Part 2 (b)

This newsletter goes out every other Wednesday. Being gone on vacation last week, I spent hours yesterday crafting my next one. When I went to “save” it, it went away.  Lost.  Gone.  Finito. Aaarrgghh!

But hey, a chance to explore the spiritual topic I had written about. Which was on the holographic nature of the Universe meaning that life is a mirror showing me my “stuff”. So here’s my chance to check my levels of patience. :)  The whole essay is not coming back, or let’s say only in parts. It’s like it flees my brain once it’s done, but I’ll try again.

I wanted to weigh in one more time on the whole AA/spirituality topic. Bill White and Ernie Kurtz-AA historians and researchers-had written a response posted here.

There are themes I keep returning to, and here’s a couple. Information becomes knowledge through experience which eventually distilled down becomes wisdom. I took my first drink at age 10, some 51 years ago. These years allowed my research to be thorough. In my study of treatment, some 18 years in the field, working with thousands of those struggling, I heard again and again that 12 Step was not for everybody and I saw the fact of that. What I would propose is that the underlying principles of 12 Step are wonderfully thought out, simple and necessary for recovery from substance use disorder and pert near anything else.

Outer forms, the external, are not so important. It’s the spirit of things that really matter and that is deeply true for recovery. We can and do -all of us-sometimes- “fake it ’til we make it” -but ultimately, it’s the Spirit that bring results.

The distilled wisdom of 12 Step, the spirit so essential, I state as:

Get honest Truth telling
Clean out the wreckage of the past Amend
Help someone else Service

It’s essential to keep it simple. Brains love to complicate, in this culture especially and recovery can be hard but is simple.  In fact, life is simple.  There’s a true difference:  Complicated vs Hard. –Those aren’t the same things.

Honest, Open, Willing are challenges that grow our character and resilience, moving us closer to truth and reality, grounding us in something universal.  Thus lies the doorway to spiritual connection.

There are many other practical suggestions that facilitate growth of recovery capital. Looking after ourselves with nutrition, exercise, play, mind work, body work, creative endeavors and you-name-it– all contribute to a safety net of recovery. Whatever strengthens the immune systems of our life builds safety.

I’ll end this with a link to Bill W’s most spiritual stance on AA critics:  “Our critics can be our benefactors”

“As a society we must never become so vain as to suppose that we have been the authors and inventors of a new religion. We will humbly reflect that each of AA’s principles, every one of them, have been borrowed from ancient sources.”

Updates and Events

The Solstice has passed and the dog days of summer await. As I attempt to develop a tan here are some upcoming Recovery events around our lovely green state:

  • Western NC has Anonymous People showings followed by Recovery Messaging Trainings: Bryson-6/29 & WCU/Cullowhee-9/14
  • Speaking of September (Addiction Recovery Month) Eastern NC has checked in with their Recovery Rally in Wilson-9/26
  • Look for more Rally announcements from around the state as we get closer to September!

Examining Power Structures: Part 2

This second part on the online debates about 12 Step, medical, treatment, recovery, etc. is proving tough for me to articulate.  Bear with me as I give it a shot.

Everything is spiritual.

To coin a double-negative, nothing’s not spiritual.

This seeming conundrum is a linchpin to all we are looking at when addiction, treatment, recovery and healing are at stake. Understanding illuminates solutions.

What the brain thinks, when it hears “Everything is spiritual” is;  “What, anything goes?”  and no, that’s not it. It’s not remotely about how engaging in bad behavior is ok, the opposite really, it’s why we can’t engage in bad behavior.  Because everything’s spiritual. It’s about how everything’s connected. Literally.

Ever wonder why the song, “Amazing Grace”, says, “T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved.”?  Grace includes fear?

That was shown me, in real time. At some point in recovery I saw that the affliction of my addiction gave me the supreme blessing of recovery. I could not have one without the other.  That does not “excuse” the bad behavior included in addiction.  What it does mean is recovery delivers us into a life where we have the chance to grow, heal and amend, making amends to those we can along the way and being of service when we can’t amend directly. I make indirect amends when “mending my ways,” changing my attitudes, and altering my behavior.

Do you know the story of the author of Amazing Grace? There are film and documentary biographies that detail the life of John Newton. A wretched ship captain and slaver who sold humans for a living and how his moment of clarity transformed his life, changed him forever and led to the song. A great story!

