Red, White and BLUE Without a Drink?

After three years, I’m perfectly ok to be the only one not drinking on the Fourth of July. I have always been a little “different” in a crowd. I drank for years, merely to fit in, but you know how the ole story goes – I always drank too much, and there I was again, standing out like a moth at a butterfly gathering.

Last night I went to bed excited about the holiday without even considering what it would be like to drink, yet I was offered a brutal drinking dream, so here I am awake now shaking off the horrible feeling of relapsing, although it was only a nightmare. Those dreadful drinking dreams still come up for me, and I feel like it is simply my body (emotional, spiritual, mental) releasing old toxins – old energies and patterns of thinking seeping out of me in my sleep. In this dream, I carried a bottle of bottom shelf vodka and took sips out of it all day long, trying to maintain a buzz without getting too drunk. I accepted that I’d relapsed, and decided to forget about the recovery memoir I’d written – it was useless to anyone now because here I was drunk again. (Such a waste). People all around me knew what I was doing, and I still tried to hide the bottle while covering up my breath with gum, mouthwash and food. (What a high maintenance addiction – it’s so much easier to just maintain sobriety). In my drinking dream, I knew I was failing myself, yet I was stuck in the old, hopeless cycle. Upon waking up, I felt shame, fear, and then relief as I came to. Dreams about drinking are a reminder of why I do not want to go there again.

Two years into my sobriety, I decided to go completely vegan, so today I will probably be the only American at our campsite barbequing vegetables and drinking bottled water instead of enjoying a hamburger with a beer in hand. So what? I’m a little different – always have been. I’ve become completely comfortable with doing my own thing. I’m so incredibly grateful for my life. I love spending quality time with my family, especially my children, while being lucid. Staying awake instead of passing out during the fireworks, is so enjoyable. The sun is out and I’m not going to be dehydrated today because of too much booze. None of my differences take away from my experience of the holiday – in fact, my sobriety enhances the experience because I get to be all up in it! I get the full treatment of this fabulous American holiday. The aroma of barbeque, the sun beating down on my body, children’s laughter, adults relaxing, a spectacular fireworks show, the campfire afterward, and I’ll still be wide awake. I’ll close my eyes when I decide it’s time for bed. I am no longer a slave to the drink in my hand. I’m in control now. This is my life and I’m doing what I love doing, and being myself without shame, guilt, fear or self-destruction. This is a reason to celebrate.

When we were kids, we weren’t even thinking about anything but having fun during this holiday (during any holiday for that matter), so why do we think we can’t enjoy the festivities without a drink? That’s complete nonsense. If you feel uncomfortable today, recall what it was like to be a child during the Fourth of July and become that child again. If you are surrounded by adults who are drinking, find the group of kids and hang out with them. I guarantee you’ll have a lot more fun. I do it all the time. Find a way to enjoy this day and practice getting comfortable in your own skin. Soak it all in – be present and tap into your gratitude today. BE different. BE yourself. There is nothing more liberating than the gift of recovery, and after all, isn’t liberty what this day is all about?

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Restlessness – How to Settle the Inner Storm

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Restlessness is a sure sign to me that I am not in my body.  Even after three years and a couple of months in recovery, once in while I still become restless.  It is rare, but it does come up for me.  Yesterday even after meditation, a steadily busy day at work and an hour walk with a friend, I was still splitting at the seams.  A drive home in more traffic than usual, an unexpected encounter, an apartment that was too hot to cook a good meal for myself in – all more reasons to come even more undone.  I had hours before it was time to go to sleep and nothing I focused on could keep my attention for long.  I had to figure something out because this will last a few more days if I don’t get myself back to center.

I understand why I am feeling restless, which is good to know.  I just moved.  The break-up is final.  My daughter is gone for a couple of weeks.  Most of the time when I’m feeling restless, it’s a cue to take really good care of myself.  Back in the old days, the restlessness would vamp me up and I would turn into a self-destructive, unpredictable wild person.  Luckily the opposite of that is true for me today and I am able to see that I need some self-care.  I’ve been going to a lot of meetings and they help a little, but when it gets to a point where I am thinking about getting a tattoo (which probably could ease me back into my body, actually), I know that I’m in a bad space.  Tattoos are ok.  I have one.  I just don’t want anymore, especially one that isn’t planned out very well.  I can just imagine Jon Hamm’s face on my forearm holding a ‘Mad Men’ banner, or something even more outrageous.  I really needed to place my attention elsewhere, so first things first – I ate a healthy meal.  Nutrition and exercise are so important in recovery, but sometimes it isn’t enough, so what else can you do during times of restlessness an/or boredom?

