Take Stock

One of the burdens of being Alcoholic and being prone to depression is sometimes being over critical of one’s self. While it is important to recognize our character flaws and correct them sometimes we can also be over hard on our selves. Being sober we now expect excellence from our selves all of the time. Where as before we demanded standards and qualities of others that we were not prepared to display . We need to learn to be easy on ourselves and take it slow. Persistence and consistency is the key in our journey of self improvement. As Epictetus suggested, we endure and renounce. Along the way we need to remember to pause and reflect on how far we have come on the journey. We should at intervals look back at the distance traveled and take stock of our lives.

When I made one year sobriety I paused to reflect on a year without alcohol. I was still new at recovery and the foundation I had built was unsteady. My emotions were still raw and I was still quick to anger and prone to panic. I had completed many of the steps and was almost zealous in my pursuit of spiritual knowledge. By the third year I had calmed down and become more settled but still lacked a great deal of emotional maturity. Along the way I had discovered the Jedi Path and it helped me approach recovery as a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical pursuit. This allowed me to grow as a complete human being rather than just focusing on one or two elements.

Recently I achieved five years sobriety. Despite the many congratulations I received from people in the recovery community I see no reason to celebrate. It is however a milestone and an opportunity to pause for reflection. Along the way I have learned not to think of life in terms of a projected future. Those “where do you see yourself in five years” questions asked at professional development interviews always throw me. My goal is only to be sober today and “God willing” sober tomorrow (do not say this at an interview). I take nothing for granted and remember that everything I have today may be gone tomorrow. For this I remember to be grateful for what I have. I do not waste time living for the sake of trying to get to a desired outcome. Life is not about amassing material wealth that soon gathers dust. If we wait for life to provide our definition of happiness before we are content then we are sure to be disappointed or at the very least contented only for a brief time. In my case I will probably be well over 70 before I retire!

I took the Stoic Week questionnaire and my “Life Satisfaction” score was relatively low. Perhaps I was being a little too “stoic” in my answers*. The truth is that despite the low score I am in a far better place than I was five years ago. We need not be unhappy about being unhappy. People believe that to have a life worth living we must be happy all the time and to be otherwise is to be a candidate for anti-depressants. Life of course is far more complex than that and emotions are a part of being human and to be embraced. We cannot control our emotions nor can we control much of what life throws at us but we can decide how to respond to both as they arise. Despite the moments of self doubt and the fear of uncertainty and the sense that life is accelerating to an end point there is always another day to get things right. Life is to be lived and lived “one day at a time”.

 

Lists

In the 12 Steps we write an inventory twice; once for all the faults and flaws in our character and another list of all the people we have harmed along the way. The lists prime us for action; we determine to give up our faults and become better people and we resolve to make amends to those we have listed as far as it causes no harm to them or others. We get out of ourselves and we get to work. Steps, 4-9 are the hardest and also the most rewarding.

So how do we take Stock of our lives? The Stoics were not big on writing out inventories and lists however both can help.

 

  1. What are you grateful for? List the top five things in your life that matter to you.
  2. What are your strengths? List five virtues and qualities that you have in abundance.
  3. What are your areas for improvement? This can be anything including communication skills, honesty, diet, self discipline.
  4. List your achievements; categorize them in to the last year, five years and ten years. This will reveal what you have achieved.
  5. List your personal goals; set rough targets and be realistic, if you want to learn French in the next 2 years, write it down. If you want to train for and run a Marathon in six months, right it down. You consider yourself an angry person and want to change. Now that you have goals consider how you plan achieve them.
  6. Ask yourself: Am I living the life that I want? List the reasons for and against the statement. Some aspects of your life may be exactly where you want it to be while other areas may be holding you back. For example you may be excelling in your career but are frustrated by your personal life. Explore the reasons for this. Consider yours answers to questions 1 to 5 when considering this.

