Alcoholics Anonymous

Some who need AA may have been put off by a Sawyer County Record editorial column last week – it slammed AA. Maybe the drug naltrexon, that the writer touted, actually does safely block alcohol – but maybe it does not. Big Pharma and the mental health industry make billions off drugs that are still experimental and dangerous despite what some doctors, drug sellers, and regulators say.

My dad was an alcoholic. He loved me, and I loved him, but we never played baseball, went to the movies or the beach, or had weighty father-son conversations. He worked and drank; that’s pretty much it. He lived in an emotional dead zone. It took me years of re-framing to learn that I could love him, and not replicate his thought errors and sadness.RX

I went to my first AA meeting by accident 40 years ago. I didn’t drink, but a neighbor driving me to town had to stop at her AA meeting. I sat in and learned about dry drunks, stinkin’ thinkin’, Codependents Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics. The personal support and instruction available in properly run 12-step meetings is tremendous. We can’t get this in pills.

We tend to ignore and deny the family of origin issues that drive us to drink, or to whatever. But we remain victims of victims until we face these issues. 12-step can help us face them.

Sometimes a problem is chemical, and meds can help, but not most of the time as Big Pharma tells us, or sells us. And we don’t have to become religious nuts to get the benefits of 12-step. So get aboard.

You have nothing to lose but guilt, anger and displaced aggression.

12 step isn’t everything, but it is something. It won’t get you all the way home, but it can help you get out of a hole.

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Seeking Color-Blindness

I read an excellent writer last week who opined at length on widespread systemic racism in America’s police departments. He said white cops routinely, sort of automatically mistreat non-whites, even to the point of shooting and killing them.

I’ve worked with the mentally ill for many years; that is, I was paid to care for people who were struggling with emotions, not just putting up with distressed co-workers. Of course, we all struggle with emotions from time to time, some seeming much more severe than others. We all have broke parts in our hearts, so to speak, that never healed just right – like boxes of sadness, they sit largely unattended in the back rooms of our minds, hidden away even from ourselves. The basic idea in working with suffering people is to be gentle – whatever the moment says that is – and not scare people more than they are already. We try to reinforce self-esteem, not tell people how wounded and helpless they are. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a best practice these days in treating mental illness. It tells us to get to the true facts, that mental distress can be eased by sorting out fact from fiction. There is a universal need for us to find the true facts of our situation. I know that explaining to people how mistaken they are is mostly a waste of time. We don’t like being told we’re mistaken about – well – anything. And I hate to task people. We all carry enough without others adding to it. Still, I feel I should write on this difficult subject of race.

The writer I mentioned tied in the Ferguson, MO incident in which the black teenager, “Big Mike” Brown, was shot to death by a white policeman. The writer acknowledged that all the facts weren’t in. Still, he used the incident to claim that the Ferguson police had excluded blacks from their police force.

It was a strong piece, the charges too ugly and grave to take lightly. Indeed, such charges are already assumed by many to be widely true. But are they? I’m an old man and I grew up in Chicago. I’ve seen racism and I know the charges were once true. But are they still true?

Growing up, I had many friendly contacts with people of color. I also had knives and guns brandished at me by people of color. I see the easy invitation to hold onto the stupid idea from the past that a person’s color means something about that person. Of course, it doesn’t. And I’ve met no one in many years so stupid as to think (or say) that it does. So I think we’re getting somewhere. But getting and keeping our minds right on this means getting the true facts and not letting out-of-date urban legends dominate thinking. To this end, I say there’s sound evidence that:

a.) When police lower qualifications to hire minorities, they get less qualified officers, which leads to more death and crime in the minority community. There are many totally qualified minority individuals, of course, but they tend to not apply for police jobs. Go figure. We could draft them, I suppose. Or be more effective recruiting them. Point is: it’s not simply white racism that suppresses their numbers.

b.) In a prestigious study out of NJ (see study), blacks were counted speeding (proportionally) more than whites and at higher speeds. I would not have been shocked or disappointed if the study had found Baptist women speeding more. The significance in this study is merely that traffic stops of blacks by NJ police, in this instance, were not, in fact, simply racial profiling. The fact is more blacks being stopped for speeding than whites doesn’t always mean they were racially selected.

c.) The mean streets of Chicago taught me that teenage males are the most dangerous animals out there, regardless of their color – although currently, young black males are doing most of the killing. Could anyone be demanding that a white officer having his face battered by a 300 pound black ‘kid’ (who’s trying to seize his gun), should let himself be battered unconscious – maybe to death – and allow the batterer to run off with the gun to shoot whoever – all to respect the teen’s race and make up for historic white privilege? I feel sure the writer did not intend such.

