Don't Drift Away

I heard someone say that we don’t drift toward things that are good for us… rather, we tend to drift away from things that are good for us. For example, we decide to eat healthier, but after a while we begin to drift back into our old unhealthy eating habits. Or we make a budget and stick with it for a month or two, carefully keeping track of where our money is going. Without meaning to, though, we start to spend a few unbudgeted dollars here, a few there, and suddenly we’ve drifted away from carefully tracking where our money is going.

The point is, when we drift, we drift away from what is good rather than toward what is good. To maintain the good, the healthy, the prudent, the productive, the disciplined, or the desired things in our lives, we have to do so with intention and not just drift into it. When we drift, we move away from what we desire for our lives. When we drift, we lose the ground we’ve worked so hard to gain. When we drift, we end up in places we never intended to end up, oftentimes far from where we were once headed or where we intended to go.

So it is really a matter of “drift vs. intention.” We can live life just drifting along and we will get whatever we run into. Or we can live life with intention and have a much better chance of getting to a more specified, desired place.  If we want a relationship to work, we don’t just let things happen as they will; we must put in some effort. We must have some intention behind our actions. If we wish to become healthier, we have to have intention. We must intentionally make changes: eat better, exercise more, decrease stress, etc. It doesn’t just happen on its own. Drift is what happens when we leave things to chance. Intention, on the other hand, leads to action and change and it moves us in a specific direction.

When we get into recovery it may not be for the sole purpose of getting clean and sober. It may be because we are mandated by a judge to attend 12 Step meetings. It may be that our families have given us an ultimatum: get clean or get out. It may be that we are tired of the consequences even though we aren't sure we really want to quit. Most of us don't come into recovery with the pure intention of staying clean and sober and finding a new way to live. Eventually, if we stick around and decide that we do want to find a new way to live, these things do become our intention. Not so much at first, though. 

Once it is our intention to truly attempt recovery, to find a new way to live, to get and stay clean & sober, we start doing what we need to do to accomplish this. We go to meetings, we find a sponsor, we start working the steps with our sponsor, we get involved with service work, maybe chair meetings, attend group conscience, and eventually start sponsoring others. In the process, we get better... physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Relationships are mended. Careers are restarted. Maybe we go back to school or change directions in our careers. The possibilities become endless and the opportunities are wide-open. We are living with intention. 

But then something happens. We don't know why, but suddenly we aren't attending our regular meeting. We aren't calling our sponsor. We aren't calling anybody in recovery. We start isolating. We begin slacking off on all the things that were such a vital part of living life differently than we lived before. Our thinking changes. We get more negative. Maybe we stop doing whatever it is we found to nurture our spirituality. Or we stop taking care of our physical, medical, or mental health needs.We start to drift. 

The problem, though, is that the drift begins within us. It is not something that we announce. It may not even be something we know is happening when it first begins. We may start out with intention, but suddenly find ourselves drifting way off the course we set for ourselves. If we don’t have people in our lives that truly know us, that know us in an intimate, personal, authentic way, no one will notice as we begin to drift. This is why community is so important. This is why having a network or a family or a circle of friends is so important. This is why having a home-group is so important to our recovery. Having a home-group is not just claiming a particular group as your home-group. It is not simply signing your name to a list at the end of a meeting. It is about so much more than chairing meetings, making coffee, helping to clean up after the meeting, or holding a service position within the group. For sure, it involves all those things… but it is more. It is about having a group of people in your life that know you. It is about allowing people that you see and meet with regularly to get to know you on a level that you may not allow others to know you. It is about accountability. It is about giving others access to you.

Why is this so important? Because without it, when you start to drift, no one is going to notice. Remember, the drift begins within you. If you have no one in your life that knows you intimately and interacts with you regularly, who is going to know you are drifting? You might not see it for what it is until you’ve drifted way off course. Your home group members, people you trust and have allowed into your life, though, will see it immediately. They  will see that your attitude has changed. They will notice when you start missing meetings. They will notice when you stop sharing in meetings. They will notice when your actions don’t match up with your words. They will notice when you are not “yourself.” They will notice! And then they will question you, talk to you, ask you what is going on. And because of the authenticity of the relationships with these people in your life, you will hear them when they tell you that something is off. You will believe them when they point out things you can’t yet see. You will trust them when they come to you with concerns about your behavior. You will allow them to help you right your course, get out of the drift, and get back on the intentional course you have chosen.

Home-group membership, therefore, is about community. It is about accountability. It is about relationships. It is about staying the course. It is about mutual respect. It is about family. It is about living authentically. It is about friendships. It is about being part of a team or a cohort. It is about helping others. It is about allowing others to help you.  It is about “we,” rather than “me.”

Because, this... recovery... is, after all, a we-program. 

I'm Maze and I'm an addict.


Spiked Spine

Middle-of-the-night impromptu blog post:

I awoke from this dream moments ago. In it I was stopped by the police as I walked down Clayton street in downtown Athens with a spike (think: railroad tie) sticking out of my lower back, embedded in my spine. And even though they insisted I stand competely still and wait on an ambulance, the spike in my back wasn't why they stopped me to begin with. They stopped me because they believed I was drunk and in possession of drugs. While we waited on the approaching ambulance they wanted me to submit to a breathilizer and drug test. (I know, but its a dream so bear with them being so insensitive to my more pressing problem of that moment)

The ambulance came and I said I needed for them to wait just a few minutes while I stepped behind a building to get high before being put on a stretcher and transported to the ER for surgery. They told me one more step could paralyze me due to the position of the spike stuck in my spine. I told them I would take the risk and to please wait on me.

Then i woke up. You're probably thinking, "Well obviously that was just a nightmare. No one in their right mind would really take such a huge risk just to get high..." That would be insanity, right?

Right, no one in their right mind would make such a choice. It is an insane scenario. And, yeah it was a dream so perhaps a bit over the top in the details... but actually not THAT unrealistic when you're talking about addiction. My dream-self, hobbling along with a railroad tie jutting out of my back, didn't see the insanity of it at all. In fact, I'm willing to bet next year's salary that had I not woken up, and had the paramedics and police allowed it, I'd have slipped behind that building before getting into the ambulance. Pretty much guarantee it, actually. And I would have thought it a perfectly logical decision.

Step two: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I’m Maze and I’m an addict.


Jesus, Buddha, and Allah Walk into a Bar...

A friend who is not in recovery and not personally familiar with the 12 Steps asked me how the whole “God as we understand God” thing works. As in, Step 3: “We turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood [God] him.” How can a roomful of people meet regularly and discuss God (among other things) and not all be on the same page about who God even is? If one person defines God as Jesus, and the person to her left defines God as the Tao, and the person on her right isn't even yet sure he believes in God, how does that work?

It’s a good question. 

I don’t know that I have the definitive answer to the question, but I have my suspicions and my opinion as to how that works. And let me just say that I’m extremely grateful that it does indeed work as well as it does or I would have walked away many years ago… like, at the very beginning of the journey. Hey, wait, I did walk away several times - and it was largely because I thought “they” were telling me I had to believe in “their” God. I wasn’t interested in any group telling me what I had to believe about God. By the way, there truly is no “they” and no one has once told me that a) this is God and this is how you need to believe, or b) your belief in God is wrong. I find that incredibly amazing, given the fact that I’ve met thousands of recovering addicts and alcoholics in 12 Step programs, each with their own personal belief about God. Now, after the meeting, people gather with those who share similar concepts of God, I'm sure. But while in the meetings, for that hour, it doesn't matter.