The problem with trying to understand and communicate spirituality is, as Sy Safransky says, “…… divides the world into what is and isn’t spiritual, which is about the least spiritual thing you can do.” It’s like trying to explain which part of the ocean is wettest.  It’s all wet/ocean/spiritual.

We can definitely be out of balance. Balance is crucial, the key to all health. We can have darkness running rampant.  Self-will run riot as the saying goes. Darkness is un-acknowledged shadow and as we acknowledge, it rights itself and balance increases. Darkness is where stigma lives.  There is always shadow, let’s not be in denial, so it’s all about getting it out, getting honest, not covering up, ending denial.  That’s how we bust stigma.

So we’re back to: What is spiritual?  It would be in our best interest if the medical world understood and integrated that;  Everything’s connected includes ourselves. We are spiritual beings, which on a practical side begins with; We are one being:  body, brain/central nervous system, emotional body, Mind, Heart, Soul. You cannot separate these apart in treatment, to treat one all must be considered.

Every physical issue has an emotional/spiritual component. Every spiritual/emotional issue has a physical component.

Hippocrates, a father of medicine, said “It’s far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.”

It’s the same with the system of care. It’s One World, what happens to one happens to all so we want to factor that into our vision.

On the flip side, what we all need to do as we grow a more humane system is apply a core tenet of recovery; “I must participate in my own recovery”. Another seeming paradox, we need community AND we are all, individually, responsible for our lives.  This brings benefits back to us on the medical side.

What we are seeing at that point is a true tenet of spiritual:  Self-awareness, getting to know ourselves. Who am I, what do I want, how do I align my life with my core heart and ethics and actualize and express my gifts out into the world?

Bill Wilson, father to A.A. said, “More than most people I think alcoholics want to know who they are, what life is all about, whether they have a divine origin and an appointed destiny, live in a system of cosmic justice and love.”   I know I do.

All this implies an order to the Universe and the wisdom of aligning with it, or we humans can arrogantly continue self-willing ourselves right into extinction.

The order of the Universe includes fine-tuning that allows for complexity and laws that follow mathematical formulas.  No (seeming) “miracles” happen outside of these laws. There is Grace, but everything happens within a Cosmic structure whether we understand it (yet) or not.

What I saw working with Native Tribes was:  A) Most ceremonies- Sweat Lodge, Sun Dance, Hembleciya (Vision Quest), Pipe Ceremony–are prayers and  B) there’s no worry or problem with the fact that it’s a Great Mystery.  We don’t have to figure everything out to move in the right direction. That felt comforting to me.

All of this relates to how we think and perceive ideas/things/people.  One way to characterize recovery is:  “closer to reality”. So much of our thinking is unconsciously motivated that we want to start by examining that.

I was pondering all this while reading Malcolm Gladwell, a writer who attempts to shift paradigms. In a recent New Yorker he walks you through the Ford Pinto car safety case from the 70’s to make some points about how we think. His story outlines what we thought was the deal versus what actually were the facts of that large story.  Remember how those little cars had the gas tank in the back, right behind the bumper and they (supposedly) burst into flames when rear-ended? A van going 50 mph rear-ended a Pinto and three teen-age girls died horrifically, 60 Minutes did a gripping expose and it ended up a big landmark Federal case against Ford.  How I remember and think about it still has proven to be false.

Gladwell showcases the bigger story from an engineer’s viewpoint. He uses humor to start it off.

An engineer, a priest, and a doctor are enjoying a round of golf. Ahead of them is a group playing so slowly and inexpertly that in frustration the three ask the greens keeper for an explanation. “That’s a group of blind firefighters,” they are told. “They lost their sight saving our clubhouse last year, so we let them play for free.”

The priest says, “I will say a prayer for them tonight.”

The doctor says, “Let me ask my ophthalmologist colleagues if anything can be done for them.”

And the engineer says, “Why can’t they play at night?”

I’m drawn to this article for our purposes because it weds the ideal and the practical. Engineers work to solve problems (the practical) and we can apply that practical approach in the spiritual realm (the ideal). Spiritual has practical application. Then you achieve some balance.