I have a multi-racial multi-ethnic family myself. At family get togethers, Jews, Italians, Polish, Hispanics, blacks, African-Americans, if you prefer, (I really dislike the PC push to define people in racially meaningless terms), Irish, Germans, and English all mill together non-violently. I have real skin in the game. I’m not angling for any social or political advantage. I want to see racial and ethnic conflicts work out for the best for all. Maybe I want a bit more good for the tykes in my family, but this bias can only be served if race and ethnicity are let go of altogether as clubs we use on anyone – ever.

In fact, I think there’s much less racism today than any time in our history. I think ‘real’ racism is now a relatively rare sign of knee jerk stupidity, a call for help. I think raising false charges of racism is as stupid as racism itself and helps no one, surely not the little guys in my family. Ginning up weak charges of racial unfairness only provokes distrust and retaliatory hostility. We must see racism, and respond to it, only where it actually occurs.

I don’t see how it helps to strike a bright line separating white people (who in general were historically privileged) from black people (who were in general historically less privileged), when the true fact is, all people do well or poorly as individuals, not as groups and surely not in dollar terms. Our pain and nightmares are our own – very personal and individual – and most of us, white, black, brown, red or yellow, are suffering enough. We need to see our common humanity, not permanent disconnects. Let’s use our strength to help any in need, regardless of color.

Some years ago, when my nephew, James, was tiny, I used to lie down on the sofa and put him up on my chest and softly pat his back – he’d take his nap this way. James will never be a color in my eyes. He will never be a black person. He will always be James. And if he gets caught up in the political madness of our age, I will concentrate all my power to be patient with him. I know he will never permanently forget that he’s loved.

A Big Offender

I used to be a big offender in our seemingly permanent culture war. I routinely looked down on fellow citizens, respecting them not at all if they didn’t see the world the way I did. Over the decades, I’ve come to see this self-righteousness as a normal failing, part of human nature. We all love to look down in judgment. It seems to buoy us up in our sea of trouble.

But the things we do if we act from disrespect, even how we vote, tend to make life worse not better. We may think we’re ‘getting the bad guys,’ and that this is honorable. But there are no bad guys – just us confused humans doing our best in the light we have to see by. And the light is not so good.

The breakdown in civility is not ‘out there’ somewhere, in THEM, or in religions or political parties. It’s in us. We see the world only as our heart allows. No matter the names, Republican, Democrat, whatever, vilifying and guilt-tripping THEM is not love. It’s an assault – on ourselves, ultimately. It’s like tossing a grenade from ‘our’ end of the lifeboat into ‘their’ end. It’s a sign of a sad sick heart.

How many times must we be told? To have peace, we must love and forgive everyone, even our seeming enemies – especially our seeming enemies. Any idiot can forgive his pals. This loving and forgiving does not mean we let ourselves be cheated or abused. It means we must be as kind and respectful as we can be, even toward seemingly mean, dangerous or goofy people. Buddha calls this having compassion for all.

A purportedly Native American way I heard this lesson framed:

One evening an old man told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It’s anger, envy, sorrow, greed, arrogance, guilt, self-pity, lies, resentment, false pride, superiority, and ego.  The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

The grandson thought about it for a minute, then asked the grandfather, Which wolf wins?

The old man simply replied, The one you feed.  (Some say this is not really a Native American story. Oh well. I still like the concept.)

Thanks for the Reminder, Darrell

At a recent National Prayer Breakfast, NASCAR legend, Darrell Waltrip, said, If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, you’re going to Hell. I think he hit the nail on the head. Of course, some say his words hold prejudice, that Christians think they’re good but damn everyone else. But Jesus taught peace and spiritual equality, not social or political hierarchy. Christians are like everyone else. They struggle with imperfections, like everyone. They fail to live up to their ideals, like everyone. This only proves they’re human, not that Christian ideals are bad. The Christian ideal is that no one is damned except by their refusing to love, by choosing hopelessness or cynicism.

Jesus represents the love that’s always present in the mind. Having a personal relationship with Jesus is a way of saying we choose to accept that love. We don’t do it until we’re ready. We have a lot of hidden guilt inside that we must first get past. We mostly fear that we really deserve punishment not love. It takes time and pain to get past this. Eventually, we get to a point where we seriously want to stop the agony, anxiety and fear. We seriously want peace.

Jesus promises peace, and this has drawn people to Him for 2000 years. We don’t have to join any group or church to find this peace and live a good life. We can be on our own. But we do need a kind way to look at life, at people, including at ourselves. We need a role model – and Jesus is a good one. Jewish, Greek, Roman, Muslim histories all say He was a kind rabbi who despised no one. He said obey the law, but He didn’t use violations to justify damning anyone personally. He didn’t promote violence or hostility. His famous anger at the money changers in the temple deviates from a record of peace, and is likely in error. He taught the power of love and faith, not ultimate reliance on worldly power. (Though worldly power, physical force, can have a loving purpose if we are about stopping people from doing harm).