There is a reading in Narcotics Anonymous called, “We Do Recover.” In the meeting I go to it is read at the end of each meeting. It goes like this: When at the end of the road we find that we can no longer function as a human being,  either with or without drugs, we all face the same dilemma:  What is there left to do? We can either go on to the bitter ends: Jails, institutions, or death, or, find a new way to live. In years gone by, very few addicts ever had this last choice. Today, we are more fortunate. For the first time in man’s entire history there is a simple way proving itself in the lives of many addicts. It is available to us all. This is a simple, spiritual – not religious – program known as Narcotics Anonymous.

That last line is the key. It is a spiritual program, not a religious program. There is a huge difference. Religions tend to dictate what you should believe, or at the very least, guide you toward a certain dogma or belief system. 12 Step programs do not do this. At all. In fact, the steps encourage every person to figure it out for themselves. That’s pretty much all the guidance you get: Figure it out. Well, and this: Step 2 says, “We came to believe in a Power Greater than ourselves who could restore us to sanity.” So one's concept of a Higher Power should be big enough for that. And there is this: Step 11 says, “We continued to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for the knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.” This reminds one of how important it is to maintain the spiritual connection that one has built. But that's it. Those are the instructions, those are the only 3 steps that mention God (or Higher Power) specifically (Steps 2, 3, and 11). The rest is up to the individual. I find that simplicity incredibly personal and altogether beautiful.

I’ve shared before that I tried using the God of my childhood, or the Higher Power of my parents, or the concept of God that someone else had formed, and it didn’t work. How could it, really? If I am going to rely on a Higher Power, on God, to keep me clean and fill the spiritual void that is left after I quit getting high – and probably the very void that I tried to fill in the first place once I started using drugs and alcohol – hadn’t I better believe in that concept of God that I'm going to be relying so heavily on? Hadn’t I better trust in that Higher Power? 

Since I kept hitting a wall as I came up on steps 2 and 3, the only thing I knew to do when I got clean this time around, since past attempts didn’t exactly work out for me, was to throw out every single thing I ever believed about God, every single thing I was ever taught about God, every single thing I thought I knew about God… and start from scratch. And that is what I did. In doing so, I discovered new concepts and theologies I had never been exposed to. I added back, slowly, over time, and with meticulous vetting, many things I was taught about God growing up, and I’ve left behind other things I once thought I believed, and I’ve left behind much of the new concepts and theologies I’ve learned along the way. It has been a long process, and it is a process that will never end. However, I am so very, very grateful that I found a safe place to do this because I don’t know that I would have had the courage or the determination to do it without the support and complete acceptance of others doing the same thing for themselves.

Most people in 12 Step meetings don’t talk in specifics when they talk about what they believe about God. What I mean by that is that most people don’t name their God when talking in meetings. They actually do share very specifically about what God means to them, what God does in their lives, how their Higher Power is evidenced in their recovery, and about the vital connection they have with God. But there is no need to give God another name, like Jesus, or Buddha, or Allah, or the Holy Spirit, or the Great Spirit, or the Tao. Naming God is not the point. Figuring out what I, as an individual, believe about God, is the point. And in the end – or for that matter, at the beginning and every step along the way from beginning to end - it all comes down to me and God, anyhow. 

That’s the difference between spirituality and religion, in my opinion. In religion, it usually matters very much what you believe and what I believe and in those similarities. In spirituality, unencumbered by any particular religion, neither the similarities nor the differences are going to influence me, demand anything of me, cause disagreement or tension, drive me away, or turn me off, because they just don’t come into the conversation during that safe, sacred hour during a 12 Step meeting. 

And for this reason, it works... it really does work.

I’m Maze and I’m an addict.


Circling Around God

“I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.”   –Ranier Maria Rilke
When I was young I went to Sunday school every week.  As I got older, I started going to church camp and various youth conventions with the church youth group. It seemed that many other children (and later, teens) didn’t have the questions about God that I did. Or perhaps they just didn’t ask them aloud, as I did. Still today, I question what others seem to accept so readily. Is it a lack of faith? Is it doubt? Is it an unquenchable thirst that nothing quite satisfies? I’ve never been able to say, “This is what I believe, without a doubt.” God has always seemed to be fluid and just out of reach, making it impossible for me to commit to any definitive, unchanging concept of God. Nothing is quite clear to me when it comes to spiritual matters. As a young adult, I studied philosophy and many various religions. Later still, once I got into recovery and began studying and applying the 12 Steps in my life, I adopted bits and pieces of all I had learned and incorporated those bits and pieces into my life: a good dose of Taoism, fragments of Buddhism, and the closest thing to a constant in my seeking: the ever-present foundation of Christianity.
For some reason, before “coming to believe that a Power greater than me could restore me to sanity” (Step 2), I believed that there was something wrong with my questioning, my uncertainty, that maybe there was something wrong with me.  I believed that unless and until I could solidly and completely, once and for all, claim something as spiritual Truth, latch on to some version or unchanging concept of God, then I was doing something wrong. I no longer believe this, though. I have come to realize, and accept, that I am a seeker. I will never stop questioning, never stop seeking, never remain stagnant, never be satisfied with what I can see on the surface. I accept that I will never, ever, ever have the answers to the questions. And that no longer feels wrong. In fact, it doesn’t even feel uncomfortable. As Rilke describes in the quote above, I know that I am destined to continue circling around God, circling around the Truth, looking at God from this angle today, and that angle tomorrow… and even if I were to circle for a thousand years, I still wouldn't know. And that is okay. That is more than okay – just ask Paul: “For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I have been known.”  –1 Corinthians 13:12
For me, the circling, the seeking God, is the one thing that is a constant, the one thing I know for sure, without a doubt, has been unchanging throughout my life.
I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Casting Off Gifts

I pulled what you put in me out… and sewed up your beautiful mouth.         
– Nathan Reich, The Dream Song

I have no idea what Nathan Reich meant by that line when he wrote The Dream Song. It doesn’t really matter. That’s the beauty of art – if it speaks to someone other than the artist, it has fulfilled its purpose. And if it speaks something else to the next person, and still something else to the next 4 or 40 or 400 people, then I’d classify it as a masterpiece.

What I hear: I pulled what you put in me out… At some point in time, you offered me something meaningful, something valuable, something I needed at that moment in my life. You taught me something, you guided me, encouraged me, possibly held me up until I was able to stand alone. I took that guidance or lesson or compassion you gave and it was integrated into my life. From that moment on, thanks to your offering, I was able to pull from what you gave me, from what you put in me, and it helped me through many situations and experiences that would have been impossible without your gift. Maybe our paths crossed for only a short time, but what you instilled in me has remained. But now, for some reason, I’ve discarded that gift from you that I’ve relied on for so long. I’ve found its source and cut it out. It’s gone and I knew exactly what I was doing it when I threw it away.  I sewed up your beautiful mouth… In fact, you can tell that I purposefully discarded your gift because after I did so, I completely tuned out any misgivings I had about doing so. I ignored those nagging thoughts, which strangely enough, perfectly mimic your voice. I don’t want to think about all I’ve gained from what you gave me. I don’t want to remember where I was before you put in me what I’ve now pulled out and abandoned. I know that if I don’t sew up your beautiful mouth, I will continue to hear your voice trying to sway me.

