Archive for category: Recovery Room

Four Years Sober

It’s the fourth anniversary. What a sentence to write.

The first year of sobriety snuck up on me. It was September 21, 2014, a day that grabbed me from behind, reached up and wrapped its hands around my throat. It’d been the hardest year of my life, and the thought of running dry for another sixty-or-whatever years threatened to choke the life out of me.

As it went, though, I kept on living, and in that living, I added a few days to that year. Then a few months. The second year passed with less violence. Then the third. Today, the fourth year snuck up on me, but it’s not threatening to choke me. It’s a sweeter day, somehow gentler. Four years without approaching even tipsy, and I’m most grateful. I might even say I’m at peace.

From that well of gratitude, I’ve decided to give away 10 copies of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith to one person. Winner-winner-chicken-dinner, use them however you wish. Use them in a group study. Give copies to friends in AA or NA or SA or any other twelve step program. Gift them to your business or church. Whatever. It’s up to you.

If you want to be entered into the drawing do any of the following (you’ll receive an entry for each):

1. Drop me a line in the comments below, letting me know you’d like your name entered;
2. Sign up to receive my bi-monthly TinyLetter;
3. Become a patron of my work (any level).

All the entries will be sorted in a virtual hat and the winner will be drawn at random.

Thanks again for reading along, for following me in this journey. You’re good folks.

 

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Son of a Fix.

By now, you know it’s National Recovery Month, the month dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who find recovery. (People like all of us.) In sober celebration, I’ve taken a hard look at my own recovery (alcohol was my lover). I’ve reviewed my old journals and asked whether I’m keeping my own inner sobriety fresh. Recovery, see, is a sourdough starter; you have to keep feeding it or it’ll die a stinky death.

Yesterday, I reviewed some Jesuit materials that have shaped my thoughts on true sobriety. I read and contemplated the Jesuit Principle and Foundation, which goes something like this:

“Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of doing this to save their souls.

God created all things on this earth [even wine, food, sex, etcetera, etcetera] to help us fulfill this purpose.

From this it follows that we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end, and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end.” (Bracketed portions are my additions.)

I sat in the quiet and meditated on the Principle and Foundation. I considered my own journey toward inner sobriety in light of it. (Only toward; do we ever reach the finish line?) As I did, I found myself high-centered on the notion that God has created things for our good.

Beer?

Wine?

The human ingenuity that gave us pain pills, social media, the wheels of commerce?

Yes, I reckon, all things were made for the good of men, but men seem to have minds of their own; if a little of something is good, a helluva lot is better. And if that ain’t you, count yourself among the luckiest of saints.

I considered God’s creation of the fermentation process, how he knew men would make wine and brew beer. And doesn’t a little wine an beer make the heart merry? Isn’t imbibing amoral? And yet, if my desires lead to over-use, to lack of presence with friends and family, to disruption of my scruples, it’s a hinderance from my chief end to “praise, reverence, and serv[ice] to God….” The Principle and Foundation then requires I put my desire to death.

Burn the booze at the stake.

Send sex to the firing squad.

Shove shopping through the meat grinder.

By killing the desire to overuse, to supplant God with the materials of his making, we incarnate the reality that God is our primary fixation. Everything else is secondary.

And that brings me to the most humbling part of my reflection. I came up with no less than a half-dozen things I misuse, abuse, or use to get a fix.

Son of a fix.

Good thing, I suppose, that it’s National Recovery Month.

Today, would you ask yourself these questions:

What are the things that hinder me from praising, reverencing, and serving God, even though they might be perfectly amoral otherwise?

Can I list them?

Can I come up with strategies to let those things go?

 

Bonus:

1. Coming Clean: A Story of Faith shares my 90-day journey into recovery. And isn’t it fitting that it began in September (2013). This is my story, sure. It’s your story, too. Grab a copy. Grab an extra copy for your friends.

2. Yesterday I asked my Facebook community what they’ve learned from others in recovery. The responses were amazing. You don’t want to miss this thread.

