September is National Recovery Month. I often find myself struggling with the word recovery. I’ve been to the dictionary for a definition. It talks of a return to a normal state or the process of regaining something stolen or lost. I guess my struggle with the word is that it assumes that I was once in a “normal state”, and I am attempting to return to it. People that have known me for any amount of time at all would say that the word normal is not what would come to mind when they think of me.

I’m not here today to try to say that my life has sucked or even that a large portion of it has been worse than yours. What I know though, is that somewhere in my childhood I picked up some unhealthy coping tools. My therapist says that I have operated from an Avoidant Attachment Style. From what I’ve learned in recent years I would say that that concept describes my behavior well. I won’t get into a discussion on Attachment Theory today, but I can tell you that I learned at a young age not to trust others or rely on others for help. I decided to keep other people at arm’s length and not to get too close to anyone. I believed that the best way to not get hurt was to shut down emotionally, not to feel or care. I think this approach appeared to work well for me for a time, but it was so unhealthy in the long term. This approach to life led to a divorce and broken relationships with some of my children. It led to addiction as I tried to numb myself to the pain of emotions that were uncomfortable and that I didn’t know how to process. And long-term friendships and relationships just didn’t exist.

So how does this tie into National Recovery Month and my struggle with the word recovery? Well, reconciliation with the term recovery has come through my understanding of God. You may choose to call him “higher power”. I choose to call him Jesus. My idea of recovery doesn’t refer to a state that I have experienced before, but a state that I was created to experience. A state that consists of a sound mind and a healthy state of being that I was created to experience. I am learning to identify and process feelings instead of running from them and looking for ways to numb myself. I am identifying a purpose in life. I am experiencing a restoration of relationships. I think what I am really experiencing these last several years is life. And what I am learning is that life is hard, but it is so good!

So, have I said that September is National Recovery Month? Maybe you can remember a state of mind and being that you would like to get back to. Maybe, like me, you don’t have a place you want to get back to, maybe it’s time to learn to experience life for the first time, life as you were created to experience it. I can’t think of a better month, a better day, a better second than right now to begin to experience recovery. If you need help getting started, shoot me an email. We can talk.

Hey, have you got a minute?

I’m thinking about two different interactions I had with friends recently. Both took place as we met at different times over coffee. The first conversation was with a friend about the same age that I am. It began with talk about politics, local news and sports. As we talked, I began to sense that there was something going on in the background. After a few minutes, I asked a simple question. “What do you really want to talk about today?” Immediately I watched his head drop. His shoulders sagged and I heard a sigh. Slowly he began to tell me about some things taking place with one of his sons. This son struggles with addiction. He shared about a recent relapse. His son is back in a treatment facility. He’s lost his job and will probably lose his apartment. I could feel the pain as he talked to me about this son that he loves so much. I watched tears form and fall onto the table. As he spoke, I reached across the table and placed my hand on his arm. I’m not sure how long we sat together. My friend shared his pain and I listened. When he was finished, we sat in silence for a couple minutes. My friend looked at me and said, “Thanks Ron. I just needed to get that out.” I felt honored that he allowed me to listen. 

What took place there? We didn’t “fix” things. We didn’t map out a three-point plan with a timeline. My friend had a chance to speak his pain and I provided an ear to hear. If I had attempted to offer advice or answers, we might have both left frustrated. Sometimes we just need to talk while someone listens.

The second interaction took place in the same coffee shop at the same table. Another friend stopped by. I could tell as he walked in that there was some anger present. The conversation started out about the same, politics and sports but with a slightly sharper edge. He told me he had just met with his father for a few minutes. He wanted to let his father know about a promotion he had just received at work but as he talked, he realized his father wasn’t hearing anything he was saying. He quickly stated that this has always been the pattern and that he shouldn’t expect anyone to listen or care. I asked about the promotion, but he shut me down and said he needed to go.

A therapist and host of the podcast, The Place We find Ourselves, Adam Young, talks about three questions of atunement, does anyone see me, does anyone hear me, and can anyone help me? We are asking these questions with the first cry we utter at birth, and we are asking these questions as life comes to an end. Some of us have been taught that it’s wrong for us to ask these things but these questions are valid. Ultimately these questions are answered by God, but it’s been my experience that He most often uses other people to see me, hear me and help me. 