That’s what that line spoke to me.

Maybe you’re wondering why I would consciously discard something so obviously valuable. Why does anyone find a perfectly good solution and then choose not to use it?  Someone once told me that, “An addict is someone who finds something that works and then stops doing it.” I think the person who said that meant it as a joke. I think.

But the truth is, we do this all the time. And not just addicts – lots of people do this. Case in point: Weight Watchers. Assigning points to foods and then staying within a point range for your gender and current weight actually causes you to lose weight. The program works. I’ve done it before. I know it works. I’ve done it more than once. I know it works every time. But, for whatever reason, I stop counting points and decide to eat whatever I feel like eating. I had a goal, found the solution, applied it, and right in the middle of working the solution, decided to discard it. We do this with all sorts of things. We do it when we swear off credit cards, pay them off, and then end up maxing them out again a few months later. We do it a lot in January when we make New Year's resolutions. We feel great for a few weeks... okay, a few days... while sticking to the resolutions, but by the end of February we can't even remember what the resolutions were.Right in the middle of working the solution, we discard it.

Addicts do this all the time when they relapse. Maybe they go through treatment, get a good foundation for their recovery, go to meetings, build up a strong network of people, get 30 days clean, then six months, then a year… and then they stop going to meetings. Or they isolate and disconnect from their new relationships with others who have been a part of their lives for the last 30 days or six months or year. They just stop doing the very thing that got them where they meant to get. Then they relapse. Often, as they are disconnecting, they know they are disconnecting and they continue to do it anyhow. They even know what the result will probably be if they continue pulling away from what has worked to keep them clean. But they do it anyhow.

There have been many influential people in my life, people who have given me those offerings and gifts that have carried me through. There are even a couple people who have been so influential to me in some crucial way that sometimes their voices do come to me disguised as my thoughts… or maybe it is my thoughts disguised as their voices. Whichever it is, the point is I’ve been fortunate enough to have crossed paths with such people who continue to influence me long after they are gone from me, and yet I sometimes choose to pull out what they’ve put in me and sew up their beautiful mouths. Rather than being grateful for these gifts, I cast them off as if they are common and easily replaceable. And they are not. And I really should stop doing that. 


There Seems To Be This Alternative...

I’m 17 years old today, for the second time. The first time I turned 17, I was probably a little bit stoned. Or anticipating the moment I would be so later that day. Today is my “clean-time birthday,” which is November 24, 1997. In 1997, November 24th fell on Thanksgiving Day. The day before Thanksgiving that year was the last time I used. That automatically makes Thanksgiving a very special day for me, a day when I might have just a bit more gratitude than most. I am alive and I probably shouldn’t be. I certainly did a lot of things that could have (and should have) killed me. Plenty of others who did the very things I did have died. I’ve known quite a few. I’ve been to more funerals than I care to count.

A beautiful young woman, Krista , died three days ago. I sat in meetings with her for the past year or so. She had this! She was making it. And then she wasn’t. She left a nine-year old little girl to navigate life without her. She left so many, many people behind, people who loved her and embraced her and supported her. So many broken hearts in Athens-area recovery circles right now.

Two and a half years ago, my friend, Posey, decided he couldn’t try any longer. He shot himself in the chest. I miss him terribly. He was a beautiful soul who tried as long as he could, until he couldn’t any longer. He was so persistent in his struggle to get this thing, to make it. I hate, hate, hate that he gave up. I wish he would have called me. I might not have been able to say anything to change his mind, but I still wish he would have called me – or someone, anyone. He called me so many times before that, when he was on that brink, but not that last time. I’ll always miss him.

Twelve years ago, in 2002, another good friend, someone I got clean with, someone who meant so much to my recovery, someone else I miss still today, Jeff, also took his own life. My heart still hurts remembering him. He was so talented (musician), so kind, so spiritual, so connected, so real. He touched my life and left his mark, forever. Not even death can take that away, fortunately.

There have been others. Angie. I hate this disease. Bo. It doesn’t discriminate. Jane. It waits patiently, always in the background. Christine. So many others, too many others…

None of these people died so that I could live, so that I would “get it,” to keep me from returning to what I once thought was the only way I would ever get through life. None of them died in order for me to stay clean, in order for me to go on. But, because they died as they did, because I saw them in both the throes of active addiction and in the light of recovery, I will honor their memory and continue to carry the message of recovery to those still-suffering addicts who truly believe there is no other way.

Today, as I have been for most of the past 6209 days, I am grateful to be alive.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.



“There is a crack, a crack in everything… that’s how the light gets in, that’s how the light gets in.”                – Leonard Cohen

                                                                            Statue by Paige Bradley, "Expansion"

Why is it so hard allow others to know when I’m struggling? I don’t think it is a conscious decision to hide my pain or my anger or my despondency from other people, but it is something I’m very good at, and therefore, this leads me to conclude that I’ve had a lot of practice hiding my truth. Early in recovery, I had no problem walking into a roomful of friends and strangers and laying it all out there.  I didn’t sugarcoat what I was feeling or thinking, where I was emotionally, mentally, spiritually. I shared the raw truth, unconcerned about what others thought of it, of me, knowing that in doing this I was going to have a fighting chance to make it one more day – one more day clean, one more day hopeful, one more day living.

But something changed and I don’t know when that happened. It was a subtle change. The more time I stayed clean, the further I got away from the unmanageable emotions of early recovery, and the less authentic I became when I shared in meetings. I began saving much of what I once shared freely in meetings to share privately with my closest friends or my sponsor. Eventually, I stopped doing even that and just kept the raw thoughts and feelings to myself.  Rather than share my truths in meetings, I shared what I thought I was supposed to be sharing.

What does that even mean? “What I’m supposed to be sharing?” There is no such thing as supposed to in the therapeutic value of one addict helping another. The whole concept of that therapeutic value is based in honesty and in identification. If I am not sharing my truth, how can another addict, a struggling addict, identify with me? And without that identification, the therapeutic value of one addict helping another completely breaks down. There is no value in me being less than brutally honest about where I came from, what I did, how I got here, how I felt, how I feel, what I need, what I fear, what I lack, what I’ve gained, how I got through, how I struggle to get through, how I barely manage to hang on sometimes, still, no matter how many clean days in a row I’ve managed to string together. There is no value in reciting clichés and sharing only what I’ve read or heard in the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous. That is sharing someone else’s truth, not my own.

One cliché I’ve heard so many times is, “share the solution, not the problem.” But what if I don’t have the solution, what if I don’t know what the solution is to whatever it is I’m experiencing? Talking about what is real, what is going on in my head and in my life, is what has allowed me to develop coping skills. If I don’t put it out there, I will never hear how others got through this – whatever this is at any given moment – I will never hear the experience, strength and hope of someone who made it through this without getting high. Before I started this recovery journey, I didn’t have many natural coping skills. Mine were chemical coping skills. Whatever situation came up in life, I knew of some chemical or herbal remedy that would get me through. Stripped of my chemical coping skills, I was an emotional and spiritual wreck. By being authentic and honest in what I share with others, and then listening to their experience,  I am then able to learn all those coping skills I should have learned in my formative years, when instead, I was getting high. Learning how to cope with the big stuff and the day-to-day stuff is impossible if I don’t talk about that stuff.