Christianity aside, the psychological fact is that when we refuse to love, we’re not going to Hell, we’re already there. Hell is not a fiery furnace in a smoky sub-basement somewhere. It’s not a place. It’s a state of mind, the opposite of peace. It’s where we go, mentally, when we refuse to be kind. Of course, it’s hard to block all the impulses to be unkind; so we all stumble into Hell a lot. We do it whenever we choose to despise, ridicule, intimidate or the like. We must forever practice backing away from such mean choices. Enlightenment, Christian or any other, is about shortening the time it takes us from getting mean to getting over it.

We must be especially wary of despising others for despising others. This cunning error seems so right, it slips past our logic filters, and we let ourselves hate like it’s a virtue. But if we’re willing, even a little willing, then all our life, we continue to get better and better at holding love in mind (instead of anger or anxiety) as we choose our words, actions, thoughts and feelings. Having Jesus as a guide and forgiving friend can help get us out of Hell – help save us.

If you don’t get this, you don’t get it, and that’s fine. Explaining it over and over won’t help. We get it when we’re ready, and that’s soon enough. But remember that the choice is always there. We can always ASK to be guided by love instead of by our fears. We don’t have to go on ego alone. And our life will reflect our choice.

We can’t end cruelty, stupidity, or dishonesty; it’s built in. And none of us will ever fully understand the world; it’s way too complicated. So we live ultimately by faith. If we choose love, which is represented by Jesus, then no matter how hard life gets, we’ll experience it as more and more peaceful. Even for warriors and people with great burdens, this will be so. Best of all, it’s never too late to choose again. The storm will clear. Hell will go away.

Islam – a religion of peace?

President Obama said, The prettiest sound on Earth is the call of the muezzin to prayer at sunset. He heard it five times every day while attending 3rd and 4th grade in Muslim Indonesia. I heard it countless times hitchhiking through Turkey, the Balkans, from Morocco to Egypt and up the Nile. It is a beautiful sound. In thousands of miles living and traveling among Muslims, I found them mostly kind and hospitable, like people everywhere. Islam is surely a religion of peace, judging by ordinary Muslims.

But Islam has been at war with itself and the world since 600 AD, when Muhammad – peace be upon him – took to the saddle to conquer the world for Allah (God). His very enlightened message was, Look only to Allah for good, not to this world of flesh, money and power. Arabia was then a lawless tribal hodge-podge of Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, animists and idolaters. Muhammad expelled them for short-changing Allah. His Muslim followers stayed, imams ruled, mayhem eased. Of course, making peace by dominating and evicting is no one’s ideal, but history says Muhammad was about as gentle as his time. His prophets were Abraham, Moses and Jesus, same as those of the Jews and Christians.

Muslim holy war, jihad, spread everywhere. A Persian/Iranian student recently said, We’ve been struggling with Islam for 1400 years. Lets keep our holy Persian culture alive so we don’t join the list of old civilizations made extinct by Islam. Under dhimmitude, non-Muslims might pay a special tax and hide their non-Muslim ways to avoid exile or death. Muslims have never opposed this; they can be killed for saying jihad is wrong or too brutal.

Now, refugees, and jihadist killers posing as refugees, pour from the Middle East. They’ll test our borders and our asylum-seeker vetting system. We may reasonably wonder if jihad might come to our town, or if only cities face attack. We may wonder about Muslims. Muslims wonder about Muslims. After Muhammad died, Islam split into Sunni and Shi’ite sects. They’ve been killing each other, sometimes in large numbers, over who’s the true heir to Muhammad. They’ve killed or expelled most Middle Eastern non-Muslims, may use nukes on us or on each other, and plot against corporate America and our power grid.

To avoid getting too hotly judgmental or paranoid, remember that we all have the same savage past, ancestors who rode hard on neighbors, killed, stole, enslaved, burned people for sport, etc. My parent generation incinerated whole cities full of men, women and kids. Survival – and unenlightened human nature – makes us do unthinkable things; some are necessary. An uncle of mine spent a ghastly day inside a dead horse waiting for a Japanese sniper to move, then shot him. I got, from very few words, that my uncle never hated that sniper, only saw emotion to be a risky distraction.

Muslims must evolve, like brutal old-time Christians, brutal Jews from antiquity and many brutal others have evolved. Some reform-minded Muslims now call violent jihad Political Islam, to establish that true Islam can be seen as a humane, evolving religion of peace. Peace is about learning, from psychology, from Jesus, or from somewhere else, that we’re all in this together. There is no them, only us. Until we learn this, we fight. We fight ourselves thinking we’re defending ourselves.