 

Daily reflection is an ancient Stoic practice. These are practices that can be incorporated in to your daily routine:

 

  1. Every day on waking up pause to welcome the day. Acknowledge the sanctity of the day as it is a gift. Most people are already in their heads as soon as their eyes open. They imagine all the things that might go wrong and stumble from one day to the next on some mindless trajectory in to the future. One day blends in to the next.
  2. Pause to reflect on your state of mind. Are you grumpy? Up beat or just desperate for a coffee? I find that how I start the day usually sets the tone for the rest of it. If I stumble out of bed with a negative attitude, it sticks with me all day.
  3. Appreciate three things, this is gratitude. It might be the blue sky and sun shining through the windows, the smile of your partner offering you coffee or a hug from your child. Breathe in that moment.
  4. Plan your day and consider how you will respond to it. Marcus Aurelius would remind himself that he would have to contend with the arrogant, the disagreeable and the obtuse through the day and would set himself not to react adversely but to accept them as fellow humans. If you are expecting a tough day, get your game face on and your head in order.
  5. Fortify your mind. Every day I step outside my door with a theme that I take from the 12 Step slogans. They include “Easy does it”, “Live and Let Live”. “Let Go and Let God”, “Think, Think, Think”, “One day a Time”, “Keep it Simple”, “Progress not Perfection” and “First things First”. I might also use a quote from Star Wars like “Do or do not, there is no try” or “Calm, at Peace, Passive”. During the day I return to these slogans and quotes.
  6. Apply mindfulness through the day. At intervals pause to ask “what am I thinking” and “what am I feeling”. Negative trains of thought and emotions will be exposed and you will have the opportunity to reset.
  7. In the evening pause to reflect on the day. Consider what went well and what didn’t. Meditate on it and contemplate how you might respond better in the future. Resist the urge to beat yourself up. There is always tomorrow.

 

* Never confuse “stoic” with “Stoic”.

Things could still be worse

The State of the World

If you follow the news every day you are probably of the view that the world is in serious trouble. It seems that every day we are bombarded with more terrible news from around the world. Some of it affects us directly or we know people involved. News from further afield also touches us. We feel for the people that are caught up in a tragedy, their plight streamed to our computer or television. Their suffering becomes our suffering.

The world seems like a smaller place than it ever did. We are connected through the power of the internet and comprehensive news coverage. If something terrible happens in our town, city, state, country or on the other side of the planet we soon hear about it. Right now there are mass murders, genocide, environmental destruction, natural disasters and famine happening around the world in plain view. The world stands on the precipice of a nuclear disaster, war appears to be looming large as does an array of other global catastrophes. We feel helpless to do anything. Despite all of this, things could still be worse.

 

Reasonable to Good

Despite all the tragedy and calamity in the world we also get caught up in our own personal dramas. Our wants and needs still preoccupy our thoughts. Simple and day to day problems still arise. The car still breaks down, we have crappy days and nothing seems to go right. Except when it does, bad things usually happen to other people. Most of the time they happen to people we don’t know and believe it or not, the news does not cover every instance of bad news. Terrible things are happening right now that will never be reported, that we will never hear about.

That does not mean the world is falling apart around us. The chances of being assaulted, robbed or murdered remain low. Most of us will never be caught up in a natural disaster or a major accident such as a fatal car accident, train derailment or a plane crash. Hopefully, even less of us will be visited by war. Diseases such as cancer may happen but the odds might still be in our favor. Overall the outlook for a positive future seem reasonable to good. The world still has much beauty and peace.

 

Not the End

So why does it seem that things could not get any worse right now? Well they could. It’s simply a matter of perception. Things do not hurt us, only our perception and view of them does. I have heard people, myself included, declare “that’s it, it’s over, my life is finished!”. The reality is it’s not. We could lose our job, our house, our partner could abandon us, loved one’s could die but we are still here.

The sense of loss and grief that is felt does not mean that the world has ended or that we won’t see better days. The sun will rise again in the morning and the Earth will continue to turn on its axis. What assaults and bereaves us today will pass. It may seem hard to accept but it is true. Hurricanes and earth quakes destroy cities and wars upend entire countries, yet people still emerge and rebuild brick by brick. Soon enough children’s laughter can be heard and life goes on.

 

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

 

Life Goes On

The power of perception and gratitude kept James Stockdale alive in a North Vietnamese prison and it kept Viktor Frankl’s hopes and dreams alive in Auschwitz. Both of these men knew things could be worse. They were still alive and they owned their minds. The power of choice over whether to allow themselves to give in was theirs alone.

There are times when fate hands people a cruel and heavy burden. I could not think anything worse than the loss of a child. Yet I know people who have suffered that tragedy and who have come out the other side of hell more appreciative of life and love. They are more grateful for the things that they still have and grateful the for time they were blessed to have spent with their loved one. Life does still go on.

Putting things in to perspective allows us to find our balance. We can grieve and process our loss in a mindful way while appreciating what has been taken away. Loss is a reminder that all things are impermanent and transitory. Gratitude reminds us to value what we have more than what we expect or want. By accepting that life could still be worse we are in a way acknowledging that and letting go of our attachments without devaluing their importance in our lives.