Self-care during restlessness is the opposite of self-destruction, so that’s what I did last night.  There is a quaint little massage therapy place close to where I live.  They were slow last night, so I made myself an appointment and offered myself a little pampering.  It absolutely helped.  Afterward, I was in a different space and I slept very well.  Upon waking up today, I feel more centered.  The place I go is not expensive, which is great, but in the beginning of my recovery I may not have been able to afford any type of massage.  I know how that can be.  During these times, I would take myself to an artsy movie, or walk to a farmer’s market and engage with the people.  Sometimes they offers massages for a dollar per minute at farmer’s markets.  Massage is a great solution, especially if you can find someone who gets in tune with your body and feels what you need.

If you can’t get a massage, I encourage you to take care of yourself no matter what.  Bake yourself your favorite dessert.  Make yourself a delicious meal.  Watch your favorite comedy – laugh out loud.  Whatever you can do, or whatever you can afford to pamper yourself – do it.  Talk to people who are also in recovery.  This is a good time to do service as well, but don’t forget that you need some self-care too.  Even buying a new item of clothing, or getting a haircut and color will change things up enough to loosen that discomfort in you.  It’s important that you don’t spend money you don’t have, because that would be self-destructive.  Spend what you can afford, and if you can’t afford anything, perhaps you can take a swim, or spend an evening with friends.  Go somewhere new.  Take a long walk and listen to soothing music.  Pick yourself some wild flowers and put them in a vase.  Take a bubble bath with lavender to sooth your restlessness.  Love yourself and honor yourself back into your body.  This has really helped me in the past, and it certainly alleviated the discomfort last night when I had a massage.

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Restlessness is part of life.  Any big changes, or even the slowness of life can trigger this experience.  For addicts, however, this is a trigger to use or drink.  Remember that recovery is doing the opposite of what we know, so instead of splitting into several parts of yourself and destroying everything in your path, reign it in and pull yourself together by taking really good care of yourself in these moments.  If you are too busy to do anything for yourself (which is probably an excuse), just remember that this too shall pass.  The restlessness is not eternal.  It will flee at some point, but do not resist it.  Find harmony within it.  Allow to be with you and get curious about why it’s there.  Learn something about yourself while you are experiencing the discomfort, and be present with it.  Tell yourself it’s going to be ok, and then be good to yourself.  Take one moment at a time and don’t judge yourself for being human.  Peace be with you today.  Remain sober (no matter what) and this too shall pass.

The Void We All Experience, is an Unopened Trove

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The infamous VOID that we’re constantly trying to fill, cannot be filled because it is already full and the lid is tightly sealed.  I know this from experience.  Everything I tried to fill myself with eventually brought more emptiness.  I don’t need to go into this because we all know about temporary fixes.  What we don’t all know about is that the void is wreaking havoc on your life because it’s yearning to be explored.  There is nothing more cavernous and beckoning than the void inside of each human being, but rather than give it our full attention, we try to shut it off because we secretly think it’s going to kill us.  On the contrary.  That cave inside of you is the richest part of your human experience.  If only you would sit with it for quite some time and learn to acknowledge it; you will discover that there is a treasure inside of you simply waiting to be opened. 

One of the men at my home group has been coming back as a newcomer for weeks.  He gets thirty days and spoils it.  Over and over.  He is in a lot of pain.  I’ve been there before and I hear him speak about the void that is inside of him and how he used filled it with women, but now he’s filling it with God.  I understand all of this.  I understand that many of us think that God is the one who is supposed to fill that void, but I will tell you something that I don’t think I’ve ever said before.  God never stopped me from taking a drink.  God never stopped me from self-destructing.  Filling my void with God didn’t remove the cravings, nor did God remain in there so tightly that it filled up my void completely.  Like sealing cracks around a window, the air always finds its way through, and God never took up all of that empty space inside of me.  There is nothing that can fill that space because it’s not a space at all.  It’s a place of yearning.  Its a place of essence.  It’s the very core of YOU, and its begging for your exploration.