In the book, Living Clean, there is a section called, “Desperation to Passion” on page 16, and there it says, “It can feel wrong or embarrassing to be struggling to keep the light on in our own recovery when we think we are supposed to be carrying the message to others. The responsibility we feel to carry the message can serve as an excuse not to share the truth about our lives. But without the truth, we have no message at all. And when we are not open, it’s hard for the light to get in.”

And for me, that brings it back to what Leonard Cohen penned in his song, Anthem:  “There is a crack, a crack in everything… that’s how the light gets in, that’s how the light gets in.” Hiding my truth not only snuffs out the message of recovery that I can potentially help bring to another suffering addict, but covering up the cracks in my own interior world blocks the message of recovery from seeping in and shining its healing light on my own broken spirit. And truly, without that healing light, I have no message at all. 

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


The Edge

The Edge is a rusty blade that rests against the gears within me.  Most of the time the blade stays in place, slowly churning with the movement of the gears.  Sometimes it jumps off the track of a gear momentarily, causing a nick here and there, or a grinding screech, but quickly settles back into place against the next gear.  Every once in a while, though, the blade jumps violently off its gear and swings erratically in front of or behind the gears, sometimes with such force that the blade crosses the boundary of the core, the center space where the blade must never penetrate.  There is no threat of this happening when the blade remains against the gear or just jumps slightly off track momentarily. There is pain, but it is bearable.  However, when the blade jumps completely off the gear track and swings freely within me, the pain is so great and the slicing so deep that I panic in desperation to slow it down to a speed that makes it possible to nudge it back onto the track of a gear. As it swings, it slices, which is painful enough in and of itself, but it is when the momentum of the swinging blade persistently and continuously crosses into the center of me, momentarily slicing and blocking and filling up the core that causes the most damage.  The boundary of the core needs air and light; it needs to remain open and free at all times.  That is why there are gears, to keep moving parts away from that center core.  Only that which is potentially eternal and necessary can claim space in the core, and such things are fragile and vulnerable and easily destroyed by the slices of the rusty blade.

The desperation to stop the swinging blade comes from the fear of losing those core pieces that are housed in the center, of losing the potentially eternal gains I’ve made in this life.  These things are extremely precious and hard to attain… yet easy to lose before becoming truly eternal and permanently embedded in my soul.  That which remains in the core when I leave this life is all I can take with me.  If the blade destroys even one of these things, it affects my journey, my fate, my path.   

Sometimes I think of the Edge as my depression, for this has the power to destroy the spiritual truths I have learned and am working to refine in this life so that they might become eternal. 

My depression is destructive because it causes me to forget that there is meaning and purpose in everything that happens in life.  It convinces me that there is more pain and heartache in life than joy and contentment, therefore it forces me ask myself why I bother to stick it out for however many years I have left.  It tries to convince me that it would be easier to start over, and fresh.  It injects boredom into everything I do, especially those things that I love and need.  It blocks out many of the hundreds and thousands of tiny moments of enlightenment that come over the course of a day, a week, a month, a year.  It makes me feel heavy and cold and hateful, irritable and impatient and cynical.  And once it has destroyed all the truths I once held within me, it convinces me that the work required to regain such truths is too much, too long, too painful. 

Sometimes I think of the Edge as my addiction, because this is the most vulnerable part of who I am.  It feels as if my addiction has this same power to wipe out the spiritual truths within my soul or my core because my addiction is the fastest route to depression.

My addiction is cunning and subtle and, unlike depression itself, extremely attractive.  The feeling of momentary escape, the thought of being high is never something I abhor or don’t long for, even when my active addiction is dormant.  When my recovery is strong, when my bank is full, when my tools are arranged and visible, when I can clearly see what is beyond that initial satisfaction of the longing, when my center is overflowing with potential eternal truths ready for refinement, the longing to get high is further in the background, but still there, always there. 

When the Edge blade is methodically turning on the gears, the deep longing is manageable and distant.  When the blade jumps its track and quickly finds it again, these are the times I draw on what it within that core to fight back the longing.  But it is when the blade has jumped the track and swung so far out of alignment that the gears cannot recapture it – it is at these times that the damage to the spiritual truths in the core is extensive.  It is at these times that the deep longing to alter my mind, my brain, my very self, is nearly impossible to resist. 

And this is the Edge.  This is the cause of the desperation.  This is what I am unsure how to fight.  This is the answer I seek, always: What do I do to put the blade back onto the gears before the destruction is extensive… or total?  

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Burning Down The House

This morning I drove to work in the fog. I like driving in the fog. I actually just like foggy weather, in general, whether I’m driving or not. So this morning, I turned on my GoPro camera… er, actually it was my iPhone camera, but I wish I had a GoPro camera (Christmas hint/wish) … and I recorded a video of driving into the fog this morning and posted it on my facebook page with this caption:

I like fog. It’s nearly opaque at times, yet it always holds the promise of eventual transparency.

That, in turn, spurred these initial comments…

Jan  Heavy!

Maze  Too heavy for 8 AM on a weekday? Haha

Jan  Yea you crazy girl!!! I love and miss you!

LeAnne  Unless you run off into the ditch before it clears. Just sayin’. LOL

LeAnne  But that’s what rumblestrips are for right?

Maze  to take it to another level, deeper even, running off the road into a ditch has the potential to bring the ultimate transparency…”for-now-we-see-through-a glass-dimly-but-then-face-to face-now-I-know-in-part-but-then-I-will-know-even-as-I-am-known,” and all that.

Maze Yes,LeAnne, that is EXACLTY what rumblestrips are for!

Maze I feel a new blog post forming out of this morning’s fog.

…which brings us today’s blog. On fog. And fire and clarity and the decision-making process.

Most of the time, when faced with choices, things feel a bit foggy. I don’t usually have a whole lot of clarity when it comes to the initial phases of making decisions. There are times I make decisions on impulse, of course, but if the decision is going to change something significant in my life or affect others or have obvious ripple-effects in my little personal puddles, I like to have  a bit of time to process the options before making the decision. This often leads to procrastination and putting off making the decision at hand, but that’s a subject for another day.

A rather minor decision I’ve been processing the past few days is whether or not to buy a real Christmas tree or pull the artificial one down from the attic. Not a life-altering decision, necessarily… unless I opt for the real one and then forget to water it and it dries out and the lights end up sparking a fire on the dry, thirsty branches and maybe I’m not home to put out the fire and the fire ends up burning my house to the ground. That would be more than slightly life-altering. But on the surface, at this stage of the decision-making process, I’d classify the decision to go with the real tree or the artificial tree as a minor one. Obviously, though, even minor decisions could result in major consequences down the road a ways.