 

Grace of God

A decade ago I was diagnosed with a tumor that resided within my skull. Unlike a brain tumor it was a mass that was non-malignant and could be surgically removed before it did any damage to my brain. At first I thought I had a brain tumor and panicked until the Doctor reassured me that my prognosis was good as it had been found before it could interrupt the blood supply to my brain. So I asked “it could’ve been worse?”, the Doctor replied that indeed I could have had a stroke at any time and lost a great deal of function if not my life, so yes “it could have been far worse”. That experience taught me a lesson. It gave me a new lease on life and a grateful appreciation for everything in it. Unfortunately I forgot that I was alcoholic and soon started the spiral downwards.

Recovered Alcoholic often surprise people with their spontaneity, humor and positivity. Some of them have been through the wringer, they have estranged or lost friends and family members, ruined their careers and lost everything they ever owned and suffered terrible health problems. Yet here they are, laughing and joking and enjoying life to the full. Even bad news seems not to unsettle them. They accept what comes with equanimity and peace. They realize that the only reason they are sitting there is because of the “Grace of God”.

My personal descent in to a hell I call “rock bottom” put me in an emotional and spiritual place I thought could not possibly be worse. The reality was, I was lucky; I found a Higher Power and made my way out. With renewed faith I started to clean myself up and begin recovery by taking the steps. I admitted my powerlessness to act against a disease and I surrendered my problem over to a Higher Power. By surrendering my life to the Force I was able to start putting my life in to perspective and finding that I still had a lot to be grateful for. I realized that things could have been far worse. Compared to others I got off lightly; I still had a family, my job and my health.

 

Leia

Leia Organa is very much the symbol of strength, pride and steely determination in the Star Wars saga. Leia suffered loss in her roles as a Princess, Diplomat, Rebel Leader, Jedi, General and Mother. Her life had been full of personal tragedies and bitter betrayals. Besides the loss of her biological parents at birth she endured decades of hardship in peace and in war. Whether you read Canon or Legends they included the death of her son Anakin and the loss of her Ben Solo to the First Order. She married and separated from Han Solo and then in “The Force Awakens” learned that he had been brutally executed by their own child. Despite all of this Leia never buckled, she never gave in.

In real life Carrie Fisher also dealt with personal hardships and tragedies that most people were unaware of. From an early age she was thrust in to the lime light due to her high profile parents. Star Wars launched her career and earned her unimaginable fame. That global recognition came at a price. Still a teenager Carrie Fisher was in an affair with her co-star Harrison Ford. The relationship was one sided, he a distant lover and she a an impressionable young girl who was infatuated yet awkward about her feelings and embarrassed about her body. She fell in to addiction and depression and struggled with the pain and self loathing that it bought on. The separation of her parents and death of her Father also had a heavy toll on her.

Despite all of the hardship and tragedy Carrie Fisher never wallowed in self pity. Although she had low self esteem she also had the tenacity, strength and courage to overcome her demons and emerge as a confident writer and spokesperson for mental health. She became like General Organa, tough and frank yet approachable and funny. Carrie Fisher had a common touch which connected with ordinary people. She had been through the wringer and like many recovered Alcoholics had a ferocious love for life and a healthy sense of humor born of humble irreverence for one’s own flaws.

The shared beauty of Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa was the knowledge that life is tough and it will get you down. Life can pick you up and throw you down again and again but it can always be worse. How we get through it and come out the other end largely depends on us. We can give up and weep bitterly in the dark or we can stand up and keep going one day at a time, one step at a time.

Despite all the tragedy and evil in the world it is still a wonderful place. There is more good in people than bad.

Jedi are Humble

Jedi are humble, and believe that they can always work on improving themselves.

Jedi are against being arrogant and consider arrogance to be a flaw.  Jedi embrace humility, and do not consider themselves better than others. Jedi don’t claim to know it all, and humbly believe in training and in personal growth.

(33 Jedi Traits)

Often it takes a great fall to build someone up. Arrogance never holds up when it matters. When life becomes difficult and we are presented with challenges that take us to the edge of our limits and beyond it is humility that gets us through. Sometimes the hardest and most rewarding lesson in life is realizing we don’ have all the answers. That we are flawed, vulnerable, fragile and very human.

“Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you wisdom unless you first empty your cup” – Nyogen Senzaki

Zero

In the Army we were humbled during the first days of selection. I remember the biggest and boldest candidates; the one’s with the big mouths and egos to match. Within weeks they had grown quiet. Some had silently departed never to be seen again, singled out by the Training Staff as “unsuitable”. Those that were humbled remained and became a part of the team.

Cold, tired, beaten and miserable and stripped down to nothing we were all reminded that everyone starts at zero. We were all the same, nothing. No one was better than anyone else and as far as the Training Cadre were concerned we were all less than the dirt on their boots until we did our time and proved ourselves. Five months later following graduation the same Instructors shook our hands and shared a beer with us. This is how something is broken down and built back up in to something better. How a cup is emptied and filled back up. The key is humility.

“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows” – Epictetus

Arrogance

Arrogance is a flaw which is striking and obvious. It demands attention and usually gets the wrong type. Everyone recognizes it and few people admire it as a trait. Most will avoid those that show arrogance. Eventually a tall poppy must come down either through self knowledge or by the will of others.

Add alcohol to self delusion and arrogance is created. Not an arrogance that comes with over confidence but a smug, self righteous arrogance that is built up to put others down so that we may feel better ourselves. It is a house made of cards. Deep down we know it is false. We don’t add up to much and have turned to alcohol to get that feeling of self worth.

“Arrogance diminishes wisdom” – The Clone Wars

The Golden Virtue

Humility is a virtue. It is probably the greatest virtue of all and is the foundation on which all others are built. Many people imagine that humility means self deprecation or putting one’s self down. To do so would be anything but humble. Being humble is having a healthy appreciation of one’s worth and ability without putting one’s self above others. It is being able to recognize that we may be better than others in some respects but that does not make us better people.

We only look down to people when we are helping them up. We never compare ourselves to others in order to feel superior. If we compare ourselves with anyone it is ourselves with who we were yesterday. We can critique ourselves without self pity and recognize our own flaws and work on them. The constant aim is self improvement over time. We do our best but we accept that perfection is unattainable, we can only progress.

 

Without humility, courage is a dangerous game” – The Clone Wars

Keep Perspective

Jedi feel neither high or mighty nor low and inferior. To be Jedi is to simply to live in the manner that we feel is best while remaining true to our principles. There are no prizes for being Jedi as there are no special prizes for being sober. We simply get to live a life style that we choose and which costs us nothing. The reward is a chance of living a good life and having few regrets at the end of it.

Everyone is born the same and everyone must eventually die. When we were born not even our parents could know where we would end up or how far we might go. Of course they cared for our future and played their part but ultimately each person blazes their own trail through life. In death we are as equal as in birth. Our memories and our legacy remain but at the end of the day we all ultimately end up as humble dust. Even our most idolized heroes, celebrities and leaders must one day die and ultimately turn to dust like the rest of us.

“Both Alexander the Great and his mule keeper were both bought to the same place by death – they were either received into the all generative reason, or scattered among the atoms” – Marcus Aurelius

Use Things Love People

Always remember that the adage “the higher you climb the harder you fall” rings true. Through life people are watching. They either want to build you up or tear you down. If our identity and our self worth is attached to our title, our social standing, our inner circle, pay check, zip code or status then it will certainly take a beating if we lose some or all of them through the vicissitudes of life.

We should always recognize that all of these things are largely out of our control and can be taken away at any time. We can be left standing with nothing but the shirt on our back in very quick time. Enjoy what we have, while we have it but be grateful and remember that what the universe provides, it can just as easily take away.

 

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine” – Bruce Lee

There is nothing wrong with ambition or trying to get ahead. I for one want to go as far as I can in my career and in my personal development. I never want to stop learning and feel that improvement can always be made. There should be no desire to attain knowledge, skills or experience in order to look better than the next person, to feel superior. Those that do eventually awaken to disappointment and realize that they have lived only in order to impress people who ultimately don’t care. We only do these things in order to be better people and to serve others.

If you want to be truly humble; use things and love people. Fill your cup to share with others.

Nature

There is Pleasure..

There is nothing like being in the Wilderness. The total absence of the noise of civilization; the hum of industry and traffic and blaring early morning radio. In the wilderness the song and the call of birds and the cacophony of insects fills the air as the sun rises and sets over a horizon devoid of artificial lights and the haze of pollution. The wonder of the night sky is filled with stars and we lose our selves in the mystery of the cosmos. To feel the living energy in an animal or a plant and to sense the weight of time in an ancient rock held in your hand. The realization that one exists but  as a solitary figure in the vast expanse of space and time. The Force is to be encountered in nature; living, raw and vibrant. Byron put it so well:

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” – Lord Byron

In nature we begin to find ourselves. We connect with something that resides within us all; a deep seated knowledge of where we come from. In recovery I have rediscovered my love of nature and spend as much as I can in the outdoors. I am lucky, my work often takes me to wilderness areas that are untouched and pristine and rarely seen by others. The very proximity of nature heals the body, mind and soul.