If you find yourself asking these questions, keep asking. Your questions are valid. All of us need to be listening for these questions. If you hear them, please ask yourself, how can I respond?

If you’d like to talk, send me a message at Id like to listen.

What’s your plan?

I was listening to a podcast recently and the speaker shared a quote from Chris Voss, an FBI hostage negotiator. “When the pressure is on, we do not rise to the occasion. We fall to the preparation.” Wow! I wish I could think of a saying like that. If you ever hear me say something that sounds really smart, I probably heard someone else say it. The speaker went on to explain that people aren’t born natural hostage negotiators. They study and they plan. Then they rehearse that plan repeatedly until the plan becomes second nature. When something happens, they don’t have to stop and think about what they need to do. They act, almost instinctually, based on the plan they have rehearsed.

Every now and then I will see a story on the news about a young child maybe seven or eight years old that’s being rewarded for heroism. They were at home with a family member that had a heart attack, choked or fell downstairs and the child immediately called 911 and maybe also administered CPR or some other first aide care. How did that child know to call 911 and apply first aide? They were taught a plan. They were prepared when the emergency happened. This same process is important for those of us in recovery. 

If we have experienced addiction or compulsive behavior, sooner or later a test and a trigger is coming. The trigger will probably result from an emotion like fear, anger, anxiety, loneliness or shame and we have learned a plan in the past that led us to self-medicate through a substance or a behavior that has led us down a path of destruction. The good news is that we can learn a new plan. Here are some keys that I have found to be important to a solid relapse prevention plan.

1. I need a reason to change my behavior. I suggest that your reason be personal and not based on someone else. If I am getting sober for my wife then anytime we aren’t getting along my reason for change is at best, weak. My personal reason is that I don’t ever want to experience the fear of being exposed. I hated working to hide my addiction.

2. Make a list of warning signs and relapse factors. This can include people, places, things and especially emotions or feelings that could lead to a relapse.

3. Make a list of safe people you can reach out to if you find yourself entering a relapse cycle. I suggest at least four.

4. What are ways that these people can help me when I reach out? Early in recovery, I remember picking up my phone and calling a friend when I was struggling. I didn’t know what I needed and they didn’t know what to do so we sat on the phone in silence for a few minutes and then I hung up and relapsed anyway. Today I have a list of things that I know from experience can often help me. Sometimes I need to be reminded of the damage my addiction has caused in the past. Sometimes I need someone to listen to me vent. Sometimes I need someone to offer to meet me and talk. I share these things with the people that are on my call list so they know what may help when I reach out.

5. I put up some guardrails. This might be things like people or places I need to avoid. If my struggle is alcohol this might look like not going anywhere that serves alcohol to hang out with friends I used to drink with. I have a specific neighborhood I avoid because of memories that I have from there. Some of these guardrails may need to be permanent but I have also found that over time some of these guardrails can be removed as I work through trauma and other issues involved with my story.

6. I end with a list of tools that I have developed that help me to soothe myself and are beneficial to my recovery. This can be things like group meetings, meditation and mindfulness, purposeful community, and healthy reading material.

Do you have a plan? If so, I’d like to hear about what you have found helpful. If you have questions about a plan, fell free to shoot me a message at

Step – 12

In 1935, Bill W, the founder of AA, made a business trip to Akron, OH. The business venture didn’t go well, and Bill found himself returning to his hotel without enough money to pay the bill or to pay for the trip home to his wife. As he passed the hotel bar he heard the familiar sounds and was hit with a strong desire to enter the bar to seek comfort for his frustrations. As he stood outside the bar he noticed a pay phone nearby. Bill decided that his only hope for staying sober was to help another alcoholic, so he entered the phone booth and started to call numbers on a church directory that he saw there. Eventually Bill was introduced to Dr. Bob. Dr. Bob had been unable to stay sober on his own so after a little coercion, he agreed to give Bill W 15 minutes. 15 minutes turned into 4 hours as Bill shared his story with Dr. Bob and shortly thereafter Dr. Bob took his last drink. This approach, of sharing one person’s story with another, seemed to have worked, so Bill W and Dr. Bob decided to try it with another alcoholic and AA was born.