Another decision I had to process recently concerned my position at work. This was definitely a decision that carried more weight than the Christmas tree dilemma I am facing at the moment. The decision was to stay in my current position (regional level) or move to a supervisory position for a newly-forming unit at the state level. Even though there was a whole lot of fog and very little clarity around these choices, the deadline to apply loomed and I decided to go for the new position. I sent in my resume and was called about an interview within a few days. The interview was set up for a Monday morning. Once the interview was set up (about a five days prior to that Monday morning), I noticed I was becoming more and more irritable and my mood had taken a nose-dive. I spent the weekend prior to the interview re-accessing my decision and came to the conclusion that I made the wrong decision, that I actually had no desire to do the job that I applied for and was about to interview for. In fact, once the fog started clearing that weekend, I realized that the program that I’d be supervising, if hired for the new position, was the very program that causes me so much stress in my current position, and furthermore, the work I currently do for that program in my current position would no longer be part of my workload once this new unit was off the ground because that work would shift to the newly-formed unit that I’d potentially be supervising. The fog had lifted. Clarity, at last. I called the person I was to interview with and told him I’d changed my mind. As soon as I did that, I was flooded with relief, my mood did a 180, and I was not the least bit irritable any longer.

When I was driving in the fog this morning, I thought about that decision and about how clear the right choice was for me as I drew closer and closer to experiencing the consequences of the decision. While on the road this morning, as I was viewing the fog before me, it was beautiful, somewhat opaque, with a hint of transparency. I could see the fuzzy outlines of the trees and signs and buildings ahead, but until I got right up on those trees and signs and buildings, these things were not at all clear. They weren’t formless, but they were entirely without detail. At one point, I noticed the form of a farm house ahead, framed by tall trees with a barn set several hundred feet behind it – and it was a beautiful scene. Once I was right up on the house, without the haze of the fog distorting my vision, I saw that the house was actually nothing but a shell of a house. Once I was close enough, I could see that the farm house had suffered a fire and was blackened and gutted. There was yellow tape wrapped across the porch of the house, warning of the danger of collapse. Quite a different view than the one I had seconds before. And nothing except my perspective changed. Nothing was different except the fog was no longer masking the truth of the situation.

Sometimes, if I talk (or write) enough, I come up with the clarity I need to make whatever decision I’m weighing at the moment.

Like right now, about the Christmas tree.

My unintentional segue from the dilemma about whether to get a real tree this year into the decision about the recent job opportunity into my metaphor of the burned-up house in the fog makes me think I should go with the artificial tree, thereby reducing the possibility of adding another burned-out house to the landscape.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Is That A Joint?

Eleven years and eleven days ago, I smoked a joint. That was the last time I used marijuana. I quit using all other drugs, including alcohol, seven or eight weeks prior to smoking that last joint. Now, there have been times during these last eleven years when I've really wanted to smoke some pot. Like, I mean, really wanted to. Bad. But I didn't. As with the other drugs I used on a daily, or near-daily basis, I believed total abstinence was the way to kick it. I had tried to quit countless times, only to later decide I could drink just one or smoke just one or snort just one and that would be the end of it; I wouldn't feel the need to go out and find more and more and more and more and more and then a whole bunch more.

So, eleven years and eleven days ago, I decided that was it. Every day since then, I've re-made that decision. The days have added up. I went from wanting a drink or wanting to get high every day to wanting that every few days, then once or twice a week, then a few times a month, and before I knew it, there'd be these long stretches of weeks between cravings. Later still, there'd be months between cravings. Then the cravings pretty much disappeared - well, almost. Once or twice a year, I'd get a strong urge to partake of some mind-altering chemical concoction, but I wouldn't follow through on the urge. Most times, I didn't even consider those incidents as actual "cravings" any longer - just urges.

I had the day off today. I decided to drive to the mountains a couple hours north of where I live and shoot some pictures. I love the mountains and I love bare trees and frozen rivers. I put on my leather jacket, but when I walked outside, it was cold. Since I knew I'd be spending most of my time out of my car and in the woods or on the riverbank, I ran back into the house and grabbed a heavy coat from a closet full of jackets and coats, many which haven't been worn in many years. This particular one didn't actually ever belong to me, but it looked warm and I grabbed it. An hour into the drive, I reached my hand into a pocket of the coat where I had dropped some Nicorette gum (yeah, I'm still not smoking a year later, but I'm still chomping on Nicorette several times a day) and pulled out the Nicorette and a joint.

What the hell? Where did this come from? Who's jacket was this? I don't even know. I didn't even really care. I just knew I was holding a joint. Actually, it was about three-quarters of a joint, but a joint nevertheless.

I held it up to my nose and smelled the marijuana through the paper of the joint. It smelled good. I breathed it in deeply several times. I checked the pockets of the coat for more, but that was all there was. I kept driving, holding the joint in my hand against the steering wheel. I was trying to figure out what to do with it. From the time I was 13 or 14, until I was 34 years old, I smoked pot nearly every day of my life, several times a day most days. I smoked it through high school, through college, through various jobs, through everything. Being high became my "normal." After I quit smoking pot, it took a couple years until not being high felt normal.

My "new normal" thought patterns left me and I started thinking like an addict in active addiction. Me, driving along, trying to figure out what to do with it, suddenly made me laugh out loud. What to do with it?? Like, I didn't know? Ha! I thought.

I started having a conversation with myself in my head: I know what to do with it. I know exactly what to do with it. I'll light the damned thing. I'll just light it and see how it smells. Maybe I'll just light it and I won't actually take a toke. I'll just smell it.

Yeah, right, Maze. Like that would ever happen. If you light that thing, you're taking a toke, and if you take a toke, you'll take another one and another one until it gone. Then what?

Maybe that'll be the end of it. Maybe I'll just keep that little secret all to myself and never tell anyone and go on with my life like it never happened. I mean, come on, it's just marijuana. It's not like I found a bag of cocaine or anything. Who will ever know?

I will. How will I be able to sponsor others who are new in recovery with such a secret? How will I be able to face those who depend on me, my children, my family, my friends, my clients? How will I be able to sit in meetings every Monday night and share about recovery or listen to others sharing about their recovery, all the while living with this lie? And who the hell am I fooling? How long do I think I'll even continue attending my Narcotics Anonymous meeting if I smoke this? A week? A month? Then I'll decide I got away with once, why not get some more and keep it stashed somewhere so I can do it again... every once in a while? Not often, not every day, just every few weeks or so.

And just when did you ever smoke dope that infrequently? You'll stop going to meetings in a couple of weeks, buy a bag of pot, then you'll be smoking it every day. Then, since you're doing that, you'll figure you might as well buy some Kalhua, Bailey's, and Vodka and make some Mudslings and White Russians this holiday season. Isn't that your favorite time of year to drink? Oh, nevermind, I forgot it didn't really make a damned bit of difference what time a year it was... you just liked to drink, period. The Mud Slings and White Russians were your Winter Drink, but you had the other seasons covered, too. Don't forget that.

Oh, and you have cirrhosis of the liver, so drinking alcohol would be a real bright idea now, wouldn't it?

Oh yeah, I forgot about the cirrhosis. Damn, how could I forget that?

Well, maybe you'll just bypass the alcohol and when you get bored with the pot, you can buy a few grams of cocaine. You can't really afford more than that, so that means you'd buy that first little bit and then you'd have no choice in the matter because you'd be out of money so you wouldn't buy any more than that.

