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Essays on Recovery Strategies in Troubled Times

 

Look Beyond the Horizon 

Grace Builds Upon Nature

What if God Needs Help Too?

Right Sizing the 500 Pound Telephone

Embracing Grieving as a Friend 

All Dog Lovers Have the Best Dog in the World

 

 

ALL DOG LOVERS

HAVE THE BEST

 

DOG IN THE WORLD

________________________

_

April 14, 2020

 

Beth and I have a dog named Maddie. She is a Black Mouth Cur (we think). She is by far and away the BEST DOG IN THE WORLD! All right you cat, bird, bunny, et al. lovers, don’t feel left out! Treat the content herein as DOG as we understood DOG.

Maddie is in a long line of the best dogs in the world. Each one of them has been the best. My first best dog was Laska, a beautiful white Samoyed. Next came Samantha, a black Lab who came into my life a couple of years before I entered into recovery. She came from one of my drinking buddies. She was named after the character in the TV series, Bewitched. She taught me a lot about playfulness, loyalty, commitment to a relationship, asking for what she needed and gratitude when she got it; which is to say she taught me a lot about love. 

Samantha was definitely the best dog in the world. Okay, I admit. The same is true for my sweetie, Beth’s dogs. They were all the best dogs in the world. I only got to meet Annie. She was a Chow mix, with an Orphan Annie red hair colored coat. The first time I met her she eyeballed me very closely. I don’t think she liked me very much. She didn’t need to speak English to let me know I better be nice to Beth or suffer the consequences. Beth lived in Chico at the time and when we talked on the phone, I would sign off by singing to Annie. “Annie, Annie, bo panie, banana fanna fo fanny, fee fi fo little many…….ANNIE (Repeat)…then “How ‘bout savin’ some of those keeses (kisses) for me……Woooo. The next time I went to Chico to visit Beth, Annie looked out the open door to see who had arrived.  I hid behind the car in the driveway and sang her the song she had heard every day for a couple of weeks. She trotted out to greet me and we got to be great friends. Isn’t it amazing what loving DOG can do!   

Before Beth and I got together, my canine companion was Gracie. Her official name was Amazing Grace the Fabulous Pit Bull. Getting a Pit Bull was my wife at the time’s idea. I would never have chosen that breed. As it turned out, Gracie was the best dog in the world. She was a rescue dog who loved people. Unfortunately, she never could accept other dogs. So, when Beth and I got together, we had to keep Gracie and Annie separated, which was very hard because they were each the best dogs in the world. In an odd way, they taught us how to work together, negotiate and learn about safety in our house, both realistically and metaphorically. After a few years of their teaching us, it became time for them to go to DOG heaven within 6 months of each other. It was hard to imagine getting a new addition to the family. As you know, grieving takes what it takes. After a time, it became harder to imagine not having a companion, so we agreed to think about looking for the next best dog in the world. 

We started noticing other people walking their dogs. One of my quirks is I have my own words for people, places, things and animals as you can see from the song for Annie. Somewhere or another, I came up with a private name for the dogs we encountered. I called them Ruttlers. We would be driving along and one of us would spot a dog. If it was me, I would say, “Ruttling.” It came to be a catch word to stop what we were doing and appreciate other people’s best dogs in the world. Anyway, the time came to welcome that new addition to our family. We went to shelters and dog placement areas like “Pet Smart.” Lots of wonderful, Ruttlers, but nothing that barked to us. 

One day, I got a call from our friend Diana, who worked at an animal rescue shelter in Fresno, CA. Beth’s employers have a tiny Maltese named Freya, who is the best dog in the world. I had never heard the name Freya. When Diana sent a picture of a dog in the Fresno Shelter, the name sign on top of the kennel read "Freya". I texted Beth the picture. I almost had to restrain her from leaving for Fresno at the first opportunity. “It was cosmic”, she said. “You know, meant to be!”  She set down the rules saying, “We are going to Fresno and we are going to be the first ones there on adoption morning.,,,,first in line…..the second they open!”  Beth’s as close to a pacifist as there is, but she was ready to fight for that dog. So, we got up at 4:00AM for a two-hour drive to be to the shelter by 8:00AM. It was like getting in line for limited release tickets to the Stones or the World Series. I Love her passion for DOG.