It was my experience that hearing another person share their story of recovery gave me the courage to attempt recovery for myself that I was never able to find in lectures from friends and family, or even in the consequences of my addiction. I found courage when I heard the story of another person that I could identify with. It has also been my experience that If I want to continue in my recovery then I must share my message of hope with others and the steps that have led me to recovery must continue to be followed. As I share my journey with others the work that God has done through these steps is constantly in front of me. I continue to recognize my powerlessness apart from God. I continue to take inventory and promptly admit my wrongs. I continue to make amends and to seek God through prayer and meditation. And I continue to walk in recovery. 

My experience of Step 12 has also expanded to include service. This can be things like setting up chairs or making coffee for a meeting. It can mean offering a ride. It may look like listening when someone needs to unload a burden. My experience has been that my recovery grows and expands when I loosen my grip in order to share what I have experienced with someone else.

I will close by sharing a thought once again that I have mentioned many times through this series. The 12 Steps are an ongoing process. There is no end. When we stop practicing the Steps we begin to step back towards addiction. Why do I believe this? Because even at my best, I continue to commit wrongs and if I fail to admit this and make amends I will be caught up once again in my old patterns. 

If you have questions about the 12 Steps or recovery in general, shoot me a message. We can talk.

Step 11 – Part 2

I am coming back to Step 11 this week to talk about meditation. I am an older guy in my 60’s, lived most of my life in a rural setting and attended a conservative church. In my younger days when I thought about meditation, I pictured someone sitting on the floor, eyes closed, humming, and incense burning (to cover the odor of pot). What I would have called hippy dippy new age crap. Some people may practice some of that when they meditate, but meditation is so much more. A definition from is, “to focus ones thoughts on: reflect or ponder over.” As I began to approach meditation with an open mind, I discovered that many religions including Christianity, Buddhism and Islam practice meditation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages meditation as a form of prayer and many of the early desert fathers of the Christian faith practiced meditation and encouraged their followers to do so.

My simplest explanation of meditation is setting aside quiet, focused time to focus on healthy thoughts and practices. For some that may mean sitting on the floor with legs crossed. For some of my friend’s meditation takes place on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book that helps them to focus their thoughts. The book could be the Bible. Some of my friends in AA use books like Daily Reflections, Keep It Simple or Courage to Change. I have found that meditation is easiest for me when I am walking, sometimes in a park or forest, but it can even be walking a sidewalk in town. 

My meditation begins with a time of calming and focusing my thoughts. This usually includes slowing my breathing. Slowing my pace when I am walking. Then I focus my thoughts. Sometimes I may focus on a passage from the Bible, Sometimes, it’s a thought from a book I am reading or a podcast I have listened to. Often, it’s something I have heard shared in a recovery meeting or by my sponsor. It’s usually a short phrase that’s easy for me to repeat and I do so several times. Then I begin to ask myself questions. Does this tell me anything about my concept of God? What does this tell me about myself? What does this tell me about my relationships with others? What is one way that this applies to my life? And I finish by asking, what is one step I can take today to apply the good that I see here?

Step 11 speaks of a combination of prayer and meditation. I have often heard wise people say that prayer is me speaking to God and meditation is taking the time to allow God to speak to me. I would say that I have always prayed often, anytime sometime “bad” happened. But it wasn’t until I had spent some time on the path of recovery that I really began to practice taking time to listen to God speak to me. My experience has been that even if He doesn’t give me an answer that fixes the problem, He almost always is clear in saying, “It’s ok. I’m here.” Often, that’s all I really need. Just to know I’m not alone.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to shoot me a message at I’d love to hear from you. Maybe we can talk.