***BECOME A PATRON***

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It’s National Recovery Month. Come Clean?

September is National Recovery Month, a month raising awareness for those struggling with addiction, dependency, and compulsive habits. What’s more, September is the month I came clean four years ago. It’s the month I stepped into my own exploration of sobriety. That exploration has led me here, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Around these parts, we don’t limit discussion of recovery to alcohol or drugs. Instead, we look at recovery as something for everyone, something for the chemical addict and the over-shopper, over-eater, under-eater, video-game freak, or people pleaser. We all have our own bags, see. We all have different ways, different habits of avoiding pain. In part, this is the reason I curated the Recovery Room series years ago. (Check it out. There’s something there for everyone.)

Today, I’m asking you to take an inventory of your life. What are the habits and dependencies you use to numb anesthetize the pain of your life? What are the things you use to hold the presence of God at arm’s length? Can you identify a primary dependency? For me (and many of you) it was drinking. For some, it’s something wholly different. Get alone. Be honest. Jot down your dependency. Then? Get some resources, get a community, and get to work.

And as you move forward in an exploration of your dependency, compulsive habits, or addiction, I’m asking you to participate in my journey (and in National Recovery Month). It’s a journey I’ve written about in Coming Clean: A Story of Faith. There, I share the first 90 days of my own recovery journey with you, and show the practice that helped set me free. It’s raw at times, tender at others, but it’s always honest.

What are some ways you can participate in the journey of Coming Clean? What are some ways you can share the message?

COMING CLEAN RESOURCES FOR RECOVERY MONTH:

1. Coming Clean
Coming Clean: A Story of Faith shares my 90-day journey into recovery. And isn’t it fitting that it began in September (2013). This is my story, sure. It’s your story, too. Grab a copy. Grab an extra copy for your friends.

“Seth writes with a distinctly Southern sensibility—elegant, evocative, lyrical–and his wisdom and honesty shine through every page, gently illuminating our own fears and secret hearts along the way.” ~Shauna Niequist, author of Present Over Perfect.

(Patrons of my work at the $6.00-$10.00 tier receive a free copy of Coming Clean.)

2. Audio Readings
Would you like to listen to sample chapters of Coming Clean? Click on the photos below to listen to the first two chapters. (For more samples as they’re available, join my Patreon Community.)

3. Facebook Group
Would you like a place to discuss recovery from any old thing? Join this little Facebook Group. There are some good discussions there from time to time.

4. Coming Clean Journal
Receive thirty days of email prompts leading you to examine your own addictions, attachments, or dependencies and leading you into your own recovery.

Please feel free to share these resources with others who might need them. And if you have any question about whether someone might need them, remember this: We’re all drunk on something. 

 

***BECOME A PATRON***

Do you like the content here or in my Tiny Letter? Then I’d like to invite you to join my Patreon community. What is Patreon? It’s a way for you, the reader, to become a patron, a person supporting the arts (my art to be precise), and receive behind the scenes content in return. Visit my Patreon page for more information. And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

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Recovery Room: I Hear The Voices

Shawn Smucker is a friend and author who self-published the incredible Young Adult novel, The Day the Angels Fell, in 2014. Over the past several months, we’ve discussed the writing life, shared some of its ups and downs. What’s more, we’ve discussed the subtle addictions of career and “The Voices” that distract us from connection with God. I’ve asked Shawn if he’d agree to answer a few questions about career, self-doubt, and spirituality, and he graciously agreed. 

Perhaps you’re not a writer. Perhaps you’re a doctor, or lawyer, or restaurant owner, or homemaker. No matter what your occupation, I think there’s something here for you. Welcome Shawn to the Recovery Room, and after you read here, visit his website.

***

1. Shawn, tell us about your occupation, what you do and how you came into it.

I make a living co-writing and ghost-writing books for individuals and publishing houses. The emphasis on personal platform has led to many publishers seeking out the stories of people who are not necessarily book writers, but who have large followings. This has created a need for co-writers and ghost-writers to help these folks tell their stories well.