With the tethers of society at least partially stripped away we can begin to look past the concerns of the egoic mind and body. Time slows down, the mental noise recedes in to the background and the senses become sharper. We are beginning to be as our ancestors were, close to nature and a part of it, more in tune with ourselves and the world around us.

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home” – Gary Snyder

Un-Natural State

It is said that we belong to nature, nature does not belong to us. We are inseparable from nature although we deny it. I was taught in school that man conquered the wilderness and tamed it, improved it. By destroying the environment we ultimately destroy ourselves.

The more people become separated from the natural world the more alienated they became from each other and more divided. Our natural predisposition is to be close to nature and to care for it. Reality has suppressed our affinity to nature and closed it out making it a resource to be exploited, bought and sold. How can that be when we are a part of nature, a strand in the web of life?

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson “A Silent Spring”

The Call

Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Jack London were authors who spent at least a part of their time seeking out nature and living in relative solitude. Emerson in particular saw the transcendent beauty in nature and the failure of humans to appreciate or reciprocate the gifts that nature bestows upon us. Emerson believed that in order to eventually transcend one must be fully engaged in nature. Jack London was a troubled alcoholic and an addict and his writings on nature in “The Call of the Wild” were vivid and violent and captured his yearning for the wilderness as well as his distance from it.

I often wondered if my alcoholism was a substitute for a deeper need, a yearning to be close to Nature. An unfulfilled need to run in the woods, climb mountains, swim in the surf and look up the stars. A symptom of my separation from nature through alcoholism. There was also a call, a yearning to reconnect because deep down we all feel that our home resides there.

“But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called—called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.” – Jack London “The Call of the Wild”

Worlds Apart

If you look at the entire Star Wars saga as depicted on film you will discover an amazing diversity of natural and built landscapes in the Star Wars Universe. The Immense desert planets of Tatooine and Jakku with oceans of sand, steep mountains and deep gorges. Naboo with its rolling hills, grasslands and woodlands. The waterfalls and rivers concealing underwater cities home of the Gungans. Kamino was the turbid ocean planet home of the Clone factories.

Hoth a frozen world, Mustafa a world of fire and lava flows and Bespin a planet of clouds. Dagobah was covered in swamps, mists and jungle. Endor and Yavin 4 were temperate worlds of Forests. Coruscant at the heart of the Republic seemed to be the only world that was truly civilized being a planet entirely occupied by a single mega-city. Coruscant was supported by countless other worlds, the seat of power it was the ultimate prize in the Galactic Wars. The Star Wars Galaxy presents a symbol of the tension between the natural world and civilization that we see on our own Planet.

In Star Wars the Jedi seemed to bridge the divide between Nature and Technology through application of the Force. The Jedi were acutely aware of the Force in nature and sensitive to it and knew that it flowed through all living things. They respected all life and were against the senseless killing of any life form or the destruction of the Environment. The Jedi could sense when wholesale destruction and loss of life had occurred.

“I feel a great disturbance in the Force as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced” – Obi-Wan Kenobi on sensing the destruction of Alderaan in “Episode IV” A New Hope”.

Step Outside

People who are close to nature because of an ethnic or cultural affinity feel real pain and loss when they see their Environment destroyed. To them it is like losing a part of themselves. They are no different to anyone else except they have not suffered the same level of separation from the Natural legacy that most people have. Most people don’t feel it as acutely because they do not live as close to nature as they do or we think we don’t need it. But we do.

We all understand the importance of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being. Environmental well being is also important, to care for the Environment is to look after ourselves and others.

It’s our world, step away from the computer and go outside. Breath in and enjoy for a moment the beauty and serenity of Nature.

Be a Candle

To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness. Be a candle, or the night.” – Yoda, Dark Rendezvous

“We shall not go in to the night” – William Shakespeare “Henry V”

Every person shines their own light. The goodness within them, the eternal love that exists resides within like a flame. That inner flame is life, truth and redemption with who we truly are.