Yes, that stopped me in the past, didn't it? I had less money when I used it everyday, but I still somehow found the ways and means to get more....

Why don't you just shut the hell up and pick up the cell phone and call somebody, tell them what is going on?

Hey, good idea.

So that is what I did. I called a friend in recovery, someone I've known for ten years. I didn't give her any details at first, I just said, "Trace, tell me to roll down my window and throw this thing out." She said, "What thing?" I said, "I'll tell you in a minute, just tell me to do it." So she did. And then I did. I rolled the window down and threw the joint into the wind. It is lying somewhere on Highway 441 in the North Carolina mountains. I told Trace what was going on, and I felt better when I hung up the phone. Then I started feeling really sad. Then I was crying. Why was I crying? Why was I sad? Why, after eleven years and eleven days did I react as if I instead had eleven hours clean? Does it ever stop?

No. It actually doesn't. My brain has been permanently altered. That's a fact, backed up by science, studies, MRI imaging, etc.  Thankfully, things like this don't happen frequently, but they do happen at least once a year, sometimes two or three times a year. Yet it always takes me by surprise. Always. At Thanksgiving, someone asked me why I still went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings after eleven years of being clean. I wish that person could have been inside my head, or even in my car today. That would have answered their question better than any words I could ever use to explain it to someone. I think, in answer to this person's question, I said something along the lines of: It is sort of like a bank account. If I keep writing checks on my bank account and never make any deposits, eventually (really quickly, actually) I'm going to start bouncing checks. Bounced checks will cause some very big problems in my life. Same with meetings. What I do to maintain my recovery is my spiritual and emotional bank account. Going to meetings, working on myself, living my life according to spiritual principles are all like deposits. When I'm confronted with a desire to get high or take a drink again, I'll have something to draw on, I'll have that reserve in the bank, and that means I'll have a better chance to resist such urges. If I don't resist, if I have nothing to draw on in such times, a return to active addiction is going to cause some very big problems in my life.

It probably didn't make much sense to that person, but it is an answer I've given before so I went with it. I didn't really even think much about it.

Until today.

Today that answer wasn't just an explanation, words strung together to answer a question... no, today, that was pure reality. I am thankful I've been consistent with the deposits because I sure drew on the reserves today.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Hold On

I once heard a Pueblo blessing:

Hold onto what is good, even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold onto what you believe, even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold onto what you must do, even if it is a long way from here.
Hold onto life, even when it is easier letting go.
Hold onto my hand, even when I have gone away from you.

It has been many years since I first heard it, but I've never forgotten it. When I heard it that first time, and every time since, it spoke my soul. If you have ever heard or read words that speak your soul, you know just what I'm talking about. Sometimes it happens with a song lyric or a poem or a scripture or a story. It can even happen with a score of music or a painted canvas. The language of the soul does not need words, or even sound. You hear something, or read something, or see something, and it feels as if someone has taken a crowbar and pried you open to steal what is inside of you.

Hold onto what is good, even it it is a handful of earth.
There are times when it is hard to see the good all around you. Tragedy and chaos can come down hard and so suddenly that you're left reeling and disoriented. Things look bleak, you feel bleak, you wonder how everything got so bad, so quickly. The saving grace in such times is hope, no matter how small that hope may be. Hope can spring from the tiniest bit of gratefulness, from the least amount of good... the horse in the pasture, a child's giggle, a puppy chasing his tail, the scent of a fresh cut lawn, the smile of a stranger, or the handful of earth between your fingers.

Hold onto what you believe, even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
There are times when you may feel lost and without purpose. Where there once was certainty, now you feel only confusion. Something might happen, something that shakes the foundation of everything you thought you knew. Somebody you love dies. Somebody you thought you'd have forever walks out of your life. Or maybe you just look around at all the chaos of the world and begin to question your long-held belief in a god you've never doubted. There seems to be no purpose and no meaning. Where you once felt faith, you now feel empty. Faith is still there, only eclipsed for the moment, awaiting your return...observe the cycle of the sun and the moon, dig out that poem your child wrote to you when he was 7, walk into a church of unfamiliar creed or denomination and sit quietly in the back with your eyes closed, or look out the window and up the hill to the tree that stands by itself, where it stands every time you look out that window and up that hill.

Hold onto what you must do, even if it is a long way from here.
The natural cylce of human development takes you from total dependence on others to total independence. Your life begins connected, quite literally by an umbilical cord, to another human being. You are born, the cord is cut, but still you are totally dependent on others for your very survival. For many years, you struggle to break free, while at the same time running back to the comfort and safety of others. Eventually you do break free, you must. You become self-sufficient, independent, enough. You could move to a desert island and survive on your own, forever, until your death. You are enough for yourself. Don't hold onto what you no longer need, even if that means you must travel a long way from here, from where you have always been.

Hold onto life, even when it is easier letting go.
Our days are filled with joy and pain, not always in equal measure. When the pain overshadows any joy you may feel, when grief is stacked upon grief for days or weeks or even months on end, you may feel like giving up, checking out, letting go. And why not? How can you know if things will improve, if joy will return, if your grief will ever subside? Hold on and joy will return. All of life is a cycle. Grief subsides as joy returns. Without darkness, there'd be no light. Hold on for the return of joy, for it is certain to emerge again. Hold on for the light that comes around as the cycle of darkness fades. Hold on, even when it feels easier letting go.

Hold onto my hand, even when I have gone away from you.
People come in and out of your life. Some you may be glad to see go, but more often, you'll long for those who have come and gone from your life. If you accept that everyone - every single person - who passes through your life is your teacher, you'll better understand their departure. If you remember that those you've loved, then lost, have left a piece of their essence with you, you'll know they have not really left you at all. If you can hear their words in your memory, see their face in your mind, feel their touch in your soul, then they will eternally hold your hand.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Not The End, Just a Continuation: Step 12

Step 12
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

After so much time between my last drug, my last drink, and today, why bother going to Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings any longer? I mean, seriously, haven't I got this recovery business wrapped up nice and pretty after ten years? Is it really necessary to keep going to these meetings and hearing the same things over and over, year after year, month after month, week after week?

When I first started down this road, I went to a meeting every day. I did that for four or five months. Then for the remainder of that first year, I went at least four or five times a week. As the years began to build up, I went less and less. Now, most weeks, I go to just one meeting. There have been times I thought I could just stop going all together, but after a couple of weeks, my thinking gets skewed. For some reason, it is very easy for me to "forget" I'm an addict. I start entertaining ideas of controlled using or controlled drinking. Or my thinking might become skewed in the way I handle things that are going on in my life. My weekly meeting allows me a safe place to process things with people I trust. So, the number one reason I continue going to meetings is for myself. I need what I get from my meeting. It is my ongoing maintenance to deal with the disease of addiction. I get sick without the maintenance.

