Nobody comes into recovery on a winning streak. I’ve yet to meet an addict or alcoholic who decided, while on top of the world, to walk away from a substance that works. Despite the downsides – hangovers, jonesing for product, shame, self-hatred – if alcohol and drugs are working, no one walks away from them. Drunks and junkies only try recovery when the shit that used to work doesn’t work anymore. It’s shattered men and women who walk into church basements.
I entered recovery a broken and hollow man.
(Please forgive the narrative break, but T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men” is one of my 12 favorite poems of all time and Daniel Amos is one of my 12 favorite bands of all time. The two come together here as the latter covers the former. Really and for true. It may be the greatest marriage of high art and pop music in the history of the whole human rat race.)
(Please forgive the rerouting of the previous narrative break, but I know certain readers will want to know some of my other favorite poems. In no order: “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost; “Power” by Adrienne Rich; “The Journey of the Magi” by Eliot; “The Second Coming” by Yeats; and almost anything by A.E. Housman or Ron Koertge.)
To remind you. I entered recovery a broken and hollow man.
Today, my life’s breaks have knit, and I am filled with gratitude. It’s this latter notion I’d like to explore a bit today. As regular readers may remember, my first sobriety mentor made many useful suggestions: “Go to a variety of meetings,” “Sit in the front and pay attention,” “Hold off on dating for the first year of sobriety” and “Don’t drink.” The slogan that has stayed deepest in my consciousness, though, is simple and, for me at least, absolutely 100% true:
“A grateful heart will never drink.”
Life is balanced when I focus on what the universe has given me instead of what I’ve been denied. Interestingly, gratitude implies at least two separate notions – I am thankful and something outside me has met my needs. Whether that something is God or god, Universe or universe, he, she or it doesn’t really matter. My thankfulness is directed outward, also acting as wind to blow resentment away. In short, the feeling of gratitude as an emotional high colonic on the crap that builds up inside my soul.
I used the phrase “feeling of gratitude” above, and that’s probably correct. Unfortunately, feelings are not facts, and they flee with the turn of my head. Instead, I need to express my gratitude, which brings me to a sermon of sorts to those who have been saved through sobriety.
The Preacher clears his throat and begins.
Every single one of us whose life has been improved by recovery has reason to overflow with gratitude. While November is Gratitude Month for all, those of us who have been saved from ourselves and our self-destructive behavior must demonstrate our thankfulness, and that demonstration must include putting our money where our mouths and hearts are. In other words, I’m calling for all of us in recovery to look unflinchingly at our earning power today versus when we got sober and to give 10% of our income to charity.
That’s right, I believe us folks who used to daily find the money to keep us in our substance of choice should tithe to charities we believe in. While folks who belong to churches that emphasize tithing as a spiritual practice should probably begin there, my experience has been that recovering men and women are less likely to say, for instance, “I’m an active member of my local Presbyterian (or Catholic or Pentecostal or LDS or Jewish or Muslim or any other damn thing) worship community. Instead, we say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Great! Now spread your spiritual experience by opening your wallet.
I’ve never put this in print before, and have told only a few people, but for the last three years I’ve tithed to local and national nonprofits, charities focused on veterans causes, recovery and protection of our constitutional rights. As part of full disclosure, I’ll say I’m currently tithing to Hope for NH Recovery and to Shower Them. I’m employed by the former and sit on the board of directors of the latter. More important, though, is my faith in them as organizations with goals that align with mine.
I don’t care where you give your money; I just want every man or woman who’s today making significantly more money than we were when drinking or drugging to find a cause that matters and to write out a check or click on a donate button. Ten percent of what you make. Immediately. Turn that feeling of gratitude into an expression of progress.
End of sermon. Now a brief return to the inspired jackassery you’re used to from me.
Please don’t forget Angry Haiku this Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Manchester Hope for NH Recovery, 293 Wilson St.
Call me for directions.
Or a description.
Or to brag about how you’ve started tithing.
About the author: Keith Howard used to be a homeless drunk veteran. Then he got sober and, eventually, became director of Liberty House in Manchester, a housing program for formerly homeless veterans. There, he had a number of well-publicized experiences – walking away from federal funds in order to keep Liberty House clean and sober, a contretemps with a presidential candidate and a $100,000 donation, a year spent living in a converted cargo trailer in Raymond. Today, he lives in a six-by 12-foot trailer in Pittsburg, NH, a few miles from the Canadian border with his dog, Sam. There, Howard maintains tinywhitebox.com, his website, works on a memoir, and a couple of novels while plotting the next phase of his improbable life.