Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Know Your Enemy, Know Yourself

I now teach two classes at the jail.  One is 'Understanding Addiction' and the other is 'Expressive Writing'.  I teach them back to back and so I decided to find a way to tie them together and this came to mind.

So it is said, that if you know your enemy and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself, nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

The Chinese general responsible for writing the book, The Art of War, which I have never read, BTW, is widely known for this quote.  I don't know why this quote came to mind but it did and so I used it and am now seeing that this was perhaps, divinely inspired.

The program for re-entry my class is a part of is primarily religious based ( a protestant denomination) and so when they handed me a packet with the twelve steps containing scripture to go along with each step, I was leery.

I am a good Catholic.  But, I have learned from my twelve-step program, that it is important to have a thorough understanding of what a power greater than MYself really means and to know who I think that POWER is.  Many of us worship our own illusion of power without ever realizing it.

Apropos to that last sentence, back when I was trying to cure and control the addictions of others, I read Gabor Mate's book, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts.  His insight is eye opening and radical relative to current ideas on addiction.  He introduces people with addictions and their stories.  Then he asks us to always ask the question, "not why the addiction, but why the pain."

That book helped me to look beyond the symptomatic behavior of addiction and to see the person instead.  To me, that is key.  It is an act of mercy to see every person and not just see their failings.  Father Greg Boyle, SJ often says that, we are more than the sum total of our worst mistakes or something along those lines.  (Sorry Father G if that is wrong).

I started using this book because when I ask how many in the class are addicts or alcoholics (this happens each and every semester) few raise their hands even though ninety percent in our county jail are there due to drug or alcohol charges.  I wanted them to have an accurate picture of addiction.

Addiction--or enslavement--is the ENEMY.

Now, for knowing thyself, I turned to Divine Therapy and Addiction.  This is a book by Father Thomas Keating OCSO and Tom S.  Tom S. interviews Thomas Keating about the twelve steps of AA and how centering prayer can aid each person in the task of learning who we really are.  He also takes an in depth look at happiness; what it is and where it can be found.

First of all, let me just say that each of these books is not for you if you are in the market for a fluffy beach read.  They are deep and thought provoking.  And, they are technical.  If the class weren't thrust upon me at the last minute, I might have prepared something different.  Something on a simpler level. 

You see, most classes whose curriculum is prepared with inmates in mind, targets the vocabulary at a sixth grade level.  And, many days, my students behave like middle school girls, looking out the window at any male inmate who happens to walk past our classroom.  They whisper and giggle.  Sometimes they try to shock me with sexually explicit discussions.  They become easily bored and so if you aren't really on, you have lost them.

I began my class by reading a few personal narratives from the addicts in Mate's book.  They were totally engrossed.  I picked some hard core addicts stories and some functional alcoholics and a few in between.

Then we read step one and talked about powerlessness. I didn't need to speak much about unmanageable, that part is easy to get.  But, powerlessness, takes time. 

Then we talked about step two: Came to believe that a Power, greater than ourselves..... This is where we talked about who God is to us.  How do we see him?  Do we actually trust him?  I told them that I had a really hard time trusting Him with my son, especially in the beginning....truth be told, I didn't trust him at all with my son.  They were shocked.  The church lady doesn't trust God and says so out loud--gasp!

God had their total attention for three hours.  I just sat there and followed His lead.  It was the most amazing gift to be a part of.  Their faces were like the symbol on your computer that lets you know it's searching for some request that you have made of it.  They would ask questions and you could see surprise or delight when maybe a connection was made.  If I meditate on the most amazing part of that class, it will have to be that when they started to buy in to what I shared, HOPE appeared.

For them and for me.

I realize now that I can only share my experience, my strength, my hope and my prayers for you and the Henry in your life and mine.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Keep your eyes fixed on where you're going."  Shouted Mr. Gray, an old cowboy who was trying to teach me to ride my horse, Bo. 

He would say this over and over again because, I was easily distracted.  "If  you keep your eyes fixed on your destination, he will head in that direction."  He said.

But, how will he know where my eyes are fixed, I wondered.  Mr. Gray continued as if knowing my question, " He can feel a fly on his back.  He will feel the slightest shift in your weight as you look around."

I began to learn that he was right.  If  I looked down at my feet, or looked at something to my left or right, he became distracted.