The second reason I continue attending meetings regularly is to "carry the message." When I walked into my first meeting, there were people in that meeting that had more than a day clean - which is all I had. There were people there with a month clean, three months clean, a year clean, ten years, twenty years clean. If they hadn't been there to not only guide the way and share their own experiences with me, I wouldn't have stayed clean. I'd have lost hope. So, "carry the message" is simply offering hope to those who are seeking a way to get and stay clean. Carrying the message means I will continue to show up and offer up my own experience to those who don't know how to put together a day - or even an hour - clean and sober. Carrying the message does not mean I go out and recruit addicts still active in their addiction, dragging them to a meeting and cramming something down their throats. Carrying the message is very simple... all I have to do is continue doing what I need to do for myself and allow others to know who I am and who I was and who I am becoming.

Another reason I continue on in recovery and attend meetings is to learn better how to "practice these principles in all my affairs." Remember the principles associated with each of the steps... the honesty and integrity and willingness and acceptance and courage and hope and faith and love and all the other principles provided through working those other eleven steps? Living those principles in every area of my life takes practice. It takes reminders. It takes seeing how others do it and seeing what works for me. It is so easy to fall back into hopelessness or try to get through tough situations without any faith or courage. It doesn't take much to lose my willingness to go on. I can quickly fall back into being dishonest with myself and with others. My weekly dose of recovery, via that weekly meeting, is my GPS for continuing to move toward the place I wish to go, the person I strive to be.

"Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps...."
Learning to live these spiritual principles, and apply them in my life, that is the spiritual awakening of the 12th step.

"Carrying the message..."
Allowing others to witness the unfolding of my life, that is the only way I know to carry the message of recovery.

"Practice these principles..."
Living a principled life - with my family and friends, in my work, in all that I do - that is what it has been about, that has been the journey, and that is how and why I remain on this path of recovery.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Step 11: Conscious Contact

Step Eleven
“We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for the knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”
(Spiritual principle associated with this step: Awareness, Connectivity)

On the surface, this step seems to be the most "religious." When I first read it I thought, "I'm never doing that one; I've had enough religion in my lifetime." By the time I worked steps one through ten, I had a different understanding of step eleven.

For me, this step has been about deepening my awareness to that which makes me feel most connected. By connected, I mean 'spiritually connected.' It is that thing you feel when you drive in the mountains or stand on the shore at the ocean, when you don't think about what you're seeing, but you experience it. When you're standing there in front of the ocean or in the valley surrounded by mountains, it is that knowing you experience, that absolute and all-encompassing knowledge that you are nothing in comparison to the universe, and at the same time, you are very much an integral part of it.

'Spiritually connected' means knowing I have a place in the universe even if I can't find that place. It means knowing there is purpose and meaning even when I have no idea what that purpose or meaning is.

'Spiritually connected' means conscious contact with a god of my own understanding. Everyone has their own way to improve their conscious contact, their spiritual connectivity. The longer I live, the more ways I discover to deepen my conscious contact. I find it in music and art. I find it when I walk alone along the river or through the woods. I find it in conversations with children. I find it in what I read and what I write. I find it when I paint. I find it in conversation and in silence. I find it in intimate relationships, some sexually intimate relationships and all emotionally intimate relationships. I find it in recovery meetings and sometimes in churches. A couple months ago I discovered I find it ten feet under the water at the pool where I'm engulfed in silence and very connected to my non-breathing self. Now when I go to the pool, I can't stop going under water. I love discovering new ways of improving and deepening my conscious contact, my spiritual connectivity.

The rest of the step falls into place when I can deepen that conscious contact. The praying for the knowledge of God's will and the power to carry that outpart of this step occurs naturally for me if I'm developing that awareness and deepening that conscious contact. See, when I'm doing that, when I am connected to the moment, in the now and nowhere else, that in itself is my prayer for knowledge and power. Just being, that in itself is the only true way I know to pray.

Many Narcotics Anonymous groups use a 'reading' (as part of their meeting format) called, We Do Recover. It is one of my favorite readings: When at the end of the road we find we can no longer function, either with or without drugs, we all face the same dilemma. What is there left to do? There seems to be this alternative: either go on as best we can to the bitter ends - jails, institutions, or death - or find a new way to live. In years gone by, very few addicts ever had this last choice. Those who are addicted today are more fortunate. For the first time in man's entire history, a simple way has been proving itself in the lives of many addicts. It is available to us all. This is a simple, spiritual - not religious - program known as Narcotics Anonymous.

I especially like the last line. I am put off by organized religion, but I crave spirituality. I confused the two - religion and spirituality - for most of my life. I think I got a glimpse of the difference when I watched my mother lose her fight to cancer. I always thought of her as religious - and perhaps she was - but in her final years of life, and especially in the the final months of her life, I saw her spirit as I never had before. I saw her spirtuality beyond her religion. Dogma and doctrine took a backseat to love and connecting with the people she loved and the beauty of the world around her that she so loved. The closer she came to death, more and more of her spirit-in-the-raw came through. It was an amazing thing to see, one I will never forget, and the pivotal point for me in my own spiritual journey...

... which brings me to a spiritual truth (for me) that has, in essence, become my Higher Power, my Truth with a capital T: Everything that happens, every, single, individual thing that happens has a purpose within it. I often miss the lesson, don't find a purpose, even deny that there is reason within the things that happen in my life, but nevertheless, deep down, at the center of my spirit, in my core... I know there is purpose in and around all things. Using my mother's death as an example of purpose: My mother didn't die so that I could learn a spiritual lesson, but because she died I had the opportunity to learn a spiritual lesson - probably several. There is a difference there and that difference is the foundation of my concept of spirituality.

And within this concept I nurture my spiritual conscious contact, thereby carrying out what some deem as "God's will," but what I prefer to call "living the Tao."

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


A Life Uncommon

Set down you chains
And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom
No longer lend your strength to that
which you wish to be free from
Fill you lives with love and bravery
And we shall lead a life uncommon.

-Jewel, Life Uncommon

It has been years since I heard the song, Life Uncommon, by Jewel. Last weekend I came across a box of CD's that I forgot I had. There were about 30 CD's in the box, including three Jewel CD's. I took the whole box of them and put them in a CD case and put them in my car. I've been listening to new music - that is actually old music - all week long. And let me tell you, I've been jammin' out and rackin' up some soul satisfaction. Most of the CD's in the box come from nine or ten years ago, a time of great and profound change in my life.

When I first got into recovery, I made a list. When I wanted to get high, I had to complete all five things on my list before doing so. It was a little game I played with myself. I had a lot of experience getting clean, but very little experience staying clean. I was trying to come up with a roadblock - a rumblestrip, if you will - to deter myself from getting high just because every fiber in my being was screaming at me to do so.

Here was the list I made:
1. Call somebody in recovery and tell them what I'm thinking about doing.
2. Buy a CD and listen to every song on it.
3. Buy a roll of film, take all 24 pictures, take it to a one-hour developer, wait for the pictures, take them home and create a collage of some sort using at least half of the pictures.
4. Go to the next scheduled NA or AA meeting in town.
5. Go see somebody in recovery and tell them what I'm thinking about doing.

Needless to say, I bought a lot of CD's that first year in recovery. I don't know how many... I know I sold over 300 on Ebay a few years ago. And that was just the ones I didn't want any longer. I also created a lot of collages, called a lot of people, went to a lot of meetings, and hung out at a lot of people's homes. I utilized everything on my list often and religiously. But anyhow, the CD's....