You’ve ignored yourself for several years.  There is so much entertainment, too many distractions, a bazillion people wanting your attention.  You spend your energy trying to achieve their approval and acceptance.  There is a career, possibly there are children, and so many relationships require your time.  If you’re religious, Jesus needs your attention too, and if you’re into technology, then you’ve kept yourself occupied with plenty of computer stuff.  Movies, games, meals, sex, TV shows… it’s enough to draw anyone away from themselves for decades.  And the void seems to get louder.  It’s aching inside of you and it’s begging for your attention, so you fill it with even more outside stuff and suddenly you discover yourself in a self-destructive cycle.  WHAM!  Then you’re finally left with nothing except for you and that disturbing, terrorizing void.  You can cry over that void because it makes you miserable.  It’s irritating and longing for one thing only.  That one thing is not God.  It’s you.

 Hang out with your emptiness and learn about that space inside of you.  It’s not going to kill you to feel lonely, or to desperately ache.  That feeling of void is the neglect that you have offered to yourself throughout your life.  It’s sadness.  It’s pain from being abused by you.  It’s your own self longing for your friendship.  Haven’t you ever wondered why there is a void?  Perhaps it’s not a void at all.  What if it is everything you’ve ever dreamed about, wrapped up inside a beautiful box just waiting for your arrival?  And it was getting louder and louder because it has been waiting for so damn long?  Come back home… it calls to you.  Love me… it beckons.  Like a little child missing a long lost parent. 

The void is not emptiness longing to be filled.  It’s a rich trove, begging to be opened.  Walk down into that cavernous space of yourself and discover what it’s like to open a treasure that fills up every crevasse of your being.  Stop running.  Stop fixing.  Stop pretending you aren’t aching just like everyone else on this planet.  The only difference between you and the person who is filled with serenity, is that they finally stopped fighting their emptiness and accepted the gift that was yearning to be discovered.     

 

How Long Will the Cravings Last?

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The obsession to drink and use can become so overwhelming in early recovery, that we give in just to stop the noise of our minds.  I recall a desperate time of my addiction when I was in a constant battle with myself.  More than anything, I wanted to quit drinking, but my thirsty addict-self was a monster inside me, breathing down my neck in repulsion of my weak sobriety.  For me, it took getting into a treatment program to save me from that monster, but many people tackle the beast by simply getting a sponsor and working an honest program, or by recognizing the voice of the addict and not giving in to its desire to use.  As a chronic relapser, my monster was well groomed by the end of my drinking.  It knew if it became loud enough, I would do whatever it took to get it a drink.  This was how the beast grew and overwhelmed me in the end.

In treatment, I spent six months with a mindset that I was never going to have a drink while I was in there.  I had no money, no friends or family nearby, and no transportation.  Leaving the facility would be a shot in the dark to nurture the beast, so he remained silent, but when I left the program to enter the real world, I would face the greatest challenge of my life.  You see, the beast was growing inside of me all of those months, and now I was dealing with a terrorizing bully inside of me. He arose when I was at my weakest, and he caught me off-guard.  

It was about seven months after treatment… one year and three months into sobriety, when the bully shadowed everything I learned in recovery.  He was not backing down while I was emotionally grieving for the first time since I left the doors of the treatment center.  The monster was so loud, it eclipsed my instincts to call a sober friend, or to go to a meeting.  I was alone and it had me captive, so there I was face to face with my addict-self, and it was winning, but suddenly I whispered something that saved my life, “God, please help me right now.  Please help.”  My body was shaking as I thought about buying a pint of vodka, knowing exactly which liquor store I would make the purchase, and as I salivated for that warm buzz.  Nothing was about to stop me, but when I whispered those words, I grabbed my backpack and ran; not to the liquor store, but right up the Berkeley Hills where the treatment facility was located.  I walked into the sacred place and slid down into a wooden bench in front of the front desk where one of my closest peers just happened to be working that day.  I melted into tears and told on myself, “I was just about to drink…” 

I spent the remainder of the day inside that facility, joining my peers in groups and telling the woman what it felt like to be defeated by my emotions.  I spoke to a couple of counsellors and went home feeling both drained and victorious.  I had never overcome a craving of that magnitude, and it was empowering.  What I didn’t know was that I was well on my way to defeating that beast inside of me.  My cravings are far and few in-between these days, and they certainly don’t last very long when I stay with them and allow them to be part of my experience, without giving in to their greed for my sanity. 