At times the light burns brightly and at other times it flickers. Some times the flame is buffeted by the winds of life but still it burns. It may be reduced to the tiniest of flames in our darkest times but it still burns waiting to be kindled with new Faith and Hope.

Recovery is also that flame. It is fed by the daily acts that we do to ensure our sobriety, our thoughts and our words. Evert choice we make either feeds or stifles that flame. As it burns brightly with our spiritual condition the shadow of addiction retreats. Our path forward is guided by that Light. We can share it with others.

To give up all hope and to lose all faith is to surrender to the darkness, to accept the final fall and to go in to the night.

Never give in to the Dark Side.

Who can forget Bill Pullman as the President in the movie “Independence Day”?

The Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: We will not go quietly into the night!”

This was probably the most memorable moment in the movie. Against all odds the President rallies the nation and the world to fight. At that moment the story turns to hope and resolve. The flame burns bright and refuses to go out.

So it is with sobriety. Keep the flame alive, hold the light and share it.

Happy Independence Day

Adapt

Probably because I grew up in an age when entitlement was not in common usage and the euphemism “no free lunches” was the order of the day. I have never expected much of either in life. In many ways “The School of Hard Knocks” was a blessing. I knew how it felt to go to bed with an empty stomach as a child. To be ridiculed by other children in the playground for coming to school day in day out with the same set of clothes. For being different and odd. To have the shame of being known as the kid, with the “drunk” as a Father.

The daily resignation that Father will come home soon, drunk and angry. The sadness and loneliness of constantly have to pack up and move so much that in the end you no longer try to make friends because you will soon have to say goodbye. Fronting the family court. Physical and mental abuse by care givers. These things hardened me for life from an early age. I learned to adapt to life early on.

Being given no quarter and cut no slack was an accepted part of Life. Later there was the revolving door of relationships, jobs and “easy come, easy go” existence. Money one day, broke the next. Rejection soon leads to dejection and apathy. You grow few attachments and in time the only constant and only friend is booze. The rest you could care less as nothing and no one is reliable. Booze carries the only promise.

Maladaptation

Being an alcoholic was a defence mechanism and a cover, it was a maladaptation. On one had it provided the sense of social acceptance among peers, it made me friendlier, more likeable and funny, someone other than myself. On the other hand it gave me courage and allowed me to rebel against the order of things. To stand alone and thumb my nose at the world and they be damned. Alcohol hardened an already hard exterior. I expected no quarter and gave none either. Life didn’t offer much hope so the philosophy of “hope for anything, expect the worst” seemed pessimistic but it also seemed realistic.

There is nothing wrong with believing that “serenity is preceded by pessimism”. It just doesn’t need to come with “stinking thinking” attached. Expecting inevitable adversity does not need to be accompanied with a confrontational attitude to life or resentment to others. Anger never served me then and it doesn’t serve me now. Neither does hating life because it seems to hate me. Life doesn’t do these things to us.

Accept, Adapt, Overcome

Today I still anticipate that life is going to dish out some unpleasant turn of events that knock me off my feet. It was Marcus Aurelius that said “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.” To that end I live by that precept. I may not know when the next kick in the guts might come but I know it will and I’m prepared to meet it with acceptance and resolve.

How does one train for the unknowable? For me, I have had to dig back in to my childhood for the answer. There I found a kid who had simply accepted things as they were and adapted to his environment and learned to survive in the face of a hopeless situation. I expected little from others and from life and what I did receive I was grateful for and considered a bonus. Kids are good at that.

Assume an attitude of being easily pleased and you will find that life becomes more pleasurable. The glass half empty becomes the glass half full. Be flexible and agile enough to absorb change when it comes, as it inevitably will. Be fluid like water.

In the Army I often heard the adages “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome” and “Train Hard, Fight Easy” it was handy then and still serves in a different context now. The slogans “This too shall Pass”, “One Day at a Time” and “Keep it Simple ” also provide daily reminders of a different kind. We can anticipate and prepare for adversity and difficulties and know they will come along with everything else that life throws at us. They will also pass. We should be on guard be we can also enjoy life.

Fight for your Life

In the Face of Betrayal

When the newly self-crowned Emperor Palpatine gave Order 66 the directive was executed swiftly and brutally. Thousands of Jedi were immediately killed by their Clone subordinates and guards without question or hesitation.  The Temple was razed. The Jedi Order was destroyed and very few Jedi survived and those that did either went in to hiding or left the order for a life as a bounty hunter, smuggler or Rebel and continued to struggle. The Jedi went down fighting.

