this is a warning that there’s going to be some potential “cornering” going on, but please know that you’re safe from me. It’s only paper and you have all the freedom not to read it. I’ll never, ever ask you if you have (read it). You never have to talk to me about anything I’ve written here. You don’t have to read any further than this if you don’t care to. I don’t want you to feel involuntarily cornered.

My husband (your AA sponsor) doesn’t talk about you a lot. He’s very good in the no-gossip department, but I think I’ve sensed some suffering lately so I thought I’d tell you some of the things I’ve come across staying sober – I figured if I wrote them down you could choose whether to read them or not and you wouldn’t feel cornered. The people part of life is obviously still an area under construction for me. So if you don’t care to know about any of my stuff that’s ok to put this letter away. I’m writing because my heart told me to and my only wish is that you follow your heart too about the reading or not reading of it (I wouldn’t throw it away though – but that’s your choice as well). Page 85-86 “… all sorts of absurd actions and ideas..” I realize that this letter may be an absurd action & idea but as best as I can sense, this is what my heart is telling me to do. Who knows, maybe it’s more for me – then you.
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A long time ago I was given this.

These are a few things that help me stay sober. They may not be of any use to you, but then maybe some of them might be helpful. Also before I start, I want you to totally realize how aware I am of being a horrible failure many times over in striving to these ideas I talk about. I’m definitely a human being – and a drunk. But I have never given up on myself – and you didn’t know me way back when. I was a total freaked out human being.

Because, practically speaking, sobriety is just another aspect of life, I thought it could be a good idea to look to other things in life I could compare it to in order to understand more and so deal with it better.

Three of those things are: School, a Marathon. Presents.

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The first one is school.

It seems to me that sobriety and going to school have a lot in common.

There is class and then there is recess
God, among other things, is a teacher

A} By choosing life, school becomes a requirement. There may be no way around school. Even if you’re drinking and refusing to participate you still have to sit in the classroom and be exposed to the material being taught, and it’s my belief that, since the teacher has endless patience, you’ll have to stay there as long as it takes (and I think even after death) until you decide it’s better to cooperate.

B} Some classes are hard, stressful, fearful, rough, difficult and it takes a long time to master the material. Some classes are a breeze and can even be fun if you already know the stuff.

C} I can’t learn the whole syllabus the first day. I can only get it piece meal one day at a time as I show up. Everything I have yet to learn about the subject matter is a mystery to me until I learn and practice it. I have to have patience because, no matter how much I try to wish or will it, I can’t make the learning process go any different than it’s going to go – the teacher knows best.

D} I am entirely dependent on my teacher to instruct me in the course material I’m learning. As I first begin the class the subject is completely foreign to me; but the teacher (God) knows the material He is going to be teaching backward and forward; through and through; all the little intricacies.

E} Going to school is basically a very hard thing to do. I have to summon all my courage just to show up. It’s terrifying. But if I try to make friends with my teacher, and try to established some trust and rapport with him, it makes getting through it a lot easier; safer – and then less frightening or stressful.

F} My teacher is very patient with me. His only desire is that I learn what He wants to teach me. He’ll keep working with me for as long as it takes until I ‘get it’. As long as I show up – He shows up. His heart is the heart of a pure and caring teacher who loves children. Who’s only motive is to see me succeed. And God is a phenomenal teacher in that He has unlimited imagination which He uses in an astonishing array of teaching techniques to get ideas, concepts, and deep transformations into me. But then my teacher has supernatural power. But some classes are so hard and it feels like they’ll never end. I don’t want to scare you – and most probably this won’t happen to you (who else do you know had the drink obsession for 6 years!?) – but I once had a class that lasted for 5 years! And it was agony too – I learned a lot of stuff in that one! But man! besides the obsession, it was the worst!

G} After going for a while I’ve discovered something about this school that’s different than all the other schools I’ve gone to. In this school showing up (ie: being sober) and keeping my eyes and ears open to what my teacher wants me to learn, and trying to do my best, is all He asks of me. It may be that I’m in remedial school where the requirements aren’t so stringent as a regular one, I don’t know. But in every one of my classes so far I found that I can successfully graduate if I just keep showing up. My teacher notices this and gives me a lot of credit for it because He know the fear I must overcome to get there. Also, because I have DID (dissociative), there are days when I can only bring my body – the other parts of me refuse to cooperate. However, I found if I just show up on those days, that’s good enough for Him, after all my teacher’s God; He knows what’s going on with me. If this happens a lot it may take longer to finish a class, but He never gets mad at me because of it.

H} After I have successfully learned the class material (with more changes made in my transformation process) like it or not I’m moved up to the next grade level.

I} At each new grade there are all new things I’m having to learn that I don’t know about and which are that much more in depth, complex, difficult and hard to master.