I’ve been sober for two years, eleven months and four days.  The obsession to drink is far removed, but I’m not going to lie and say that I have won this battle.  Just a few months ago I was side-swiped with devastating news and the first thing I wanted to do was buy a bottle of vodka.  This came out of nowhere.  Sometimes I can go months and deal with many emotional upswings and downswings without thinking about alcohol, but once in a great while, it will overcome me, and usually when it’s least expected.  I think of recovery as a practice of NOT DRINKING.  Every time I move through a craving without picking up, I’m exercising my sober-self, and my beast is finally backing down.   

What keeps me from taking a drink these days is the self-respect I feel, the love I have for myself, and knowing that taking a drink will not solve anything.  It will set me back and I do not want to feel like a failure.  I have never felt so good about who I am, where I’m going and my sobriety.  I’m simply happy and life is so much easier without an addiction to battle.  

Although I can’t give you an exact day when the obsession to drink and use will diminish, I can tell you that the more you practice NOT using, the stronger you will become.  And it certainly gets easier as time goes on.  Think of the cravings as the treacherous road you must travel in order to get to your destination.  Allow them to overcome your body once in a while, knowing that this road is temporary on your long term journey.  The cravings won’t last more than a few hours, and usually they diminish within an hour.  Sometimes we’ve got to walk through the fire to get to the oasis.  Don’t let the beast take over your soul.  It is your battle to win, and you are strong enough to claim your victory.  Discover this for yourself; it is incredibly empowering!

http://www.amazon.com/THE-DEVILS-ALTAR-Dynamic-Recovery-ebook/dp/B00FO72854/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395671279&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=the+devil%27s+altar+by+J.+L.+Forbes

A New Season for New Beginnings

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As I sit behind my desk enjoying the twilight view from my window, I’m refreshed to know that when the sun finally makes its appearance this morning… it’s officially spring.  I’m grateful to embark upon a new season.  I noticed it yesterday while driving through my oak tree adorned neighborhood.  I don’t exactly know when it occurred, but leaves have replaced the stark and barren branches of the sprawling, giant trees.  Squirrels scurry, not looking for nuts to bury, but in a playful fashion; suggesting they too, are enjoying the fertile grounds.  Lately I’m waking up to the songs of swallows rather than the hollow squawks of crows.  It’s time to spread out my arms and embrace the luscious beauty surrounding me, and to enjoy evening walks again as the gracious sun remains above the backdrop of rolling hills in the west.

Spring is such a glorious reminder from the universe, isn’t it?  A reminder that we are generously and continuously offered new beginnings.  A reminder that most things (like dreadful winters) are not eternal.  A reminder that after a cold and damp darkness, sunlight does return.  A reminder that it doesn’t matter how desolate the earth seems during winter; the flowers will always re-bloom and green fields will replace the naked land.  It’s the natural order of things, and this applies to the inner workings of life as well… “As above, so below.”   We as human beings, are part of nature, and have an innate ability to rebalance and grow throughout our lives.  Nothing we feel is eternal, but without the darkness, would we even recognize or appreciate light?

Contrast is the soul’s way of remembering.  Without a dense and dark playground, such as the physical realm our earth provides, our souls have no way to explore and discover it’s own innate wholeness.  It is during our darkest hours that we learn our greatest lessons; and as we return to our natural state of joy after such harrowing experiences, we are awakened to this wholeness of ourselves.  It is a constant cycle of humanity.  Individually we all must experience these cycles and allow them to be, without meddling with the flow and order of things.  In our addiction, we were meddling, but in our recovery, we are discovering that life effortlessly unfolds before us, like a celestial path of self-exploration.  Resistance of this path creates turmoil, like a brutal winter storm we must endure until we finally surrender to our experiences, realizing that all is actually well.  Everything harsh passes, and if we don’t resist the occurrences, we emerge with great insight; like a blooming garden after a callous winter.