Before we left the shelter as proud adoptive parents, we decided on the name Maddie. She is named after the now former San Francisco Giants fantastic pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Guess whose idea that was? Before we got home from Fresno it was obvious, we had the best dog in the world! There was some evidence that her first year of life had challenges. She needed lots of reassurance that her surroundings were safe and, most of all, permanent. She wanted us as much as we wanted her. Her breed is in the hound family from the Southern United States. They are horse herders and family protectors. It is said they climb trees. She is afraid of loud bangs, like when firecrackers go off. The other side of that is she is very protective of us. She wants more of everything she likes. More is better. She loves people we love and greets with a full body wag. She is definitely the best dog in the world.

Okay, there must be a recovery tie-in somewhere in this story. Well there is! I got to thinking about something I hear frequently in meetings from people who move out of the area they got sober in. It’s common to hear things like, “It’s not the same here; These meetings don’t do it the right way; I can’t find a sponsor as good as the one I lost when I moved.” You’ve undoubtedly heard similar shares. They describe being part of the best meeting(s) in the world in past tense. It is hard to imagine finding the next best meeting in the world anywhere unless we finally let ourselves become “part of” in our new home environment.

I can relate. From 1988-2001, I was in a structured, socially oriented group experience. It was a multi-meeting fellowship, 32 per week. We had barbeques, formed sports teams, duked it out in monthly business meetings, even ran an annual weekend mini-conference. I came to cherish something it took me a while to understand, which is to say I was part of the experience I never had in my youth, growing up. For many of us it was the root of our need for connection. It is rite of passage stuff. When I came to the Central Coast, things were different. Things were not the same. They didn’t do it right. I couldn’t find a sponsor. So, what’s the good part? I didn’t drink or use between the meetings I had trouble adjusting to. That was the best news in the world. In addition, I worked the Al Anon program with gratitude of being a double winner. Al Anon goes a long way in keeping Alcoholics sane. Imagine that.

Thank DOG over time, things changed. I have come to believe that each meeting I attend is the best meeting in the world. Never mind the quirks, the new impossible personalities, the way the old guard does things. It’s just another example of me wanting the world to be a certain way so I can be okay. You know that powerlessness thing.

The Zoom meetings have really helped bring a great perspective to being in the best meetings in the world. We are a large bunch of renegades, and we don’t want to be told what to do, period. Yet, when our lives may depend on it, like surrender in early recovery, it’s a little easier to listen to what to do. Lockdown has made following directions a lot easier, even though it’s against our nature. 

Because of my vocation, I’ve been fortunate, blessed actually, to meet people and go to meetings all over the planet. Zoom meetings make this possible without travel expenses. I get a chance to relate to people deeply. I’m less distracted by what I must do after the meeting. I get to say “Thank you for helping me,” and hear people say “Thanks for helping me.” I get to understand it’s up to me to relate to everyone as the best meeting participants in the world.  

Every day when Beth and I wake up, Maddie is there with a smile and full body wag. She loves and gets love. She lays down in between us as we go through a daily ritual, looking in each other’s eyes to start the day with prayers. Then we discuss coming events and our plans for the day. We know for sure that Maddie is the best dog in the world. 

These days we go to a variety of Zoom meetings. At the meetings, we look into each other’s eyes, pray and listen to discussions of current situations in recovery from our brothers and sisters in the program. They are the best meetings in the world; a constant reminder the DOG is in charge. Thank GOD.        

 

Bob Kocher

 

 

 

EMBRACING

GRIEVING

AS A FRIEND

 

April 10, 2020

 

 

I can’t remember waking up any morning and thinking, “Wow, this is a great day for grieving!” Most of us came to recovery carrying a lot of painful thoughts, memories and experiences we did not want to face. Hooray for the 4th step. So, welcoming pain was probably the last thing on our minds. Because of present circumstances, now may be the time to learn to lean into the amazing process of grieving. 

Take a moment to think about what it is like to encounter a loved one, friend or beloved pet, especially after a longer than normal absence. Close your eyes for a moment and take in the feeling. It’s a wonderful feeling. Something that just happens automatically, right? Well maybe. And, what else? I notice when I tap into feeling grief and embrace it, an awareness comes to me that there is choice involved. And you know how we all like choices!

Okay, I get it. Holding feelings is easy for good stuff, you know, the stuff we really want to feel. But what about the feelings we don’t want to feel? Can we embrace them too?  Since all feelings are a part of us, good and bad, we have an opportunity to ask for willingness to experience our feelings in real time. In addition, feelings associated with grieving may top the list of feelings we’d rather avoid. Or, would we?