Many of the Jedi who survived fought their way out as their brethren died around them. None surrendered; all died fighting or overcame their adversaries and escaped. The Jedi endured the betrayal and suffered their fate with valor and courage and yet they refused to go quietly and went down fighting  without fear. They had faith in the Force and did not fear death.

Bravery in adversity is not only a Jedi trait. Although not a Jedi, Chirrut the blind warrior in “Rogue One” called upon the Force to gather his strength as he completed his mission and was killed as were all the other Rebels raiding the Scarif Citadel for the Death Star Plans and the future of the Rebellion. Their mission was a success.

Never say Die

It may not be the plans to the Death Star, but in life some things are worth fighting for no matter the odds. Sometimes it’s no longer important what happens to us or whether we succeed or not but how we navigate through the crisis and meet our end. Its the fight that counts.

All of us are engaged in a futile battle to stay alive. Eventually every single human alive including you and I must face death. That does not mean we should not fight while we can.

The manner that we can choose to respond to each moment is a personal choice. How we greet each day and the manner in which we engage in the struggle for life is entirely up to each individual. We must eventually succumb to our mortal end. The goal is still to live a good life before we reach that end.

Never Give Up

Several years ago I was a very sick individual. I had had a tumor discovered inside my cranial cavity on the acoustic nerve. The growth was non-malignant but due to its mass and location was life threatening and needed to be removed. At the time I was also drinking heavily. My response to the news of my condition was not as I expected, I was scared and upset and all the sudden I was determined to live and grab a second lease in life. I was going to fight this.

The Doctor was very impressed with my attitude but did ponder my “3-5 alcoholic drinks per week” response on my health questionnaire with a raised brow. The Doctor reassured me that patients who have a fire in their belly and a “never say die” attitude to the surgery usually come out better than those that don’t. I underwent the surgery, had the tumor removed, was out of hospital in a few days with severe facial palsy and loss of inner ear, but I was alive and would recover.  After another health scare involving leaking brain fluid I was back to work within a month.

I had won the fight. The surgery had certainly saved my life. I now had a chance to see my kids grow up and achieve my dreams.

Never Surrender

The surgeon was surprised at the speed of my recovery, but then he didn’t know that we Alcoholics are extremely mission orientated and often over-achievers. We are simply held back and held hostage by booze. Our main struggle is with ourselves, we are torn and sway between hope and despair and our response is to resist and fight with everyone and everything. I saw my fight with my tumor as a sign that I had to change and turn a new leaf. Despite all of my goals to grab this as an opportunity to look after my health and become a better person I was soon drinking and worse than ever. The Booze had me.

The same “never surrender, never say die” attitude did not extend to my addiction. Alcohol is where my reasoning powers failed and where the main kink in my armor laid, an Achilles heel. My “Good Fight” did not lay there.

In the end, admission of defeat and surrender was exactly what was needed. I had won against a life threatening brain tumor but lost in the battle against my other disease, alcoholism. Surrendering it to a power greater than my self was the only way out.

Through grace I was freed from my compulsion to drink. My reprieve over addiction gave me a sense of purpose and “quiet resolve”. I no longer needed to fight everything and everyone; I was done with fighting at least the way I had done all my life. All I had to do was take life one day at a time and resolve not to drink and trust in the Force. The fear of death left me and I was determined to live and Fight for Life. There is no going back to what I was before, the Force is with me and I am one with the Force.

I’m one with the Force, the Force is with me” – Chirrut “Rogue One”.

Choose Life

Some things cannot be avoided, death cannot be dodged for eternity, neither can illness or heartbreak or pain, they are all part of the human condition. How you choose to perceive these things and what you intend to do about what resides within your control is largely up to you. You can choose to go quietly in to the night or you can choose to go down fighting. You can choose to surrender to the Dark Side as Anakin and Ben Solo did or you can Choose Life and fight for that.

Perception and the Drama of Life

“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things” – Epictetus (Enchiridion).

Hardship is how you perceive it.

It is never the event or thing that upsets us but rather our perception of it. The Stoics taught this very fundamental of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy more than 2000 years ago. They stumbled on a universal truth which has been highlighted by Philosophers for centuries and Psychologists for decades, that we make our own reality with our own minds.

The drama of life is often just that, a drama and as Mark Twain said “’I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Viktor Frankl in “Man’s search for meaning” wrote that it was only his resolve to put his reality in to perspective that got him through three years in a Nazi Concentration Camp. Frankl refused to be mentally beaten by the Nazis. Realizing he had a choice, Frankl kept the hope alive that he would survive and see his family again and that conviction kept him alive despite the harrowing odds.