J} In this school you can’t repeat classes you’ve already mastered. I have to go forward. I keep finishing classes and then being moved up to the next higher grade – always with more complicated (and usually harder) stuff. This is why they say: “what worked in the program yesterday won’t work today”.

K} And school can get positively crazy too – like when my schedule includes 2 or 3 classes at once. (in AA they call this: ‘Raining Bricks’ )

L} In school there are classes and yucky work, but then there is – recess & summer vacation! Many people view with suspicion the good times they’re having in sobriety. They say they don’t trust them because they’re waiting for ‘the other shoe to drop’. I don’t look at it like this any more. I see the up and down times as the way it is in school. I believe, not all, but most educators of children are fully aware to the bottom of their souls what responsibility they have in holding charge of the health and welfare of small, fragile, and innocent lives who are utterly dependant on their care and guidance. These educators realized it was necessary to give young lives some rest time between the difficult times their studies demanded. The summer vacation idea was not just thrown into the mix thoughtlessly, I believe it was carefully enfolded into a complete plan to raise a small child into a happy, healthy adult. And I believe that my teacher understands this as well. {Really, when you think about it, it was He who invented teachers and teaching in the first place.} And that’s why I try to stay aware of when rest times are set up for me. And when they are, I take full advantage of them – those distinct times when all I need to do in sobriety is – rest and have fun.
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The Marathon

I’ve taken many, many classes in sobriety school, one of the classes I took was on this – the marathon. I live my sobriety as though it were a marathon and not a 50-yard dash. Back in the beginning I wanted to get well – yesterday – and I’d put all my strength and will to bear into it. I worked Steps to thread-bare; I’m really good at fundamentals. I’d stand stiff statue-like with a stone smile plastered to my face, holding onto my breath and brains as tightly as I could hoping to reign in all the wild, crazed emotions tearing around inside. I tried to grasp sanity by ‘will’ thinking I had power over it. I was working like a fiend. This is what I now see as ‘the 50-yard-dash’. I’m surprised it didn’t kill me. The class I was sent to on this taught me all about the direness of (for me) this type of program and how to change my ways to that of the marathon runner. Though marathon running has it’s own difficulties, all in all, it turned out to be a much safer way to go in the ‘long run’.

The ‘Sober-For-Life’ race is a very long one – for me, since I got sober at 25, it could potentially last 60+ years (about 22,000 days). It is actually a marathon-like entity. So why shouldn’t I be running it like a marathon? I really believe that anyone who tries to run a marathon race like a 50-yard dash is absolutely doomed to failure. If I press and press so hard for wellness on the spot, and put all my energy to bear with no reserves for later, I will run out of energy before the race’s end. I will not make it. I have to pace myself.

So if I want to run this sober-for-life race like it was a marathon I need to look at what marathon runners do who know how to run marathons in a way that allows them to maintain to the finish line.

First of all they are disciplined. But even more than that, I believe the marathon runner practices the art of patience as strongly as he practices the art of running.

So he is “patiently disciplined’. He is; Disciplined in having; Patience in his learning to be; Disciplined.

He practices patience; that is cradled in the arms of discipline; Yet at the same time the discipline that cradles it, is softened in arms cradled – by what it cradles — patience.

The runner practices the patience; that is cradled in the arms of discipline;
And in the same time the discipline is cradled by the patience that it, itself cradles.

I’m sure you realize I practice patience in practicing my disciplines too – my growth is very slow but I have a little saying that I try to keep in my mind as I run my sober race:

“As long as there’s life – there’s hope”.

So these are the things I believe a marathon runner does and that I try to emulate in my program.

A} Regarding awareness of the extreme length of the race and the potential for feeling overwhelmed, the marathon runner knows it’s necessary to keep an awareness of the long range goal. It is a necessary piece of information that helps him maintain the discipline of keeping a steady pace in order to reserves the amount of necessary energy needed to finish the race (or milestone).

B} Yet also, he uses a mental technique – a patiently practiced discipline – which is to keep the race length idea sequestered to a small space in his mind and so prevent being overwhelming by it’s immensity; by the amount of time, work, and pain he must endure to get there.

C} While 10% of his thought is focused on the end of the race, the other 90% is focused on his needs for the moment. This is also a discipline. Also there are short term goals like making it from one water station to the next, which give him feelings of success that help propel him forward via a positive attitude.

D} Most of his awareness however, is focused on his basic needs for each moment of the race in order to maintain the constant pace necessary to carry him to the finish line. This is done through a determined, and patiently disciplined concentration on very simple things, patiently, disciplinedly done; moment-by-moment; footstep-by-footstep; one after the other. He keeps his mind on the simple needs for that moment. Meditating only on things that help the rhythmic pacing.