In the April 3 entry on Acceptance in Melody Beattie’s meditation book, “The Language of Letting Go”, she writes, “Feelings are for the present moment. The more quickly we can accept a feeling in the present moment, the more quickly we can move on to the next.” That says to me that I can accept the feelings I like, and the feelings I don’t like. What a concept. How do I do this? How does recovery fit in?

In the early days, I bought into the idea that service was part of the recovery process. My sponsor “suggested” I get involved. So, I did. After all, he was perhaps the first higher power I chose to trust when I came into recovery. He told me lots of things, including, “You need to get into service.” My first assignment was to clean ash trays. I had quit smoking, so what the hell did cleaning ashtrays have to do with sobriety?? Against my rebellious thinking, I cleaned them. I did so well I was promoted to greeter in less than a month. From there, coffee maker and then to meeting secretary. Wow, I was fast-tracking, learning responsibility! Later, I was given the task of inviting “old timer” program types to be main speakers at our big Friday evening meeting, which had a large birthday celebration the last week of the month. I was given a list of names and numbers with some suggestions, so I started making calls.

This was how I met Dr. Earle Marsh, whose story in the AA Big Book is “Physician Heal Thyself.” He became a friend and mentor. I learned a lot from him. One of the most significant discussions we had was about acceptance. He introduced the concept that acceptance is the last phase of the 5-Stages of Grief as outlined in Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s book, “On Grief and Grieving.” The five stages are: 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and then ultimately, acceptance. So, how important is going through the first four stages of grief prior to getting to acceptance?  Most experts about the grieving process agree that going through all stages is vital. My first 4th step took several months to complete. I learned that the pain of feeling feelings of grief had blocked me from forward movement. A seed was planted that all the stages were important to get through the process. My experience became short term pain equaled long term gain.

Grieving is about loss. In early recovery, I felt lots of pain. So, what had my greatest loss been? After noticing some relief from pain by going to meetings, I found a sponsor. He helped me understand, I had been in a long-term relationship, by choice. The relationship I chose to be in was the relationship I had with alcohol-drugs. In the beginning the use of alcohol provided a sense of belonging, blocked fear and gave me courage. I wasn’t equipped to realize it was a false sense because I didn’t understand that I wasn’t present to accept my own participation in whatever I was doing. I was relying on something outside myself to participate in the first place. Nevertheless, I felt secure, brave, sensitive, or whatever the situation dictated. This was the fun stage.  How could any of us not like/depend on the illusion of security, which is what addiction gives us in the “fun” stage? It was a perfect relationship.

Then I entered a stage where I got into scrapes. Nothing major, or so I thought at the time. I didn’t see that my behavior in other relationships got riskier and increasingly unhealthy. There were consequences, but nothing that the condition created by being under the influence couldn’t rationalize as manageable. This was the “fun plus problems” stage.  Eventually the “nothing but problems” stage became my daily life. Part of my recovery includes therapy. There I learned that alcohol and drugs had served a purpose, which was to help my adolescent mind deal with the trauma of very painful childhood experiences. I learned the relationship I had with alcohol and drugs saved me from further destruction; I had an aborted suicide attempt. I had no idea how deep my relationship with alcohol and drugs was.

I had a dynamic introduction to Grieving 101 by taking the first step. When I took the step with my sponsor, he asked me, “Are you willing to surrender to the notion that alcohol cannot be part of your life anymore?”  He left the room, leaving me alone to think about this for a few minutes, asking me to think sincerely about his question before I answered it. After a few minutes I felt tears surge from a place I had never known. They escalated into wailing sounds, like I had whooping cough. I cried so hard my sponsor broke down crying. I hope I never forget it. Later I shared the experience with Dr. Marsh, who said, “That makes sense; you lost a primary relationship!” True; I had been involved in a primary relationship with alcohol for 28 years. According to Google, the average length for a marriage in the US is 7-8 years. Wow, I had stuck it out for nearly 4 times the average. It began to make sense that I had the grief reaction I did.

Earle’s input introduced me to the realization that everything in life is a relationship, and it’s not just with people. My relationship with my sweetie, business, dog, house plants, my ethics, politics and oh yeah, and my participation in the recovery programs I attend are relationships too. People, places and things enter my life, and leave. Even if they remain in place, they often change, sometimes dramatically. Change can initiate grief, and that includes positive changes too. And what is the main feature of change and loss? Its powerlessness. No, not that again! 