For those who think you have too much work to do before you can experience an internal spring, stop telling yourself this.  You can begin a new season with where you are right now.  The universe is waiting on you to be present so that it can abundantly provide you with everything you need to recover.  This is not the land of punishment; this is simply the soul’s playground.  Once you understand the physical realm in this manner, nothing you face will deem impossible, or even difficult to overcome.  It is simply an obstacle course in support of your spiritual growth. 

Ah… the sun has finally illuminated the green hills in the west, and the sky is mellow blue with a slight marine layer offering beautiful contrast.  I’m grateful to embark upon a new season.  It’s a reminder that I can begin a new season in my own life… this very moment.

If you would like more information on the soul’s dynamic journey through recovery, here is a link to my memoir:

http://www.amazon.com/Devils-Altar-Dynamic-Journey-Recovery/dp/1492957798/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395325580&sr=1-1&keywords=the+devil%27s+altar

And if you own a Kindle, you can download it for 0.99 http://www.amazon.com/DEVILS-ALTAR-Dynamic-Journey-Recovery-ebook/dp/B00FO72854/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395326763&sr=1-1&keywords=the+devil%27s+altar+in

Don’t Worry. About a Thing…

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Just recently I was able to introduce my eleven year old daughter to Bob Marley.  This was a proud day for me to share with her;  playing music with her that has brought me great joy since I was a kid.  While we discussed his music and his message of hope, she recognized the song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”  Of course she did!  Who doesn’t find themselves smiling, singing, movin’ and groovin’ to this simple tune every now and then?  It simply resonates with our souls.  Generations have grown up to these simple and sacred words.  This song was destined to be written.  It was already in the stars awaiting formation when good ole’ Mr. Marley came along and took the grand opportunity to embrace the universe with his music.

It applies to everything doesn’t it?  Yesterday I was talking to a friend in jail who is awaiting his destiny via the judge.  He’s been sitting there for months while the court takes their sweet time to give him a “yay” or “nay” on rehabilitation versus a pretty wretched prison sentence.  I know he’s antsy and nervous about the whole thing, but he is safe right now, off the streets and sober.  Although it’s not the ideal setting to be behind bars, there are three meals a day, a place to sleep, and showers.  Many people don’t even have the luxury of a warm place to sleep.  Even more people are starving everyday.  I don’t mean to downplay my friends anguish, but when I was in rehab for my alcoholism, embraced by the walls of an institution, I thanked God everyday that I was still alive, and that I could still feel joy even if it was through the likes of a small thing like being able to sleep through a night with covers to keep me warm.  I was humbled in that place of refuge, and brought face to face with the fact that life isn’t about what you have, who you know, or your social status.  When these precious things are ruthlessly removed from our lives, we quickly discover that we are still here.  We don’t fade out, or disappear when our world comes crashing down.  On the contrary… we are quite THERE and vibrantly alive in our rawness and humiliation, and we are closer to God or our Higher Power, than we have ever been.

Some of us have wandered around in life with everything, still vacant inside from a lack of a higher power.  We asked God to show up, and when this occurs, it’s usually not in the form of a burning bush.  No, we usually discover God in a place of humility, often followed by significant pain and sorrow.  When we are stripped of the things that we made out to be so important, we have nothing left except for ourselves.  It is then that we become fully aware of our completeness in this place of ultimate surrender.  Some of us keep our arrogance even after the fact, but this is merely an image too, and once this is finally shed, we discover our wholeness underneath all the masks we uphold to obscure our beautiful vulnerability.

What does any of this have to do with Bob Marley?  It’s his powerful message that speaks to our souls.  “Don’t worry.  About a thing.  Cause’ every little thing is going to be alright…”  Whether you are just becoming sober for the very first time, or recovering from an awful relapse, no matter what you encounter in your life; when you come to a place of total surrender, you are immediately safe.  Humility is the universe’s way of getting our attention and reminding us that we are naturally taken care of.  We don’t have to be in charge nor should we sweat anything, because everything we need is already set in motion.  All the goodness we desire, is simply awaiting our acceptance, but we need to get out of our own way in order for the good to arrive.  This is such a beautiful place to be, no matter where it occurs, because it is a place of total acceptance of all that is.  When we are in this place, there is no need to worry about a thing.  I think this is what Mr. Marley was divinely conveying to us through lyrics about three little birds. You see, they are free, and in harmony, because they trust all that was given to them without interfering with the natural flow of things. In the eyes of God, are we not more important than the birds? Exactly.