Today, Lucy, my little long haired dachshund, and I were out for our morning walk.  She was wandering more than usual, and I was wondering why she seemed so distracted.  Just as I began to think about why, the memory of those riding lessons came to mind.  So, I fixed my gaze on the path that I intended to walk, and like magic, Lucy straightened her path.

St. Francis of Assisi is attributed to the quote,

 "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words."

I began to understand how to preach the gospel, without opening my mouth through my twelve-step program.  I had to mind my own business--clean my own house, first.  I cannot force anyone to follow my lead.  But if  I examine my motives carefully and am purposefully seeking to follow the will of God, by attraction, others may follow.

 If I have my gaze fixed on the will of my 'power which is greater than myself--God', then my weight will stop shifting in all sorts of conflicting directions.  It will be clear that there is confidence in where I am going.

We went to a family funeral last weekend.  It was a hotbed of distraction.  There have been disagreements.  There is division to the point of some family members refusing to speak to others even in a place where a family should come together. 

It was so stressful that when I got home, I got physically sick.  Those family systems can be toxic.  It gets confusing.  How do you honor your parents if they try to force you to go against all that you believe in?

It is no wonder why we self medicate. 

I was so grateful to come home.  It is where I can slow it all down.  I can call on the Serenity Prayer and work on discernment.  Then, I try to do what I need to do to take care of myself...Today.  That is all that I need to figure out.

Prayer and meditation are wonderful gifts.  I can pray for guidance and through meditation, I listen.  God's grace floods my mind with all sorts of ideas and thoughts to help me understand; thoughts to remind me to stop looking around. 

"Fix your eyes" I can almost hear Him say.  And so today, that is where I will place my focus. 

Addiction gave me these tools.  I would not have them if it had not been for the difficult journey of addiction.  Out of difficulty, there is blessing.  Always.

I'm praying for 'the Henry's' in my life and yours.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Draw What You See

Sirens racing past.  Two police cars, another unmarked and one ambulance.  I'm picking up dinner as I see them pass, wondering what could be going on in our small town.  The ten o'clock news reveals that there is a hostage situation at our county jail.  It is the same county jail that I have volunteered at for the last five years.  It is where I will be in just a few short hours.

A local detective who has worked closely with animal control has been placed on administrative leave without pay, pending investigation of misconduct.  My husband has worked with him for years.  He has always respected him. 

In high school, I took an art class.  I wanted desperately to be an artist.  But, I could not draw.  I was a serious coloring book aficionado, growing up.  But, drawing left me frustrated.  In our very first class, the teacher gave us each a huge sketching pad and pencil, placed an object in the front of the room and said, "draw what you see." 

That was it.  As she walked around the room, I stopped her and said, "I just can't seem to do this."  She looked at me and smiled, "draw what you see."  And that is all that I got for the rest of the year.

It wasn't until I began to write and I was told, "Don't tell me, show me", that I started to understand my problem.  As I began to put on paper what I actually saw, separating it from the way that I felt, I realized how often I saw with my head instead of my eyes. 

What do I actually see?  How has my perception colored what is?

A friend posted her son's " one second movie" on Facebook.  There is an app where you record one second each day for a year and then it creates a movie from your collection of one second videos.  It was so interesting that I decided to buy the app and make my own movie.  My friend's son is a professional; not only was his movie very good, he made it look easy.

He pointed out that this app, helped him to look for the good in each day.  It's true.  I am more observant.  I am always on guard for that moment--a second that is worthy of interest. But, for me, it also helped me to see that a random moment probably isn't so random.

And, perhaps I am learning that what I see has many more layers.  And, separating what I see from what I feel has tremendous value.  Maybe that is why I write.  Maybe seeing with my head and my heart are just as important to the story.  Maybe that is why I have so many questions. 

As the mother of a recovering addict and alcoholic, staying in each moment and realizing that I can't "see" beyond what is within the scope of my vision or the confines of my heart and mind has given me tremendous freedom.  It also helps me to be responsible with my moments--my seconds of each day that all too often, I tend to take for granted.

This post may be a bit random.  But, sometimes these seemingly arbitrary moments won't leave my thoughts.   When that happens, I usually know that there must be a nugget of value in them.  Why did my mind tie advice from a high school teacher to yesterday's news and a friend's FB post? 

To me this is fascinating.  It is a part of why I love to write.  I hope that you will capture what is special about your day and unearth what the moment has for you to learn.

Feeling grateful for the lessons learned in recovery and this community.  I'll take time today to pray for Henry--yours and mine.