In this Covid-19 environment, time on our hands is giving us an opportunity for a closer look at our relationships with powerlessness. Many of us are experiencing our comfort zones being challenged not by our choices. Isolation is necessary, so feelings of all kinds are accelerated as a by-product of it. Plus, it’s hard not to project how other consequences of the virus will affect us for an indefinite time. I notice a subtle shift in the sharing at Zoom meetings. The good, positive vibes are present, yet people also talking more about sadness, fear and uneasiness. There is also a lot of emphasis being placed on missing human contact, which going to meetings in person gives us. This is an expression of grief. I like it when I hear people share support for people who share about their difficult realities and validate them for doing so. It’s not whining or being on a pity pot. It’s real stuff and important to hear and connect to.

Honest open sharing can also help with subtle grief. It helps bring into focus things we take for granted, like going to the movies, taking walks, visiting a friend, traveling and even going shopping. These activities all have new rules, and again, we have no idea when restrictions will be lifted and what will become the new normal for everyday life. Not being able to access these freedoms is a significant loss which brings on grief. It’s in the here and now.  In order to help establish a new normal that includes lightness, joy, and laughter, perhaps it’s time to consider grieving our losses by talking about them openly with our life partners, friends, sponsors and in the meetings. While we are at it, it is a great time listen to each other more carefully. After any encounter, a spot check inventory can help with identifying grief.

Over the years, I have become willing to get closer to the grieving process. This requires me to be present when I don’t want to. It helps me avoid paying lip service to being in acceptance, which is easy to do without feeling the feelings. And, avoidance is a relationship I don’t want to develop, and then have to grieve later. Avoidance can be a tough challenge because it gives the same illusion of relief that alcohol/drugs did. I want to steer clear of it one day at a time.     

Today, when I bring things to “review” with my sponsor, I have an experience that is like “hearing a broken record.” I should know by now that I’m going to hear him say that I’m in a relationship with powerlessness. If my “review” is repetitive, I hear him say my name as “Bhaab (instead of Bob), you’re dealing with a relationship with powerlessness.” Although, I hate hearing him say my name that way, I must laugh. It keeps me grounded. It’s like a spiritual 2X4 to the forehead. He then gently reminds me that everything is God given, often saying, “Hooray for the Higher Power.” It’s up to me to view it that way, then take action in the steps.

I have come to realize that grieving does not have to be heavy all the time in concept or feeling. I’ve also learned that four of the five-stages offered by Kubler-Ross do not have to be experienced in order, except in my case for the last one, acceptance. It’s hard for me to get to acceptance without experiencing the other four. Patrick Carnes says the Twelve Steps is, “A program to deal with our losses, a program for dealing with our grief.” This helps me realize why a continuous experience with taking the steps is vitally important.

So, what about the yin and yang in this process? What are some things I’m not grieving today? There are many. The main two I am not grieving are hope and my relationship with a power greater than myself. Hope is not lost, and neither is God; Thank God! What a powerful gift our 3rd Step is.   

Therefore, I think I’m going to redouble my efforts today to embrace the real world as it is instead of the way I want it to be in order to feel okay. That’s what alcohol and drugs did when I used them, and it was only an illusion that life was good. It’s time to make some simple first step lists on powerlessness and unmanageability. It’s time pick up my 2-ounce cell phone and call my sponsor and program people. I’ll have to make sure there are new entries on the list, so I don’t have to hear “Bhaab.” Then I can hear solution, and if it contains an invitation that will include the grieving process, well then, hooray. Although feeling the feelings that accompany grieving can be a painful choice to embrace, I know it leads to freedom and serenity. 

 

Bob Kocher

 

 

RIGHT SIZING

THE 500 POUND

TELEPHONE

________________________

 

March 31, 2020

 

Today, I took my Iphone to the digital scale and weighed it. I was dumbfounded to find that it did not even register 1/10 of a pound. The scale read 0. I would have sworn that the phone would come in at a minimum of 250 pounds, although we hear around the rooms that the phone actually weighs 500 pounds. Often it seems that way. Now that I have done the research, I can no longer claim a higher weight for the phone than it is. So, what is there to do with the information?

