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  • They have a saying around these parts – “Don’t leave before the miracle happens.” This is in reference to the experience of recovery from addiction. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes some extravagant promises with regards to recovery from alcoholism. This comes right after the instructions for making amends to others, which is the 9th Step, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

    At this point in the book, it says, “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.

    “We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.

    “We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

    “Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize, if we work for them.”
  • I was sober from drinking alcohol for close to seven years before I began to experience what they talked about in that passage. I was clean and sober, off all drugs, including marijuana, and alcohol for close to 4 ½ years, at that point. I can’t tell you what made me stick with it, even when these things that were supposed to be happening weren’t.

    I was convinced that I was far too broken to ever be able to experience anything like what they talked about there. I just didn’t want to get any more broken than I already was, so I kept coming back. I hung in there, even when every fiber of my being wanted to walk away from it all. I actually did walk away from it all, but it seemed to track me down and find me where I was trying to hide from it.

    I no longer wanted all those things “promised.” I just wanted to be left alone, to live my life without the drama, without the struggle, without all the insanity. But, I guess from being around those rooms, and having seen all the miracles of recovery, there was still this glimmer of hope, deep in the dark recesses of my brokenness, that whispered late at night, when I wasn’t really paying attention to anything in particular, “it could happen for you – if you let it.”

    And then, it did. It happened. Those things began to happen in my life. It wasn’t just some shit I heard in a meeting, or read in a book. Life took on a new meaning. I began to give a shit about others, as much or sometimes even more so than I did about myself. I wanted to live. I wanted to give. I wasn’t quite ready to be searching for a heart of gold, but I was on my way to getting better, despite myself – despite my Self.
  • It’s weird, this dichotomy between giving up and surrendering. It took me another seven years or so to learn the difference. What I didn’t know was happening, right before I started to get better, was that I had surrendered all the things that no longer worked for me, when I knew, fully, finally, that they wouldn’t work. I had exhausted all hope that they would, so I finally surrendered that effort, and much to my amazement, I learned that a power greater than myself could restore me, and my life, to sanity.

    I no longer walked out of jobs that I couldn’t stand. I no longer ran from intimacy that I couldn’t handle. I watched and listened to others more, and listened to myself less. I no longer believed that I knew what was best for me. I let others gently guide me into a better way of living. I got a job and kept it. Still have it 32 ½ years later, only doing a little better than I was then. I fell into a relationship that I’d done my best to avoid. We’re still trying to figure each other out 32 ½ years later, and still finding ways to grow, despite some rough patches along the way. I find much joy in each day I live. Even when shit gets really sketchy, at work, or with my health, or at home, or on Cowbird, I usually have more moments sublime than times I’m frustrated.

    But, during those years after that subtle surrender, when things began to improve, I often gave up on a lot of things, didn’t participate in life in ways that I could have, based on this idea I had developed that, being who I was, I couldn’t do those things. I had to be careful. I grew somewhat timid about who I was and where I went. I found myself in kind of a cage – granted, it was a comfortable cage, but one that slowly grew a quiet desperation to it.
  • Then, we took this series of workshops, designed to help identify things we did to hold ourselves back from living a full and abundant life. In the middle of one of the workshops, they had this “surrender” exercise. They had us doing this ridiculous thing – “Palms together; palms apart. Palms together; palms apart” - and gave us no further instruction. So everyone was doing it, and nothing seemed to be happening. As the seconds turned to minutes, and the clock ticked on, there was this room full of participants, all sitting around doing this thing, this palms together, palms apart.

    So, I just stopped. I quit. I’d figured it out. It was late at night, and I was tired, and I just wanted to go home. I was rather smug in my cleverness in having figured the surrender exercise out. This is easy. You just surrender. You give it up. There’s nothing to prove. You just stop. Now, if everyone else will see the light, we’ll be done, and we can all go home.

    But, no one else did. I was the only one smart enough to have figured it out. I couldn’t believe these people. What was wrong with them? Didn’t they know, all we had to do was stop, and it would all be over? But, there they went, calmly putting palms together, palms apart, and I was sitting there, slowly growing more and more impatient. I wanted to scream, “Don’t you fools get it? Give it up, already! Surrender! That’s the name of the Goddamned exercise. This shit is not rocket science, people!” It went on, and on, and I simply lost my mind. I lost my shit. At some point, it all wound down, and they were all peaceful and content, and had all had a wonderful experience with the Surrender Exercise. I just wanted to quit the whole workshop – the most ridiculous thing I ever saw!

    It took me awhile to get it. Surrender wasn’t always about quitting. Sometimes surrender was continuing on – hanging in there until the miracle happened. I didn’t get it, then. I was so pissed off, I couldn’t see it. But, I did learn a valuable lesson. Quitting was not surrendering. It was quitting.
  • I had been quitting on many things in life, many opportunities that might have been available to me, but I was too busy living in my isolated cage, my safe, comfortable, predictable haven. Life was slowly passing me by. Somewhere along the way, not right away, but over the next few years, I began to wake up. I didn’t notice it at first, but it was happening. Life was happening.

    I remember the facilitator of the workshop trying to get me to talk about my relationship with my father. I thought it was great, my relationship. We’d come so far. But, he had sensed something there, and kept prying, trying to get me to look a little closer at that. It wasn’t but a year or two afterwards, that my relationship with Dad went to a whole other level, to a place neither of us ever thought was possible, and he became my closest of friends, and I, his. It was truly a miracle. He taught me things no one else ever would or could have. He knew me so well, and knew what might really be of value to me, going forward in my life, from many of his own hard-fought life experiences, and I finally got it, and listened, and learned.
  • Today, when people tell me to surrender, I have to ask myself, “Is it surrender – or, is it quitting?” It’s never easy for me to tell. If my head tells me one thing, it’s usually the wrong thing. If my gut finds its way to speak up, and tells me something else, something that makes no sense, something that would probably require a fucking miracle to actually succeed – I listen. I’ve learned to do this. I’ve learned not to walk away before the miracle occurs.

    I watched Tom Brady do the same thing in the Super Bowl last Sunday. He should have folded the tent, and given up the ghost when his team was down, 28-3, as the third quarter wound down. He should have “surrendered.” But, instead, he put his palms together, palms apart, went out and kept playing, and believed that a miracle could happen.

    I believe. I’m not quitting. I’m not giving up the ghost. Who knows – maybe the miracle is right around the next corner.

    Palms together – palms apart.
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