Step 11 – Part 1

Step 11 is another of the maintenance Steps. In the first three steps we commit to turning away from our addictive and unhealthy behavior. In Steps 4 through 9 we learn how to deal with our past. In the maintenance steps we are focusing on our present. Most of us have at least an elementary understanding of prayer. Who hasn’t, at some time prayed, “God, if you get me out of this I’ll never do (fill in the blank) again!” Most of us fall in to one of two categories when it comes to prayer. We either believe we know all about prayer and we have this under control, or we think we don’t know anything about prayer and don’t know where to start. 

Let’s start with the 2nd category first. Maybe we have grown up in an environment where prayer just wasn’t something practiced or even believed in. Prayer, in the simplest terms, is talking to God. In my experience, prayer flows the most naturally when I talk to God the same way I would talk to a close friend that is seated right here with me. I don’t try to use big words or impress anyone. I just try to be real, honest. What do we pray about? Step 11 is specific. We are praying in order to increase our interaction with God and we are asking only for knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out.

When I began my journey through the 12 Steps I was the guy that thought I knew what prayer was all about and how it worked. My sponsor was quick to let me know that there’s a big difference between religious prayer and Step 11 prayer. He challenged me to write out my prayer and then he walked with me through what I had written. Immediately I began to recognize that most of what I had written were demands disguised as requests. I realized they were demands because my sponsor pointed out over the next weeks how often I was getting angry because God wasn’t giving me what I had demanded. He challenged me to take Step 11 on face value and encouraged me to pray for 30 days only to grow closer to God, for knowledge of his will for me and for strength to do what he revealed. That challenge has forever changed my prayer life. I don’t believe it’s wrong to ask God for specific things but when my focus on those “things” is greater than my focus on my relationship with him and understanding his will for me then I am returning to an unhealthy state of mind.

I was watching my grandchildren one night while my daughter and son in law were out on a date. I had put the kids to bed and they had been asleep for about an hour when my grandson woke up and began to cry. I walked into the bedroom and spoke to him as I sat down on the edge of the bed and placed my hand on his side. Almost immediately his crying stopped and he snuggled into my side. In a few minutes he had gone back to sleep and I moved back into the other room to read. What changed between the time he awoke crying and the moment he went back to sleep? Almost nothing. The only thing that changed was his awareness of my presence. A child finds comfort in presence. In a real way, I am just the same. When I experience God’s presence, I can experience comfort and peace, even if the circumstances don’t immediately change. As I practice Step 11, I am becoming more aware of God’s presence.

Next week we will look at the role of meditation in this Step. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience on prayer. Send comments to

12 Steps – Step 10

“We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”

Recently, someone told me that they are a big believer in the 12 Steps. They went on to say that they worked through the 12 Steps a few years ago. I would argue that they aren’t really a believer in the 12 Steps. They may be a believer in 11 of the 12 Steps, but they don’t really believe Step 10. How can I say this? Step 10 clearly presents the Steps as an ongoing process, not a one and done procedure.

When I first began to think about recovery I was looking for a quick fix, a magic pill, that mind altering, life changing experience that would set me free. That very statement speaks to my addiction. Isn’t that what all addicts are looking for? A quick fix? A mind altering experience? Recovery, or long term change of any kind, is never a quick fix. It takes work. It takes repetition. In Step 10 we recognize the progress that is being made and we are committed to continuing to take these steps. I am constantly having to stop and admit once again, that I am powerless when I try to face circumstances in life without God. Inventory must be a regular exercise. Unprofitable behaviors and attitudes will start to accumulate again and will need to be identified. These things must be removed and replaced. And somehow, as hard as I may try to avoid harming others, I still manage to do so. Amends will be a lifelong process. 

This process of recovery is sometimes referred to as “keeping a short list.” The idea is that my first trip through the 12 Steps dealt with a lifelong accumulation of unhealthy behaviors and harms committed against others. In my case that resulted in a painful and difficult process, but if I continue to take inventory and promptly admit when I am wrong, the list of things I am dealing with is much shorter and usually much less intimidating.

As I think back to my years of addiction, I can remember the overwhelming fear and paranoia that always seemed to be present. Trying to keep track of the lies I had told so I could keep my story straight. Avoiding places because I might run into someone that I owed money to or someone I had pissed off. Skipping out on family events or time with friends because of shame associated with the way I had acted the last time we were together. It’s my memories of that kind that have become my selfish motivation to maintain my recovery and continue my walk through the Steps. I don’t ever want to experience those feelings again. If I keep a “short list,” I don’t have to experience that again. 