Well, one great thing about having unexpected long periods of time on our hands is that it provides opportunity for discovery. Discovery can be very rewarding. It offers us time to tap into self-awareness, our feelings, even to find why we like or don’t like something.  Discovery in every category is possible. Identifying and understanding God-winks is also a part of discovery. Many of us discover just how available God-Winks are. I’ve learned they are available 24/7. And, why not take time to discover this valuable gift!?

Of course, on good days, when I’m feeling calm and centered, awareness feels easier to access. Also, employing an honest practical use of Step 11 works wonders. During times of stress, such as these, I can be less in touch with my feelings.  I’m not always aware if I’m in a good place or not. Beth and our sweet dog, Maddie, usually let me know where I stand. They also have their own stressors to deal with, so it’s important for me to be a mirror for them too. Many of us are not in relationships now, and therefore don’t have the benefit of the mirror they offer. What is a recovering person to do?

Of course, this presents a challenge because it’s not the greatest time to feel calm and centered. And even though Zoom meetings are a great way to connect, one on one interactions are the essence of the program; one recovering person talking with another until the discussion leads one or both to take better (healthy) actions they may not yet believe in. 

Now enter the concept of right sizing the 250-500 pound phone and it’s tremendous upside for connecting. C’mon you introverts. Get onboard!

Think of how many times in meetings we hear members share something that brings to mind, “that’s just what I needed to hear.” The multitude of times I have had this experience amazes me. Maybe you have had those experiences too. Now, think about how often these “amazing awareness’s”, can be so helpful, maybe even lifesaving. We need them.

At present, we have less time for excuses for avoiding connection. Our busy schedules aren’t so busy, don’t you know?  We are not on the move to the next important thing, so engaging people is more available. As we work through the current lock down, we can choose to keep our phone right sized and make some calls before the weight of the phone increases.

So now, I am saying out loud to myself, “Bob, with all this time on your hands, there is no excuse not to pick up the phone to connect.” If you can relate, say this out loud to yourself. “There is no excuse for me not to pick up the phone today and call a program person.” Go on. It doesn’t hurt one bit. And, not just one of your buddies either. How about calling to find out how people are that you haven’t talked to in a while? Or the big one, which is to get to know other group members we don’t interact with much? Give them a call too!     

Okay, I need to take action! So, I took time to call a couple of people from our homegroup phone list. The first number answered by a recording. I left a message with an invitation to return the call (I did get a return call later, awesome!) Then I connected with a member whose shares I like a lot but have not spoken with after the meetings. I liked the conversation. I found out what kind of work he does, that he is married and has two young children. We talked about how we were dealing with being home and what steps we were taking to stay healthy. Real life stuff. I didn’t even notice the weight of the telephone.

I took a couple of minutes after the conversation to reflect on the experience. What had I learned? How did the experience make me feel?  Why didn’t I choose to do this more often? Well, I liked the conversation. It was real and genuine. I liked the feeling. I liked that I did something outside my comfort zone and made a connection, which was good. The phone was it’s actual weight. How about that?

It occurred to me to write down questions to ask. For example, questions you might like to be asked: How are you coping? How’s the family? Have you done a Zoom meeting yet? What do you think of this or that? Practice getting out of your comfort zone. Pick up the phone. Make a call. It’s a good way to get out of ourselves, as well as being an aerobic weight lifting exercise until the phone is right-sized.

Now, then, what brain cells I have are in second gear.  Our home groups and Zoom meetings are a place to be safe. We need to take what we have outside the rooms too. Think about people from your home group or Zoom meetings anywhere who are elderly, wheelchair bound, or have other disease issues to deal with and see if they would like a call. You can connect by chat while in the Zoom meeting. When you’re out of the house, say hello to people who are using walkers, in wheelchairs or being helped by care-givers. Look children in the eye with a smile. Observe their response. Recognize your choice to be present for life on life’s terms.

And here’s another thought. With your new-found phone savvy, consider reaching out to people to help meet you and your family’s needs. Ask questions. We all learn that you can’t get a yes or no answer unless a question is first asked.      

The current situation is causing many of us hardships and it’s possible more will follow. I think it’s time to help each other rally against fear. What could this look like? How about this:

  • If you are a renter and may need some relief call your landlord and ask for it.
  • If you are a landlord and can offer some assistance, make the call before you get a call.
  • Call the power company, credit card companies, car payment services, banks, or any monthly creditor to see if relief is available. Programs are being put in place and you need to call or as a last resort, check internet web sites to find out what’s available.
  • If you have success, call people and let them know. Beth and I are starting today.