In 2006, my aunt was approached by a literary agent to tell her story, so after much work and many sample chapters, the publisher hired me to be her co-writer. One book led to another, and by 2009 I left my painting business to write full time. Seven years and 20 books later, here we are.

2. We’ve had conversations about the struggles of your occupation, the highs and lows. Can you share a little about that?

I always thought it would be emotionally difficult to write someone else’s book and then watch them take it out into the world, sort of like a surrogate mother who gives birth and then has to hand over the baby. (I hope that’s not an insensitive comparison.) It turns out, for me, that’s not the case. I’ve always seen the books I co-write as the other person’s book from the beginning, and I really don’t feel any kind of separation anxiety. I think I’ve realized that I’m more like a midwife than a surrogate. I coax others’ stories into existence and celebrate with them when they take the newborn home. That’s one of the real highs, helping someone tell their story in a way that later makes a huge difference in the life of a reader.

The real struggle for me has been more practical–how does one navigate a life when your income fluctuates so severely from one year to the next, one month to the next? During good years I make more money than I ever thought I would make, but during difficult years we have occasionally (twice) gone 6 – 8 months without making anything. My wife and I have five children (almost six). Not making money for that long can be scary and annoying and stressful. It can quickly lead to voices of self-doubt and judgment.

Nothing has influenced my relationship with God more than my current vocation, precisely because of the ups and downs. One word makes itself known to me during those difficult patches: Trust. And as Brennan Manning wrote, “The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future.” And this as well: “The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

3. You recently self-published an extraordinary YA novel, The Day the Angels Fell. Can you tell me about that book, about your expectations for it? Can you share how those expectations affected you emotionally and spiritually?

Writing and self-publishing my own work suddenly opened up a whole new world for me, a world of self-doubt and insecurity. I realized I had (have?) a deep, deep desire to be liked. Not just liked, but adored for my writing. (Man, it’s really hard to admit this!)

I guess I’m a little bit like Michael from The Office when he says, “Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I HAVE to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.”

All of that to say, leading up to the release of The Day the Angels Fell, I started to confront a lot of inner dialogue (I refer to this as “The Voices”) that, at the end of the day, tried to keep me from publishing this book. The Voices said “You’re not good enough at writing fiction,” or “No one will like this,” or “No one will care about it,” or “Why are you taking this risk?”

I pressed ahead, raised the money through Kickstarter, and I published the book, but even then I had to come to terms with Seth’s favorite saying: “This book will not do for me what I want this book to do for me.” I wasn’t going to suddenly win a ton of awards or become famous or find financial freedom through the publication of this book. I wasn’t invited to speak with Oprah, and people didn’t stop me in the street to thank me for this beautiful work of art I had created.

But here’s the thing. There were beautiful things happening even though the book didn’t do for me what I thought I wanted the book to do for me. I DID get wonderful emails from parents thanking me for the book, explaining to me what an important story it turned out to be for their child, and videos of kids thanking me for the book. I also had a chance to read the book at libraries and in people’s homes and I realized that these people cared about the book and the characters as much as I did! What an incredible feeling!

Writing and publishing this book taught me that the most beautiful part of writing is not in the fame or the fortune but in the small, everyday exchanges that happen between reader and writer. What an exquisite lesson to learn. This reminds me of what John Steinbeck said about his remarkable novel East of Eden while he was writing it: “Even if I knew that nothing would emerge from this book, I would still write it.” This is the mindset I am constantly trying to come back to, this mindset of creating without expectation.

4. From a spiritual perspective, what do you find to be the most difficult part of your occupation? Are there practices you’ve found to deal with these challenges?

I’ve already talked about the difficulty of trusting through hard financial times, but as I spend more and more time on my own writing, I have to tell you, one of the toughest parts of this occupation is shopping a book proposal to publishers. Waiting is a spiritual muscle, and mine is very weak. Compound that with the fact that the waiting is also tied up in someone else’s view and opinion of my creative work, and it’s basically a perfect storm for me.