This week, listening to this old new music, has completely filled me to the brim spiritually. Music has a way of doing that for me. I remember when that Jewel song, Life Uncommon, was my mantra... and lend your voices only to sounds of freedom; no longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from... that line meant everything to me back then. It was exactly what I had to do every minute or every day. When I heard that song this week, my heart skipped a few beats and then felt all fluttery in my chest. Today, all these years later, it is not such a struggle to not get high. It doesn't take all my strength nor my constant attention. That's not to say I don't do what I need to do to maintain my recovery... I do. But it is not like it was in those early days, in that first year where every day, many times a day, I craved that high, that drug, that state of mind that had become my 'normal.' Now the thoughts are fleeting and the cravings are psychological, rather than both psychological and physical. Now I have tools to get through anything.

Now, I can really say - and mean it, rather than just dream it - I am finally living a Life Uncommon.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Step Ten: Moving Forward

We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
[Spiritual principle(s) associated with this step: Self-discipline, Perseverance]

The 53rd passage of the Tao Te Ching says:

If I had even a slight awareness,
And practiced the great Way,
What I would fear would be deviating from it.

(Chang translation)

That sums up step ten for me.

I have set my foot on this path I've been traveling and I've come a very long way from where I started. I am not - nor will I ever be - as far as I can go, but I am a long way from where I started. Using the preceding nine steps as a guide, I have begun to cultivate the spiritual principles I always valued in others, those principles I wanted to claim as my own but could not because my actions were contradicting every principle I longed to practice. I have begun to practice honesty and hope and faith and integrity and humility and justice and love. Somewhere in me, deep in my core, I've discovered a willingness and a courage I never knew I had. My outsides are beginning to match my insides. My actions are beginning to represent what I know and what I believe and what I value.

The times I act dishonestly, I feel an emotional kick in the shin. When I throw integrity out the window, something inside of me snaps. When my ego blows humility out of the water, I feel like I'm drowning. See, now that I know, now that I have that slight awareness, now that I've practiced the great Way, my biggest fear is deviating from it because in my deviation I become sick.

This sickness starts with my emotions. I become guilt-ridden and feel shame and frustration and anger. I may become depressed or feel needy and dependent and afraid. Then, like cancer, the sickness spreads. My thoughts are hit next. I start to think about how worthless I am, how much I lack, or how insane I can be, how selfish I can be. I start to think that my journey so far has been for nothing, that I should just return to what I've always known, that I should seek oblivion. Then it spreads further, and suddenly I'm acting out on my negative emotions and my diseased thoughts. Suddenly I'm lying to people I love or stealing stupid little things from work. My sickness comes out my pores and spills into every area of my life. My sickness manifests itself in how I spend my money, my time, my love, in who I associate with or sleep with. And the behavior, in turn, fuels the already negative emotions, which fuel the cancerous thoughts... and the cycle continues.

No, I don't want to deviate from this path I've been walking. I've done so too many times since embarking. It is not pleasant, and in fact, quite painful. I'm getting better at keeping at least one foot on the path. If I had even a slight awareness, and practiced the great Way, what I would fear would be deviating from it.

That is step ten for me. Staying on this path. The only way to do that is to continue to take my own inventory, to continue to remain aware of who I am and what I need - and then to accept that and to allow that. The only way to stay on this path is to return to it as quickly as I can if I find I've wandered off into the forest. The only way to stay on this path is to continue to take personal inventory and when I'm wrong, promptly admit it... and then jump back on with both feet planted firmly in the middle of the dusty path.

I fear anything less because I've been where it leads.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.


Step Nine

We make direct amends to such people, except when to do so would injure them or others.
[Spiritual principle associated with this step: Justice]

I find the spiritual principle associated with this step - justice - more difficult to wrap my mind around than I do the actual step. At first glance, the step seems easy - start apologizing to everyone I identified in the eighth step. How hard can that be? Well, okay, it may not be the easiest thing to admit to all those people that I lied to them, stole from them, betrayed them, or hurt them in some other way, but the instruction seems pretty straight-forward.

But justice? What does that mean? I am supposed to learn, to come to understand, to get the spiritual principle of justice through working this step? I thought justice was something the courts served up. A quick glance at a dictionary:

–noun 1. the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause. 2. rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice. 3. the moral principle determining just conduct. 4. conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.

Ah, number three calls justice a moral principle... that, in turn, dictates conduct. That sheds some light for me. See, if I lie to you, my conduct is not just. If I steal from you, my conduct is not just. If I betray you, my conduct is not just. In order to practice just conduct I must treat you with fairness. I must treat you exactly how I would hope to be treated by you. I certainly don't want to be lied to or stolen from, and I definitely don't like it when I'm betrayed. I can give you that same consideration. In fact, because of the previous work, because of the spiritual growth brought about by working the previous eight steps, I do in fact give you that same consideration. I want to treat you with fairness. I want to behave justly.

But there's still this whole issue of what I've already done, the harm I've already caused, the wrongs that need righting. The past. There's still that. At this point in my journey I am to make amends to those I've treated unjustly, unless in doing so I'd cause more harm to them or to others. I believe that others includes me. Some people don't interpret this step in a way that includes self in the word others, but I do. Why? Not to get out of making certain amends, which is usually the argument set forth by those who interpret the word others to not include self. It goes a little deeper than that for me.

I believe that most things are subjective. Very little is black and white, in my mind.
Let me put it this way:

The very thing
That in its midst,
Felt so wrong,
Became the right.
The very thing
That in its moment
Left me empty
Became the fullness.
The very thing
That in its midst
Brought such pain
Became the healing.
The very thing
That in its moment
Looked so dark,
Became the light.

Some needed amends are obvious. I am clear on those. If I hurt you in some way - and it wasn't necessary - then I need to make amends to you. Some pain that I caused, though, was necessary for my own healing, in order to take care of myself or my children. Some betrayal, on the surface, looked wrong and unjust, but underneath served an exigent purpose in my own process. In those instances I have to take care to make the amends I need to make, but at the same time, not to overthrow that which I attained for myself spiritually, mentally, or emotionally.

The instructions of step nine are easy to decipher; it is the implementation that is often hazy.

For example.

When I got married I made a vow... that 'til death do us part vow. I didn't keep it. Every time I went to treatment (3 times) from 1988 through 1997, I ended up relapsing withing months of leaving rehab (and once within weeks). Even though I was told, over and over again, by countless people who knew the struggle I faced, that I could not live with a using addict and expect to stay clean, I didn't listen. I kept trying. It almost killed me. Finally, I decided that in order to stay clean I had to move out and move on with my own life and leave my husband to his own path. That is what I did. In the process, I hurt him. He felt betrayed. In effect, I lied to him. I broke a vow to him, a promise to work through anything and everything, in sickness and in health, and so on. But I bowed out early to save my own life. In the process, I hurt my children. We all know the statistics and issues of children of divorce. I caused this harm... yet, I had to do it. I felt I had no choice. Even though I did hurt others, I made the only decision I knew to make at that point in my own journey into wholeness and health and healing.

That example is just one of many.

I have made decisions that have caused harm to others, but nevertheless, had to be made.
I have also made decisions that have caused harm to others that I could have easily avoided.
Differentiating between the two is the task that makes the implementation of step nine somewhat tricky.

I’m Maze. I’m an addict.