By right-sizing the telephone, you may find many doors opening with answers you have been searching for. Here is a quote by Jim from San Jose, shared in the Butte County 8 AM Zoom meeting, “At meetings, we hear people put into words what we have not yet found words for ourselves.” It all began with one alcoholic talking to another. I like that a lot! 

Bob Kocher

 

 

WHAT IF

GOD

NEEDS HELP TOO?

________________________

 

March 24, 2020

 

I’ve been going to meetings for a long time. Why? Because I need to and ultimately realized I want to. How did that come to be? The day I surrendered to my alcoholism/addiction, I knew I was beaten in life. I knew I had run out of places to hide. I didn’t think I had anywhere to go. I was having psychotic episodes; hearing voices spewing negativity about what a mess I’d made of my life. I was taking in air yet felt I couldn’t breathe.

A series of events had taken place as I was racing to my bottom. One included a failed suicide attempt, thwarted by a three-year old boy who came to my aid at 3:00 AM. I was in a vacation rental home in Lake Tahoe where I had done some of my most manic drinking and drug use. He was sleepwalking in a large house and had walked through several rooms to come to my unexpected rescue. I didn’t know why he was there. Maybe he did. It’s just one of those program things we hear about, then discover for ourselves, and then get to share.

A few days later, I had retrieved my things from the home of a partner in yet another broken relationship. When I got home, I had sadness and desperation interrupted by a call out of the blue from a partying type friend of mine. We used to do a little non-habit-forming cocaine together. I hadn’t talked to him in a couple of years. He needed a fill-in for his softball team that night. For a moment, I romanticized. Playing sports and the get togethers afterward had always been part of the fun that drinking seemed to provide until it didn’t anymore. “Okay, John” I said. “Where do I meet you?” “I’ll come and pick you up,” he offered. 

He arrived 45 minutes before game time. I was glad to see him. Years before, I had coached him in his freshman year in High School. After he grew up, we played softball with and against each other. I got into his car and after greeting him, was surprised by what appeared to be a certain calm about him. His eyes were bright and clear and being around him felt different. I asked him what he had been up to and was shocked to hear him say he had just had a two-year birthday in Alcoholics Anonymous. On my first birthday, he shared that it was an unexpected (to him) “flash” thought to call me.

The guy I was supposed to replace showed up for the game that night. So, I spent the night on the bench, which was not my way. That didn’t help; it increased my loneliness, which I thought impossible. When John drove me home, I went into the house and came back out with a couple of beers. Certainly, a beer would be okay to share with him, right? He politely refused. I cracked the can open and as I brought it to my mouth, the liquid burned as if it were acid. I spit it out. How weird was that? One of my roommates came out of the front door to say hello and passed me a joint. I tried to take a hit, but the taste was foul and burned as if I had taken in coffee that was way too hot. How weird was that? My mind started racing again and the voices were returning. I couldn’t tell anyone, especially John. I was his coach, don’t you know?

I went into the house and as I was walking down the hallway, I said out loud, “God help me. I can’t do this to myself anymore.” At the time, I didn’t realize that I had made an honest prayer. It was different than the deal-making prayers I had been making for years. They were something like, “If you give me this, I won’t do that. If you do this for me, I will do that. If you bail me out of this one, I’ll be a good servant, I won’t drink, I’ll be faithful” and so on. In my first 4th and 5th steps I came to realize that over the years, I had been helped a lot. And, I hadn’t kept up my part of the bargain. This prayer was different. I said it almost child-like and I meant it. 

When I reached my room, I lay down on my bed. As if I had snapped my fingers, I woke up surprised to see it was morning. Outside my window a bird was in the tree looking in and chirping away. For a moment, I felt calm. I sensed something was different without having the vaguest idea what it was. Maybe it was my first look at a meaning for Grace. 

That was February 16, 1988 and I haven’t had a drink or drug since. I began my journey in AA that week too after a call to my sister, Carole P., who had 12-stepped me more than 10 years before; Thank God. It was the beginning of a new life and I got to learn there is no lead-time in God’s answers to honest prayers.

Now that’s my story and I love reflecting on it and sharing it. Going to meetings gives me the opportunity to hear other people’s accounts of their spiritual experiences and awakenings. And, I like them a lot too. There is lots of time for reflection while we wait out this Covid-19 disease. 