The 12 Steps were never intended to be a one and done process. Step 10 makes that clear. If you’ve never been through the 12 Steps or you’re looking for some help getting started again, shoot me a message. We can talk.

12 Steps – Step 9b

I want to come back to Step 9 this week to complete my thoughts and wrap things up. This Step instructs us to make amends when doing so won’t cause greater harm. How do we decide when that’s the case and what do we do in those instances? I return to what I said several times in the previous post. We should always journey through the 12 Steps with a sponsor that we trust. It has been my experience that the people that could be harmed by my amends are few, but there are some.

You may be aware by now that my addiction led to two years incarceration. In some instances my behavior caused great harm and the court told me I am not allowed to make contact with those people again. When I took my amends list to my sponsor, he reminded me that when we make amends there is potential for healing to take place in those we have harmed but the greater healing always takes place in ourselves. We own our behavior and recognize the harm we have caused, but the healing doesn’t end there. Through our lifelong implementation of the Steps we are changing the course of our lives. We are putting guard rails in place that can’t guarantee we will never cause harm again but will limit the harm and assist us in recognizing it. This makes it possible to begin to make amends immediately instead of allowing the damage to grow and spread.

So how did I make amends to those I can’t contact? My sponsor suggested I write letters to my victims. The letters couldn’t be delivered and I was skeptical at first but I listened to my sponsor. As I began to write I was surprised by the rush of emotion that took place. There was some guilt and shame. I owned my behavior and explained that they weren’t responsible in any way for what I did. I expressed hope that they have been able to receive counseling and help in processing the harm I have caused. I touched on several other things and became aware of the tears that were running down my face. When the letters were finished, I gave copies to my sponsor and my therapist. Both helped me to process what I had experienced as I wrote. I later read the letters in a group setting. I experienced a release in that process that I can’t begin to explain. A few months later I came across a ministry that works with women that have experienced abuse like I committed and for several years I made donations to that work.

There are a number of ways that amends can be made in an indirect way. As you work through Step 9, trust the words of your sponsor and look for God to provide opportunities for indirect amends. Amends can involve things like paying back debts or making restitution for things that have been taken. Listen to your conscience and talk with your sponsor. Early in recovery just thinking about Step 9 terrified me, but as I continue this journeying experience the freedom that comes through this Step my commitment to this process has grown strong.

If you have questions about Step 9 or recovery in general, let’s talk. Email me at

12 Steps – Part 9

“We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Making amends should always be done under the supervision of a sponsor. In Step 8 we became willing to make amends all persons we had harmed. That willingness is a must but, as we move forward with actual amends, sometimes direct and in person amends will not be in the best interest of all parties. This is why the help of a sponsor that has experience in working through the Steps is a must.

My first struggle with amends is determining my motivation. A primary purpose of making amends is to acknowledge the harm that we have caused and to demonstrate our changed behaviors in order to provide those we have harmed with the opportunity to heal. Sometimes though, I have found that my real motivation is to defend, in part or in whole, my behavior that resulted in the harm. A good sponsor can help you recognize unhealthy motivations and help you determine how you can resolve the struggle. Sometimes I have looked at my list and decided that I shouldn’t make direct amends only to have my sponsor question my motivation with that decision. Maybe I am wanting to avoid direct amends because of embarrassment or I fear how the person may react. Maybe the person on my list has harmed me in some way or I believe they have harmed me worse than I have harmed them. While our action of making amends offers an opportunity for healing to those we have harmed, it’s important for us to recognize that the healing that takes place in us is often far greater than anything that can take place in others. Making amends will help us break free from the chains of guilt, shame, and remorse that we may have carried with us for years. As these chains fall from us, we find that we can step forward in our recovery in ways we never imagined.