The US Airforce Pilot James Stockdale shot down over North Vietnam and imprisoned for seven years in the Hanoi Hilton where he was subjected to mental and physical torture survived his ordeal in the same way. By applying the mindset of the Stoics he was able to put his situation in to perspective and accept his condition. Stockdale resolved never to give up.

We only get upset by events or circumstance because of our perception of it rather than the reality of it. Our society today expects drama, outrage and accordingly people do not take responsibility for their actions. How you respond to any given moment in your life is entirely up to you.

Order 66

The Jedi were completely eliminated as an Order in “Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith”. Emperor Palpatine, having ascended to executive power effectively took control of the Galactic Senate and the Clone Army and ordered an immediate putsch of the Jedi under Order 66. Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi both survived the brutal round up and execution of almost all the Jedi and escaped in to exile and hiding.

Both Jedi Masters accepted their fates but continued to struggle and work towards a re-balance of the Force knowing that in time the prophecy would be fulfilled. After having been at the very top of the Republics Elite and commanders of the most powerful force in the Galaxy, both Jedi Masters were reduced to fugitives and largely forgotten by all but the Sith. They became a rumor, a myth to all other life forms in the Galaxy.

Despite such a calamity Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda continued to have an impact on events long after Order 66. They never gave up.

Life on the Merry Go Round

My life was run by complications and drama for decades. I blamed everyone but myself for my predicaments real and imagined. My stupid mistakes alienated friends, family and colleagues and over the years I found people leaving my life. Relationships crumbled or became toxic. I could not hold down a job for long without screwing things up because of my drinking, selfishness, obstinacy and lying. Seeking a “Geographical Solution”, I moved around a lot. From state to state, overseas, anywhere as far as I could to get away from myself.

I would think that if I could move and set myself up somewhere and find like minded people all would go well but I failed to realize that everywhere I went, there I was and over time I would repeat the cycle of a positive start, a slow descent to disillusionment and finally disgrace and an exit. I refused to apologize for my actions or recognize that I was largely to blame for all the dramas in my life.

None of it was reality, it was simply my alcoholic personality finding fault where there was none and managing to take a situation that was in control and messing it up sometimes in a pathetic and sometimes in a hilariously comical fashion. I was on a Merry-Go ride I could not get off.

Setting things Right

As I began recovery I underwent a shift in perspective and started to closely analyze where I had gone wrong in all my of failed relationships, lost opportunities and mistakes. I come to realize where I had failed and where amends were needed. I listed all my errors and faults and the litany of alcohol fueled failures that spanned decades and entire continents. My sprees had had a global reach.

I got honest with myself and with others and where I could I made amends and started to view the world and my place in it in a different light. I realized that I am the author of my own story and I make choices that impact on myself and others and carry a great deal of personal responsibility for my actions. The world is not trying to beat me down and it owes me no favors especially not an apology.

Life is a struggle and that is what makes it so compelling and so beautiful at the same time. I realized that the attitude you take in to any situation largely decides the outcomes. Whether or not you will overcome difficulties or succumb to them is largely a matter of choice. Reality is simply a projection of our minds and the ego will sully our perception and force itself on to who we truly are. Once you realize that nothing can truly hurt or harm you unless you allow it to you start to claim your freedom and find your inner truth.

Gratitude is the Attitude

When things aren’t going well these days I remind myself to be grateful that I am in a position to be annoyed or frustrated. Things could always be a whole lot worse I remind myself. Everyone has bad days so I allow myself to as well. As hard as it can be sometimes, I try to consider the issue at hand mindfully and objectively.

I ask myself is what I am feeling valid, is the situation that upsets me real or an illusion? Do I have all the facts? Is my response proportionate and what is within my control to make it better? I put the event in to perspective and realize that on the balance things aren’t as bad as they might appear.

I take hope in my own recovery and see how far I have come and take inspiration from the stories of recovery from alcohol, abuse, mental and physical illness I read or hear. Not to mention the whole spectrum of tragedies and challenges that confront people every day. Things are not so bad on my side of the street.

I also realize that the common element in all of the stories of Hope and Survival is the innate human ability to find a deeper inner strength to not only overcome but to rise above loss and tragedy and emerge stronger and better.

Never ever give up.

“”Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world” – ACIM (T-21.In.1:7).