I started thinking about the thousands of people I have encountered and interacted with all these years. There is lots of hoopla about God doing this and God doing that for us. There is lots of banter about God is or isn’t. There are those of us who have trouble with God even though he doesn’t seem to have trouble with us and they make it through! And, there are lots of stout believers who stand tall in faith. Great, no problem with any of that here!

Then, a continuing thought kept popping into my mind. What if God needs help too? The longer any of us stay around the program, the more most of us get to know how precious sobriety is. We get to say, it’s not easy. We get to say it’s worth it. We get to understand that there is a dark side to life including in recovery and that there are times when we need a higher power as much as when we were new. We get to choose whether or not to commit to walk in the sunlight of the spirit. So, does God have the sane luxury when the pressure’s on? Maybe, maybe not.

Since that first awareness of my honest prayer, I have noted countless honest prayers’ power both from personal experience and from amazing and unexplained things. So, why not allow myself to guess that God could use some support right now? After all, if God is everything as I choose to believe, isn’t it possible that since he does so much for all of us, all of the time, that we can show our gratitude by sending him prayers to help bring light to the darkness we fear right now?

How about this: If the idea sounds reasonable to you, or if it doesn’t, and you are still willing to try it, bring the idea of supporting God to your Zoom meetings. Share the concept with your family and friends. Pray as a group to let God know we are with him. Pray on your own. Pray with your husband-wife-friend-pet. Pray for those you might not want to pray for. Pray for light against darkness. Make your prayers BIGGER. Make God BIGGER (we can do that, you know). Pray for doctors, nurses, scientists, researchers who are working tirelessly to eradicate the virus. Let God know we’ve got his back. After all, hasn’t he had yours?  

Bob Kocher

 

 

GRACE

BUILDS

UPON NATURE

________________________

 

March 23, 2020

 

Beth and I attended our first meeting using Zoom on Saturday, which happened to be with members from our Home Group, Early Risers of Los Osos, CA.  It was a blessing to see and hear people share about how they are managing the journey one day at a time.  I heard a lot of gratitude. Once again, I am reminded of one of the greatest gifts our wonderful program(s) offers, which is a sense of belonging to something that is truly a power greater than ourselves.

Quite a few people mentioned being able to witness things in their immediate surroundings and commented on what they were observing. The obvious came to mind, which is, that all of us have had a shift on our daily lives.  Our routines are different, and our comfort zones stretched. Step work in recovery was my first introduction about how making a conscious choice to change and taking action to do so produced an altered comfort zone. Initially, step work is uncomfortable, which is to say it’s working! With time, each day sober became a vehicle to be more present with reality, like it or not. Most important, sobriety makes getting to solutions in a more relaxed state move from seemingly impossible, to hopeful, to probable, to intuitive, at least on good days. 

So, when I hear people share about gratitude, it helps me refocus. It’s like receiving an unexpected gift. We watch people rise above a self-absorbed projection of doom and gloom to a vison of hope ultimately developing desire to take in more of their new-found lives. Over time we become part of a spiritual axiom that through seeing and appreciating growth in others, it means we are growing and changing too. Otherwise, we couldn’t recognize it. I get to look at life through a different lens; the lenses of helpful input from others. 

A while ago, I attended a series of talks by Fr. Tom Weston. The theme caught my attention immediately; “Grace Builds Upon Nature.” My life partner Beth grew up in Paradise, CA. It is the town that was destroyed by the “Camp Fire” in 2018. We went to visit the area last fall and saw the grim sites of barren lots where homes had once stood. Beth grew up at her parent’s small motel. There was internal sadness in seeing half of the buildings where her home had been gone, including Beth’s room. Beth walked around the property collecting rocks, and I could see the memories flash by on her face as she walked the area. Suddenly, two young deer darted out of the foliage near Beth, startled by her presence. How did their mother survive the fire? I began to notice all around town there were seedling trees, new shrubs and blossoming flowers. People were actively working on rebuilding projects. Then came a mega bonus. We came to Ponderosa Elementary school and saw several walls with pictures of pets. I felt apprehensive! Instead of sad information dominating the landscape, the comments were mostly stories of pets who had been found and reunited with their families. How could they have survived the holocaust? 

Well, here’s how. God’s Grace Cannot Be Stopped! Whether seeing a newcomer’s growth or life blossom from ashes, Grace Builds Upon Nature! We reawaken in sobriety! Along with experiencing the gift of sobriety, I’m reminded that it comes a responsibility to pass it on!