When making direct amends, I have found it works best for me to write out what I want to say to the person I have harmed. I want to make sure I don’t forget anything and that their response doesn’t lead me to react in anger or in self defense. I make sure to address only my actions and harms, even if they have harmed me in some way. I remember one of the first times I met with someone to make amends. This person and I had been very close for many years but both of us were unstable and struggling in many ways. I had harmed this person in a way that destroyed our relationship. In the years since our conflict, I had recognized my role in what had happened. I carefully wrote out what I wanted to own and say but then I began to build a scenario in my mind of how this was going to work. I would read my statement carefully owning my behavior without addressing anything they had done to harm me, but as I did so they would be overcome with guilt and shame about their behavior and they would apologize to me for their actions. I carefully read my statement to my former friend. I could sense they were being impacted by my actions and when I finished, I paused and waited for their response. They sat there for a minute, cleared their throat, and said, “You really were an asshole weren’t you?” With everything in me I wanted to lash out. I wanted to list all the ways they had harmed me. Their response was the perfect example of why our relationship had failed. But in that moment I focused on what my sponsor had told me. I had owned my behavior that had caused harm. I can’t control anyone’s response. I am only responsible for my actions. Somehow, I managed to keep my mouth shut and walk away. I was able to meet later in the day to process what had happened with my sponsor. Even with the anger I had experienced in the moment, I somehow felt lighter and more at ease. A couple years later that person reached out to me to make amends for the harm they had caused and specifically mentioned the way they had responded when I made amends.

Step 9 doesn’t always result in restored friendships, but my experience has been that if I can own the harms I have committed and I can offer to attempt to make things right, the effort always results in a restoration of my soul. If you have questions or would like to talk, reach out to I’d love to talk with you.

12 Steps – Part 8

Step 8 says, “We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Where does this list of persons we have harmed come from? If we have worked Step 4 as directed in The Big Book and with a sponsor, then we have reviewed our resentments, fears, sexual conduct and people we have harmed. This process should have given us the start of what could turn out to be a lengthy list of people we have harmed. Occasion ally someone will tell me they don’t believe they have really harmed anyone. The first part of Step 8 is recognizing that we ave harmed others. Were you married or in a relationship while you struggled with addiction or compulsive behavior? Odds are very high that you harmed someone. Did you have children? Odds just jumped higher. Were there days on your job where you weren’t firing on all cylinders? Did you struggle with anger or frustration? I’ve only asked a few questions and I’m guessing a few more people may have come to mind that you harmed in some way by your actions or attitude. My sponsor helped me prepare my list as I worked through Step 8 for the first time. My list included friends and family members I had lied to and used. Random cashiers and others that I had snapped at. It included the assistant prosecutor that handled my case when I was arrested. I heard that while I was in prison she quit her job because she struggled with dealing with people that committed crimes like I did. It hurt her emotionally as she witnessed the damage done to the victims.

The second half of Step 8 says that we became willing to make amends to all that we had harmed. It’s extremely important to have a good sponsor as you work through the 12 Steps. The thought of making amends terrified me! I went to prison because of harm that I caused. My daughters suffered because of my actions. Some of us have stolen from family or from work and they don’t know what we have done. Maybe in a fit of rage we struck our spouse or our son or daughter. What about people we have harmed and we don’t know where they are or how to contact them? A sponsee once told me about an affair he had with a married co-worker. Is he supposed to be willing to make amends to her? What about her husband and children? Her husband had divorced her when he found out what they were doing. As I struggled with these kind of questions in my Step 8, my sponsor encouraged me to take a deep breath. He reminded me that Step 8 says that we become willing, it isn’t telling us to do it.What about people that I harmed but they harmed me in worse ways? Surely I don’t have to be willing to make amends to them! My sponsor explained that the process is about me taking responsibility for the harms I have caused. I can’t control anyone but myself and I often struggle with that. I later began to understand that freedom is experienced as I am able to make peace with myself.

Step 8 wasn’t something I was able to come to grips with overnight. It was a real struggle. In a couple weeks we will talk about Step 10 where we continue to take inventory and promptly admit our wrongs. This is called keeping a short list. I refuse to let things build up and accumulate again. I choose to take care of things while they are still fresh and before they fester.

If you have questions about the 12 Steps, let’s talk. Shoot me an email at