And he practices keeping his mind clear, simple and single minded, removing as much trash from his brain as possible. The patient discipline is: to focus on what needs to be done in it’s most simplest form moment-by-moment: working at balanced breath, feeling his legs and feet as they move him forward, moving his torso, head, neck and arms to his best advantage – patiently practicing maintaining this focus on these simple things – until he crosses the finish line.

Marathons are a lot simpler than sobriety I’m sure but I think sobriety is a lot simpler than a lot of people make it out to be also. For me, and this is only for me, sobriety is basically getting up in the morning; doing the first thing that needs to be done; touching base in with my teacher (I’m sober so I know I’m going to be either in a class or in recess). If it’s a class day then I try to get into the marathoner attitude and wait for what my teacher has in mind for me for each moment as it goes by, keeping as much excess ‘trash’ out of my mind as I can while (slowly) learning to practice meditating on peaceful/positive things as I slog through. If it’s recess, then I can do whatever I want, so just messing around reveling in the day and enjoying myself. Maybe a beach walk is in order.

From an outside view I may look like a terrible failure at it, but every day I try to do sobriety this way – a constant, simple program one moment at a time concentrating on what’s happening directly in front of me moment-by-moment, I try to flow through classes slowly and evenly, day by day, at a constant, regular pace so I don’t wear myself out. If I see I need something I try to fill the need. If I can’t and I’m stressing because of it ( a recent class on inventory showed plainly that almost all negative emotions can be threaded back to a fear) I know I must slow down the pace to even smaller increments (keep my mind even more present thinking even less about any future stuff) no matter what’s in front of me. I also learned (again, in an earlier class) that, at least for God’s people: ‘It’s amazing how life will wait – if it has no choice’.

I found that the world really does have to, and will, wait – if it has no choice. Also, our Higher Power really does look out for us with extraordinary care whether we believe in Him or not; He always keeps a safety net under me. He knows I have a long, hard marathon to run.

You may be thinking: “She doesn’t have to work like I have to. Life doesn’t demand from her like it does me.” But for most of my sobriety I was out there too. And while I was out there it was even easier for me to manage a marathon runner attitude. It’s just a patient discipline – practiced slowly and patiently. After the years started to pile up I found if I wanted to keep my sobriety, I couldn’t keep it doing it 50-yard dash style.

This 50-yard dash is about trying to be the best AAer of them all in the getting ‘well’ department – not sharing honestly with others about how you’re really doing. After a while you really begin to feel the loss of steam. But after a while, when you get a few years under your belt, people begin to get irritated with your ‘slow progress’. But if you keep slogging along, you get the time, while one by one they, in their frenetic dashing for ‘best AAer in town’ – loose their steam and drop out. You may not look so good to them – but you’ll say the course this way, and you’ll get the time.

This is an example of a time when I had to practice the discipline of having patience with myself for not having as much discipline as I wished I’d had. I did straggle through this milestone though and did manage to make it through sober.

 In 1995 at 15 years sober when we moved here to Santa Cruz.

It was a forced move. Though we knew the day would come (my husband’s health), our fear of it kept us in denial and when the day came we were completely unprepared. Because of handling it this way (denial: too much present focus and not maintaining that 10% future focus) many precious parts of my life were ripped from me and I wound up in horrible grief. And Santa Cruz turned out to be this crazy hemp smoking hippy place full of whacked out artists everybody doing ‘their things’; file clerk jobs garnered well near 200 applicants; and my husband was utterly unavailable with the pressure of his new, and it turned out enormously bizarre work place.

Even though I was pacing with as much patient discipline as I could, I still got gravely physically ill with ulcerative colitis and IBS. It took me down to the bottom of the pond for a good 5 years during which time I was: hospitalized 3 times; committed to a mental ward (where I tried to kill myself – my teacher -God- stepped in and stopped me); voluntarily committed myself to a mental ward (because I was such a danger to myself); and put on Social Security Disability. But I stayed sober which I chalked up to the small amount of pacing (taking it all in small bites of time) I was able to manage. I’d bent under the weight of suicide obsession since I was 5 years old but in this stress it became an immensely powerful enemy. God blessedly removed it May 7th, 1997 after which I dove into catatonic shock. But I was able to pace enough to get my feet back under me – just barely. Please don’t misunderstand me about pacing. Pacing does not magically float me to the finish line. It’s not meant for that purpose. I don’t think there is any floating that happens except when God steps in specifically to work a physical miracle. The pacing is used so I stay in one piece while slogging through a long hard class. It keeps me together, somewhat sane and sober so I can complete it. I don’t believe in magical recovery – at least that’s not been my experience with it anyway. When God has stepped into my messes it seems He did so because He realized I’d gotten into something so dangerous that He felt it necessary to step in to keep me from becoming a danger to myself. As to the pain and struggles of my marathon, that’s just a normal necessary thing I must endure for reasons I haven’t a clue. But when He steps in like He does occasionally, it shows me how much He cares for this little life. Has he stepped into your life this way? I bet so. In fact Stewart I heard a story of yours once that lets me know He has a soft spot for you too.
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Presents (this is a fun class)

The last thing, finally, I want to talk about is having joy.