My go-to spiritual practice in recent years has been silence. Deliberate, regularly practiced, intentional silence. I take into that silence a phrase or a verse that applies to my situation, and I soak in it for five minutes or ten minutes or twenty minutes, and in the silence God somehow gives me what I need to disable the voices, to let the stress drift past me. Silence has taught me so much in the last few years. Our world is so noisy. I don’t know how people live without silence.

Also, I don’t know if this is a spiritual practice or not, but it has become one for me, and that would the spiritual practice of taking the next step. Moving forward. Waiting is good and important but there is also a lot of freedom to be found in movement, physical and emotional. So, as I wait to hear about whether publishers are interested in taking my once self-published book and making it a traditionally published book, I move forward. I work on the sequels to The Day the Angels Fell, and in that movement I find freedom from The Voices.

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Recovery Room: Professional Performance Addiction

I had the privilege of meeting Ashley Hales in Portland, where a few of us gathered at Warner Pacific College and discussed faith, writing, and the carpet of cherry blossoms on the WPC parking lot. Ashley is a gem. I can attest.

In addition to being an accomplished writer, Ashley holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church.  You can find her work at aahales.com, and The Mudroom. She loves to make friends on Twitter.

Welcome Ashley to the Recovery Room. (For more Recovery Room pieces, CLICK HERE).

***

I do not often believe that God is good. Instead I picture God with a frown in heaven, not quite pleased that I haven’t got my act together yet. For all my Bible answers, all my understanding of a theology of grace, I choose hustle to prove that I am loved and seen. Do you?

When I sat in a little red plastic chair and “prayed the prayer” at a Get-Your-Salvation pop-up tent, I wanted to make the lady manning the booth feel good by sitting down and following Jesus. Even at 4 years old. As an only child, I’d quickly learned that pleasing people not only made both parties happy, but also endeared me to them. I was special as long as I was perfect. And salvation groaned under weight of duty.

I’d check off Bible studies and small groups. I’d travel on mission trips to Mexico and invite my friends to youth group. My love for Jesus and his church was mixed up with my own need to be seen as a model Christian. This was my addiction, my sanitized way to hold off what Brennan Manning calls “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”

Duty is a terrible god. It does not motivate, release, or encourage. There is no freedom, just an obsessive turning-inward, where I’d never do enough to wipe the frown from God’s face.

On the other side of adulthood, the list shifted to parenting choices, political affiliation, what brand of theology you sold. It was easier to sort others into columns of “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” based on their answers. This was easier than the hard journey of love – where truth and grace dance and no one knows exactly how the steps will go.

Rule keeping was easier than believing the children’s song: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. A song I thought I’d outgrown, but one I’m just now learning.

Underneath all the frantic hustle, there are burning questions. What might happen if I lost myself in the love of God? What could happen if I loosened my grip on all the ways I was sure I was right? What might happen if I loved others by sacrificing myself? I feared I would become invisible. I would lose myself.

This recovery is not a neat and tidy story of upward mobility, where the power of people pleasing and rule following fall off like chains and I’m forever free. For as many times as I’m moved towards a love that embraced death for me, I crawl back to my chains. I plan church events and get sucked into all the “doing,” all the fretting about my children’s behavior, and I’m stuck in a world of “me.”

Seth writes, this is not a clean story. It’s true. This is not a story of tabulating performance to land on top. This is not a story of just getting my act together to please a frowning deity. This is a story of a grace that shatters. I’m shattered again and again and lovingly put back together by hands that are not mine.

Most days, honestly, I still prefer a safe, tame God. I resist opening my dry bones to a God whose love is so bent on the object of his desire that it is a consuming fire. I fear I will be burned up. But I’m learning that instead of backing away from the fire, to use borrowed words. I repeat creeds and prayers and “Jesus Loves Me.” I have no shiny words, no jargon or religious activity to make God happy. His eyes have always smiled at me simply because I am his child.

I’m beloved. That is worth getting caught up in.

***

Ashley Hales profile picture

 

Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church.  She writes at aahales.com, The Mudroom, and loves to make friends onTwitter.

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