“Don’t worry.  About a thing…. Cause’ every little thing is gonna be alright!” What an empowering place to be!

Three Statements I Live By, to Keep Me Sober

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If you are anything like me (and I’m guessing you are, if you’ve come to the brilliant conclusion that drinking and/or using drugs is not the solution to your problems), you’ve tried to get sober countless times, but something finally worked (or you are currently trying to figure out what will work), and it would be in your best interest to KNOW exactly what that missing link is.  I’m pretty analytical, so I’ve often found myself going in deep with a gazillion questions… “What is it that makes one person this way, and other people that way?”  What I’ve determined in my surveillances of the world and everyone around me, is that the way people THINK, directly affects or alters the outcome of their experience.  (I’ve also read a ton of books on the subject).

Perception is relevant, and everyone is having an entirely different experience of the world by the way they see things, or by how they feel and what they think while they are having the experience.  Step outside of that limited box of perception, into the infinite world of awareness of your experiences as they occur, and discover a place where you are no longer persuaded by emotional responses, or triggered by your ravenous thoughts.  We forget that WE are not our emotions or our thoughts – WE go beyond these temporary internal ebb and flows.  And the most important thing I’m about to say, is that we have the power to completely modify the way we think, so that our emotional response will follow. 

I’ve programmed my brain, you see, so that whenever I’m tempted by my addict mind, an immediate tape rolls out and plays along the margins of my psyche.  If I see or feel something that triggers me to desire a drink, I quickly play the tape, which looks something like this..

What a beautiful glass of champagne.  I could have one glass of champagne… no problem.  It would taste so refreshing, and what a treat!  OH, SHIT, what am I THINKING?  Yeah, I’m going to have that glass of champagne, and then I’m going to want another one.  That second one won’t be enough, so I’m going to make friends with the bartender over there, and we’re gonna party it down tonight.  He has no idea that I’m an alcoholic, so it will be impressive to him with how much I can drink and still remain standing.  I’ll continue drinking because I can’t stop, and then I’m gonna get shitty, and I’ll completely black out and throw myself at whatever man comes along.  I’ll most likely wake up not knowing how I got home, or outside somewhere on someone’s lawn with my dress stained with my own urine.   NOPE… I DO NOT need that one glass of champagne 

STATEMENT #1: “PLAY THE TAPE.”

Change the way your brain thinks whenever you have a sudden desire to drink or use. This has been essential in my own recovery. That tape was obsolete the last few times I tried to remain sober. This time around, I’m BFFs with that damn roll of film.

STATEMENT #2: “NEVER FORGET!”

Simple enough – Just bring yourself right back to your final rock bottom when your addict mind temps you to use. GO THERE, and remind yourself what it was like, and what will happen if you decide to relapse.

STATEMENT #3: “NO MATTER WHAT…”

This is one I didn’t know about until I went to treatment and a dynamic counselor, who was a former junkie, went around the facility and had us make a pact to ourselves. “NO MATTER WHAT… I will not use drugs or drink.” No matter WHAT! This means if the world is about to end because of a polar shift followed by an impending ice age, and I’m sheltered in the only place left standing, which just happens to be an old dive bar somewhere in Australia, and I’m offered whisky by an attractive Aussie to keep myself warm, and to numb the impact of the trauma, I will absolutely, no matter what, DECLINE the offer to drink.

Yeah, that’s how far my imagination goes with things… otherwise I’m screwed in any situation.

So this is my formula, and it seems to be working for me. I deliberately programmed my own mind, changed the way I think so that I immediately go to these three statements, and I’m still sober today after nearly three years. My emotional response in turn, has shifted from longing to laughter. All of these statements bring me right back to where I was at the end of my rope, and I know that I no longer have to live that way. I am free now, and LOVING LIFE. Why would I ever go back to that space? You have the power to change your thinking, so I encourage you to do so…

Play the Tape. Never Forget. No Matter What.