Here’s a nut and bolt breakdown of what I could classify as a spiritual issue.
Gladwell’s summary taken from many competent engineers:

Ford won the case, because:

  • Pintos did not explode and catch fire statistically more than actuarially projected.
  • Numerous small cars had the gas tank close to the bumper back then (Gremlin, Vega, VW Beetle, Dodge Colt, Datsun’s).  Though it’s hard to argue Pinto’s are safe it was not abnormally inclined to explode into fire.

What we were “told” by the media and what is reality were two different things.

Studies from around the world and in the US show us that if you want to lessen highway fatalities there are two main items that greatly shrink the number of deaths.

  • Everybody slow down-seriously.-“excessive speed is implicated in an overwhelming number of fatal crashes.”
  • Raise the price of alcohol by adding fees and taxes-again seriously.-“as the price goes up drinking-esp. outside the home-goes down.”

These two actions significantly lower highway deaths, head and shoulders over all others combined.

One final issue. Don’t allow 4000 lb. cars run in to 2000 lb. cars. At some point, no matter where you put the gas tank, speed, drunkenness and huge cars add up to death.

So are we willing to slow down, not drink and drive, improve and grow public transportation infrastructure and all drive small cars? Or is that too much of an assault on our “freedoms”?

The spiritual path says everything’s an illusion except what isn’t and the task is to discover what isn’t. The Self, the I, the Ego (Latin for self) says the only thing not an illusion is that hardest of all things-Love.

I ask, do we love each other enough to come together and change, as a society?

This week’s acronym: JS—-just saying…..

Town Hall Meeting

My Brother Michael Dublin has great trainings every three months at his South Central Church of Christ in Raleigh and this next one is no exception.

Free credit hours and lunch included. More info here:

Inaugural Western Regional Recovery Rally

Speaking of Recovery Community Organizations (RCO) and Rallies, here’s a flyer from the R.O.C.K. in the USA RCO of Waynesville/Western North Carolina: Communities Rallying for Recovery are having a rally September 19th in Lake Junaluska, NC.

Check it out!

R.O.C.K. & Recovery in the USA

Might we review?

Unite to Face Addiction – – is holding a National Rally, at the Mall in Washington D.C. October 4th, with attendant events the day before and after. Word is there will be national presenters of great interest including major artists to perform. You may get there any way you like but local organizations are working to organize transportation, busses and maybe a train car or two.

Recovery Communities of NC – our state’s first of many recovery community organizations is a contact for transportation.  For questions, the RCNC/Recovery Community Center phone number is 919-231-0248.

If you are a provider or agency or stakeholder group I would like to ask you to consider promoting this amongst your peoples. If people would like to hook up for rides, the Unite website has a page for each Community Partner, including RCNC, and you can register there and then you will receive information as it progresses. There are numerous details to be worked out, BUT there may be train cars reserved and you gotta admit that would be fun!

Here’s the RCNC/Unite link-to sign up.

Unite has also created support personnel – Outreach Organizers – for various states and ours is Laszlo Jaress, MA and he can be reached at or 206-753-9978

Here’s a link for more info. Maybe we’ll see you there.

I love the underdog.

I was working in my first job in treatment, basic staff in the West Detroit detox facility, three years into recovery.  Green would be the word. The tri-county detox was just taken over by the main treatment agency in the county and that Executive Director, Jim Balmer, was a mentor to me.  Six months into the job, I was out at the main facility for a meeting and after, I went down the hall to get detox mail. I was in a little acoustical pocket where you hear other offices and before I knew it was listening to his manager complain about me (I’d made some mistake or other, I cannot remember) and I heard Jim, my mentor say, “No No you don’t touch him, he loves addicts”.  And I thought, “Doesn’t everybody?”

Two key points from that were;  A) No everybody does not love addicts in fact most everyone most definitely hates addicts, and  B) Eventually I realized my instinctive stance is; I love the underdog.  The one who appears to be losing, the one who’s down. The ones who society scapegoats and thinks of as less than. Because that is what we do. We need to point the finger, we need a dog to kick.

I suppose it’s genetic, I was born with that love of the underdog but recovery definitely embedded it deeper. I was “losing” and once in recovery I began “winning” and that became one of the great spiritual lessons for me. Everybody loves the winner and nobody likes the loser and yet there can be a fine line between the two. In the Olympics it can be as fine as 1/100ths of a second.  Shakespeare, a practical psychologist at heart, said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”  Which to me means maybe “losing” is a roll we need to play as much as any other. A spiritual saying for this is; there but for the Grace of a Higher Power go I, which speaks to me of the fallacy of all judgement.  With this theme of quotes going, a favorite comes from non-violent communication teacher Marshall B. Rosenberg, “Every criticism, judgment… the tragic expression of an unmet need.” And how about one last quote from Shakespeare, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”  Of course, I believe in re-incarnation, so I get many chances. :)  But I don’t want another chance at addiction, I learned that lesson. A primo lesson of recovery is:  No one can take it from me. I can give it away but no one can take it, it is mine forever.