I’ve always known my husband had many talents. I’d watch him and be amazed by what I saw. He is so gifted. But when I’d try to tell him what I saw he always pooh-poohed it as NBD (no big deal). If he can do it – then it must not be that hard. Then one day I was being very mad at him for using one of his gifts to ‘sell somebody’. To get someone to do something that he wanted them to do but which I thought was hurtful to them. This gift is really powerful yet it is frightening to watch as he wields it around willy-nilly like it’s a feather duster. He can lop people’s heads off with it but is in such denial about it’s power that he thinks all he’s doing is dusting their backsides.

Then it hit me. my husbands’ talents are not his – they are his Talents. They are gifts that were given to him.

And so I had this general idea of ‘gifts’ – presents. And started to consider what they were about.

Gifts that are given to someone are separate from the person they are given to. The receiver is one thing and the gift is another entirely separate thing. You can give a priceless pearl to a murdering psychopath who puts it in his pocket to use as he sees fit. The two can easily come together as one, yet the pearl will still maintain it’s high value and beauty and the murdering psychopath will remain the same as well. This talent is a gift God gave to my husband, and he is the flawed human being who was the lucky receiver of it. He has nothing to do with the quality of the gift except that he has possession of it, and say-so over it’s use.

The gift has nothing to do with him: who he is; where he comes from; or what he thinks of himself. The gift is – the gift. A beautiful, wondrous gift God had in his treasure box and decided to give to his son, my husband – just for him – to use and to enjoy – to add some light and brightness to his hard life.

And the bible says that God gave every one of us at least one of His gifts.

I was very frightened by my husband’s wielding his gift for what seemed (even though unaware) evil purposes. I told him this and finally got through . “Your gift has nothing to do with you! It has nothing to do with who you are, where you came from, or what you think of yourself!” He was able to disconnect his view of the talent from his feelings of personal human flawed-ness. He disconnected and disengaged the talent from himself as one identity and began seeing them as two separate things operating within his one body: him, his soul and spirit; and the talent, the perfect gift which God gave to him. He began looking at his truck-load of golden gifts from a whole new perspective and awed appreciation.

The bible tells us God gave every one of us at least one perfect gift.

Are you already aware of the gifts you got from God Stewart? Maybe you’re just humble because I don’t hear you talking about them. Maybe you have this awareness but are just not a horn-tooter.

So since I don’t know if you do, I’m going to continue on with the assumption that you don’t. Please forgive me if I’m wrong – and skip the next section.

You have at least one huge gift Stew. It’s so huge it boles me over. Do you realize this? Your gift has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with who you are, or where you came from, or what you think of yourself.” You carry it inside you, but it stands by itself. And because it’s a direct reflection of it’s giver there is nothing you can do to tarnish it or make it loose any of it’s magnificence. You can hide it under a bucket, ignore it your whole life – but it will never fade. The moment you let it out it will shine as bright at the sun – as though it were brand new. God’s presents never spoil or wear.

Although I am human and will never know another’s heart – my sense of you… Does one of your gifts possibly have anything to do around children or teenagers? Does this ring any crystal bells for you?

Of course one thing we do with gifts – bring them to our forlorn little planet that needs them desperately.

But another thing about gifts – presents – you play with them! They’re supposed to add joy to your life! I’ve discovered that one of the things I can do with the presents God’s given me is to play with them. I have two that I am aware of and I bring them from inside out into my physical experience and enjoy the heck out of them. God gives the best presents! He knows each of His children to the marrow and knows exactly what will be their heart’s delight – and that’s what He gives to us as presents. Unbelievable! When I get to play with my gifts it’s so much fun! I get such happiness so that my toes feel delighted – really! I feel so happy it goes through my whole body all the way to my feet! Ecstatic! And it’s not manic either (most of the time anyway); it’s ‘safe happy’. Another thing with the gifts is sharing them with others who have the same gifts or who appreciate the beauty and value of mine. This is a meaty and juicy experience like a good meal of steak & potatoes. Delicious! And even more, I get to play with others’ gifts too – if they’ll let me. If they realize their value and bring them out to enjoy, I can get gobs of joy just being around them. Gods’ presents make life good.

With Love,

Your AA Friend