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Posted by on in Alcoholism

“Man, you’ve got the saddest story I have ever heard”.  I am shocked and in disbelief.  I have just finished telling my story in front of death row inmates at the maximum-security prison in Potosi, Missouri.  George whose mouth those words came out of was on death row waiting for his time to be put to death.  He reminded me of the man who played the prisoner in the movie, The Green Mile.  One of the biggest men I have ever seen.  Ninety-nine percent of these men were in prison for issues that one way or another alcohol and drugs played a role.

My journey to this point started 6 years ago when I came into recovery.  At that point I was willing to do anything to stay clean and sober and when a friend asked if I would participate in REC’s, residents (prisoners) encounter Christ, I said sure, not having a clue what that meant.  I was working on 3 DWI’S, hadn’t paid or filed taxes in three years, my house was close to foreclosure, one car was repossessed, my wife and kids long gone, my business was close to being taken away, friends gone, I threw my father and siblings out of my life.  If someone told me to jump off of a cliff to stay sober, I would have jumped.  I was emotionally, physically and spiritually dead.

This was my first time working with death row inmates but it had the biggest impact on me.  If I swerved just a little one of those thousands of nights driving home, I could easily be sitting in a maximum-security prison.  Over the previous 6 years I had worked with prisoners in maximum-security prisons and once at a women’s prison.  Each experience is unique and I had participated in about 10 REC’s to date.

REC’s are not a recovery program, it is run through Catholic Ministries.  The bottom line is to let the prisoners know they are not alone, find Christ in their lives and seek salvation.  Their families and friends don’t visit so they are always suspicious of why we are there.  I am not a very religious person but some of what I witnessed during those REC’s was truly a miracle.  It takes place over a long weekend.  We do everything with the prisoners except stay over night.  As you can imagine the guards watch closely over us and they do not really care for these weekends.  It disrupts the daily routines.  But wardens have said that when a REC is taking place the prison quiets down during and for a little while after.  Prisoners are specially chosen and are only able to participate in one or two REC’s the rest of their lives.  This is a very special occasion for them and they won’t let another prisoner get out of line for fear of losing their weekend.

We sing songs, tell stories, speak about Christ, have a rise day like Christ rose, a die day like Christ died. We wash each other’s feet as Christ did.  We dine on the horrible prison food and act as it is the best food ever.  I still remember the awful stench in the dining area to this day.   We put on plays with the prisoners, bring in fresh vegetables and fruit, which the prisoners never have.  On the final night we always have a local restaurant cater the final meal, kind of like the last supper. All in all an extremely powerful weekend, far from the bars and country clubs that I was used to. It is hard to describe the feeling I had when four or five prisoners had their hands on my head praying for me to help with my talk.  I think I filled a bucket with tears.  Nobody had ever prayed over me like that, what an emotional, moving moment that was.  By the end of the weekend there are hugs all around and not a dry eye in sight, including the guards.  We just spent almost 72 hours with these men and we know each other inside and out.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

The Tenth Tradition reminds us that we as a group do not have an opinion on outside issues.  This is an important principle, as it keeps our meetings focused on our primary purpose: to help others.  As a sober member of twelve-step programs and an active member of the local Buddhist center, I have some experience with keeping outside issues of mine out of the rooms.

Although my participation in this other organization is very helpful to me, has helped me connect with myself and the world, and is very important to my sobriety, it has no place in the rooms.  When I speak directly about my “religion” rather than my spiritual program of working the Twelve Steps, I am
minimizing my effectiveness to others.

When someone shares and makes clear his or her religious affiliation, I must admit I close my mind a tiny bit.  I am not proud of this quality, but it is the truth.  I think if I, with a few years of sobriety, have even the slightest amount of contempt for this, than it is probable that a newcomer also would.

The need to share religious affiliation in meetings baffles me.  I often wonder why somebody would share that kind of information.  My personal opinion is that it tends to come off in a demeaning way.  When somebody speaks about his or her intense religious practice, I feel contempt because I feel judged.  I often feel like it is a separating act, not a unifying.
Although at any given meeting there are possibly people with similar religious beliefs, there are generally far more people with different beliefs.  One of the
most beautiful things about twelve-step rooms is the unifying of addicts and alcoholics from all different walks of life.  Feeling a part of was one of the most wonderful feelings I felt upon entering the rooms.  Putting differences out there like religious beliefs is simply unnecessary and certainly unhelpful.

Knowing this, it is my opinion (based on my personal experience, as well as those that came before me), that any religious affiliation should stay out of a
regular meeting.  Where I live, there are twelve-step meetings that are designated for people of certain faiths or beliefs, just as there are gender-specific meetings.

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

Alcoholics Anonymous provides us with many great tools.  We suddenly are given an amazing support network, a spiritual program of action, and wonderful opportunity to grow.  Although Twelve-Step programs offer us so much, there are certainly things that we may find outside of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The stigma surrounding this prevents many people in the program from doing so, which is hurtful toward recovery.  There are several ways people look outside Alcoholics Anonymous for help, and none of them are wrong.

Professional Help

There are many professionals out there that offer great help to addicts of all kinds.  However, people tend to treat seeking professional help as taboo in twelve-step programs.  This attitude is extremely hurtful and close-minded.  Many of our fellows benefit from professional help of different kinds, and discouraging them or making them feel different because of it can change someone's life.

Physicians

Taking the example of physicians, there are many issues which we cannot ourselves handle.  Our physical health is of the utmost importance to our recovery, as the body's health can dictate the mind's health.  There are times where we must seek a physician's help.  Our physician may prescribe medications as he or she sees fit.  In my personal experience and opinion, we may take certain narcotic medications when they are absolutely necessary.  It is also always important to speak with a sponsor or mentor before doing so.  We must be careful in taking any medication of any kind, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary.  We cannot trust our own heads to make the decision on whether or not it is necessary, and this is why we speak to a sponsor.  Also, it helps substantially to have a doctor that is sober.

Psychiatrists

Another professional that we may seek help from is a psychiatrist.  Psychiatrists may help diagnose and treat mental illness.  Obviously medication comes into play here, and that is perfectly alright.  There are many addicts that suffer from mental disorders.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "Over 8.9 million persons have co-occurring disorders; that is they have both a mental and substance use disorder."*  Not seeking help can be an issue of life and death.

Although psychiatrists may prescribe medications, this is not a reason to shy away from them.  Dealing with co-occurring disorders is not easy.  Without treating the mental illness, sobriety is near impossible.  The addiction and mental illness create a vicious cycle, and without treating both simultaneously, the person has little chance of recovery.  Again, we should be careful of blindly accepting medications without speaking to those with more experience than us.

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