In the evening, I was talking with Lucy in Australia on Whats App. She told me about seeing pictures about a phenomenon occurring in the canals of Venice that has been absent for a very long time. It shows dolphins playing in the Venice Canals and Swans returning to relax in the waters normally buzzing with activity. In China people are seeing blue skies because the pollution they have lived with for years is interrupted for now. This morning, at our Zoom meeting, Anthony shared from his home in Oakhurst.  He talked about seeing snow on the mountains and deer in his front yard.  Someone else mentioned that the Ozone layer must be smiling because it is getting to breathe and hopefully regenerate. Once again, perfect examples of Grace Building Upon Nature. God’s Grace Cannot Be Stopped!

A couple of days ago, I posted a quote from Mary Ramos, which I want to repeat. She says, “The opposite of Addiction is not Sobriety, rather it is connection.” Our disease mis-informs our minds that we can do “it”, whatever “it” is, on our own. I vote for the Grace of more connection in this time of readjustment with the hope that it becomes an addition to our Nature. It seems like a good next thing to do.

Bob Kocher

 

 

LOOK

BEYOND

THE HORIZON

________________________

 

March 19, 2020

 

Dear Friends and Valued Clients,

We hope you are safe and sound and following protocol to ride out the situation we are all facing at present. 

The group that just finished the Mexican Riviera cruise had a very different experience in a positive way than what we are hearing in the news. It is important for me to pass on the information with intent to put what we experienced into practical use for all of you as we walk through this unknown and powerless territory.

Our group of 67 almost to a person wanted to stay onboard the Norwegian Joy. There were several reasons for this. The obvious one was the sense of community that developed from the recovery experiences within the group. The experiences were supported by the extraordinary measures the ship took to keep the vessels hygiene and cleanliness at incredibly high levels.

What we experienced is worthy of consideration in our own homes and for those of you who are in management positions or own businesses. The model used by Norwegian is worth putting into daily practice. Before boarding, all passengers had their temperatures taken and passports were examined to be sure that persons attempting to board the cruise had not traveled to countries known to have dangerous outbreaks. In all common areas staff members made 24/7 trips around the ship wiping down all railings, door handles and stairway banisters with disinfectant. Tables were wiped down promptly in public areas after use, and food in the buffets was served by employees wearing protective gloves. Norwegian ships had no indication of Corona Virus symptoms since the first reports of the illness and authorities came onboard upon our return to the Port of Los Angeles to be sure that there were no guests or staff that had symptoms. What would it be like if we had this type of screening, protocol and disinfecting practices at stores, gas stations, treatment centers, hospitals, etc.?

At In This Life, we are looking at our future just like everyone. We are suspending all planned group tours until June 1. This includes the Annual Greece Tour. We are assisting people who shop individual, family vacations and groups within this time frame in filing claims and/or changes in their plans to later dates as mandated by airlines, cruise lines and other travel providers.  

Of course, we are following the AA World Services web site www.aa.org to keep up to date on the International Convention. As of today, the convention is still scheduled to proceed as planned. Those of you who have services through In This Life will be kept appraised of changes associated with the convention and policies regarding refunds should the convention be cancelled.

As far as our future groups, we are planning to begin again with our scheduled events, the Alaska cruise with Annie Lamott and Neal Allen on September 7, the Vancouver to Hawaii cruise on September 14, our Sober Safari departing for So. Africa in late October and our New Zealand/Australia in March 2021. 

It is likely that prices will be extremely favorable for travel in the future as all travel providers will need to encourage travelers to come and enjoy their services. This was our experience with the outbreaks of SARS, MERS, and the Avian flu. As always, we offer price protection and will pass on the best value-added amenities associated with your travel experiences with us. 

Currently we are working on the newly reduced rates for the New Zealand/Australia sailing. There are options within these rates that offer choices for base rates with no amenities or higher rates that include perks. We intend to re-price your bookings to one of the new choices offered. There will also be an option to keep the booking as it now stands for those of you booked on the generous shipboard credit promotion.

In compliance with our San Luis Obispo County mandate we are "staying in place" until we are cleared. Therefore, I will be working very limited hours in the office and remotely from home along with staff. Please allow a little extra time for return of phone calls.

Please be safe and stay connected with friends, family and program people. Replace isolation with integration. Make your prayers bigger and do the same with your higher power. And as always, travel to the grocery store-doctor-program meetings-any gatherings safely and TravelSober.

Bob Kocher