So what, you ask, does all this have to do with my review of the movie, “The World Made Straight”? Sometimes I perceive movies as underdogs and it’s my duty to champion them. They get lost in the shuffle, nobody sees them and they are diamonds a bit in the rough. This one clearly fits the bill. Its pedigree is strong and it brings me pleasure to help it along. Its life’s little pleasures that are best.

What bowled me over, beyond the movie itself, which is set in North Carolina,  was realizing it came from a novel of the same name, written by Ron Rash. He’s a North Carolina native son (though born in S. Carolina and we won’t hold that against him), an accomplished writer and professor at Western Carolina U.   His bio states, “Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Finalist and New York Times bestselling novel, Serena, in addition to three other prizewinning novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; three collections of poems; and four collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. Twice the recipient of the O. Henry Prize, he teaches at Western Carolina University.”

I love the mention of the Faulkner award because it gives me the opportunity to include a favorite Faulkner quote which is what the story strives (and succeeds) to portray, “The past is never dead, it isn’t even past.”

The story line goes, “A young man in Appalachia finds himself caught between vengeful pot farmers, a violent legacy from the Civil War and his own unpredictable future.”

Someone wrote, “It compares to “Winter’s Bone” for mountain rawness.”

It deals with loss and “failure” and “success” while weaving Civil War history into the story in what to me was a relevant and believable way. The story circles around the Civil War as it was fought in the North Carolina Mountains, “where brother against brother was far truer than perhaps any other place”.  Violence can bind us to the past. In the present tense, there is some addiction and even sex trafficking involved so it’s a bit painful. It is completely pertinent and not gratuitous.  I appreciated Steve Earle’s turn as a bad guy. Successful musicians often want to be actors, and vice-versa, and it usually does not work. A man openly in long-term recovery, Steve is one of my favorite singer-songwriters and he does a very credible job.

I do want to talk about the fact that as I grow in recovery a fair amount of movie violence I simply cannot watch. I have grown more sensitive in my life and it is too painful to see. Heck, it’s painful to watch the news so I’m choosy in my films. Movies are filled with the glamorization of all that’s dehumanizing to the point that I want to pick on some of the more egregious offenders. So, I hope it’s clear that when I recommend something that’s more R rated it is my feeling that it’s truly worth the effort. But hey each of us has to decide for ourselves. This movie’s painful, but captures some of the greatness of the human spirit in the harsher of circumstances and comes from a good heart toward the Appalachian experience, I feel.

While we’re at it, a couple of short reviews:  Calvary and Top 5, two very different movies.

“Calvary” ( – a poignant, touching, beautiful, stark stare into the abyss, also quite painful in parts but wonderfully done. A priest in Ireland has to deal with the consequences and fallout of pedophile priests. A morality play, with comic moments, a treatise on what virtues like integrity look like day-to-day,  the roles we play and another look at the past playing out in the now plus the ever-important solution,  forgiveness. Brendan Gleeson is perfect as the priest and ably supported by an excellent cast including a favorite of mine, M. Emmet Walsh.

“Top 5″ Chris Rock wrote and directed this commentary on show biz careers. It’s a really great script with Rock up to his best film form. I’m new to this whole movie reviewing thing so unsure still how much to reveal. I do have to say the movie ultimately pivots on the character’s fear he won’t be funny/relevant now that he is sober. My understanding is that is a true fear for artists of all stripe going back to the early jazz greats. “How will I live sober?!” I can relate. There are numerous funny and revealing parts but to me the best was his fairly restrained take on reality show culture. I am not a fan of more laws, I actually believe we need less laws and more common sense restraint. Freedom demands responsibility.  But maybe we could actually banish all reality show TV?  What do you say?  Let’s start a(nother) movement. 

Meanwhile, today’s acronym for the list:  TBFTGOAHPGI: there but for the Grace of a Higher Power go I.