St. Philip’s in the Hills
Sermon for Recovery Sunday, 2-12-2012
The Rev. Tom Leonard
I intend to pray for you and I ask that you will pray for me. In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is a privilege for me to represent the Recovering Community. I do wish to dedicate my humble offering today to The Rev. Dr. Dan Behling, of special memory. If any excitement was created regarding Addiction or Recovery in this parish or Diocese or nationally in the Episcopal Coalition on Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency, you can bet that Dan was behind it.
My personal history and St. Philip’s history are somewhat intertwined. I have worshipped here since I attended the university of Arizona and served on the staff for some 15 years. Actually St. Philip’s and I came into being during the same year., 1936. I understand we both have been named “Historical Monuments.”
You have been given a single white sheet of paper by the ushers. It is a page of resources for Recovery. There are important phone numbers for Twelve Step Meetings , referrals to therapists and treatment centers that we like very much. Just take this with you as a reference. Please do not take any of this material personally. This may be helpful to you in the future or to a neighbor, friend, or family member.
I wish to tell you three stories. These are light and frothy things but are important to our concerns today. The first is about Bob and Karen, a middle aged couple who are shopping in a mall one afternoon. Suddenly Karen notices that Boll is not there. He has just vanished. Disappeared! She takes out her cell phone and calls him on his phone. Bob answers immediately. “Bob!” she says, “Where the ----are you?”. Bob replies, “Darling, do you remember that little Jewelry shop in the Mall? We went in many years ago when we were first married and you fell in love with a diamond necklace.
I could not afford it then but I promised you that one day it would be yours.”
“Oh Darling!” said Karen, I do remember” “Well,” said Bob, “I am in the bar next door to that Jewelry shop.”
A cowboy drops into a bar and orders three beers from the bartender. He then gathers them up in his arms and takes them to a table where he sips each one until they are gone. Then he goes to the bar for three more. The bartender volunteers to pour them one at a time and bring them to his table. The cowboy says, “Actually that won’t work. You see I have two brothers. We all left Texas and out family home recently and we vowed that when we had a beer we would pretend that the other two are there just like the good old days.
He had three more. The next day he came in to the bar and ordered two beers. He took the two mugs to his table and sipped each one until they were gone, Then he ordered two more. The bartender was very concerned, He asked if there had been a death in the family. “Oh no,” said the cowboy. My brothers are just fine. What happened is I joined the Baptist Church this past week and I can’t drink anymore. But of course that does not affect my brothers.
Finally: Mary, a single women dashed out of her house into the back yard to wave at Helen her neighbor. Mary said, “Helen, come to the fence so I can tell you about a drinking and driving incident I had last night.” They begin leaning over the fence and Mary says, “Last night some friends of mine and I went to dinner and had some drinks. Then we went to another place and had some more drinks. I must admit I was sloshed. “ Helen said, “What else is new?” Then said Mary, “Then I did something really clever and wise. I took a bus home. I got here safe and sound and without any stress.” Helen said, “That was a good ideas.” Mary said, “Yes it was when you consider I have never driven a bus before.”
Why do we laugh at this behavior? Some antics of folks that are inebriated are comical. But we don’t laugh as much anymore. I remember two decades ago or so, there was always a drunk character in a movie or TV show for comic relief. Red Skeleton had a comic drunk character as did Jackie Gleason. Then there was the greatest, Foster Brooks. But now we see these behaviors as less and less funny because we have learned more and more about the tragedy of alcoholism and drug abuse.
Lets revisit Bob and Karen in the Mall. They probably repeat this scenario over and over again during a week. It is the story of the “disappearing husband” or the “broken hearted wife. “ When she finds that he is in the bar she may leave the Mall, take the car and let him take a taxi when the bar closes. It’s an old routine. She goes home, fixes some dinner for herself. She may watch a little TV or read, and then slip into bed by herself.
She has learned that there is very little marriage left. Her husband has a bottle as a mistress. She is lonely, fearful, afraid, and angry….feeling herself to be a victim. Actually, Bob feels the same way. They are mirror images of each other. Both need recovery programs . She is as ill as he is. If she confronts him with his behavior the next day, he will disappear again.
She should begin with Al anon which will help her have a life in spite of the horror show that goes on at home. Al anon is made up of men and women who have become powerless over another’s behavior. They offer each other their experience, strength and hope. Then Karen needs to fined a therapist to help her plan a way to get Bob into treatment. He will not go on his own.
Lets look at the cowboy who has contrived one of the most creative ways to deny his drinking problem and assure himself of a steady flow of alcohol.
The real question is, Why do we drink? And why do some drink so much.
There is only one reason for drinking the drug alcohol, and that is to feel good. That is why we drink. It makes us feel good. The alcoholic or substance abuser drinks or drugs to keep from feeling bad, but that is quite another story.
I would like to take us through the chemical reactions of Alcohol or drugs as they hit the brain. This is very simplistic…Alcohol and other drugs that are sedatives, reduce the amount of oxygen going to the brain for normal functioning. If the oxygen supply is compromised, areas of the brain become dysfunctional. The brain is composed of different layers responsible for different functions. The first layer is responsible for judgment and decision making. It is where we have conversations with ourselves regarding what we are doing, right or wrong moves. As alcohol or a drug moves through this first area, our judgment is impaired. This is why when we take the first drink or whatever, the brain says, that feels good. Another will be even better. And then a third will be incredible. But this is when the social drinker stops. He/she is comfortable, relaxed, forgetting rapidly the pressures of the day. having fun and being gregarious. However the alcoholic cannot stop there, the judgment center says to keep going , it will feel even better. The second layer is the area of feeling and emotions. Here you may see someone sitting alone with their drink and crying ..or dashing around the room in a lamp shade. The next area is motor skills. Hands, feet, the movement of limbs. When the alcohol or drug reaches this area, we see stumbling and staggering. And the speaking is dysfunctional as well. However, the compromised Judgment center tells the poor guy that he looks great, is hip, slick and cool, and every one should hear what he says because he is being so brilliant. But actually he is about to fall down and sounds like an idiot. This happens swiftly to the alcoholic and drug -a holic because they have come from a family with a gene pool that contains the Alcoholic gene. The gene overrides the Judgment center and drops the barriers of self preservation. For someone with this gene, the brain is penetrated deeply with their first drink.
The next layer is the involuntary organs such as the stomach and the intestines and finally at the center of the brain, quite protected, is the vital area of heartbeat and respiration. Besides the presence of a gene pool, one can become alcoholic or a druggie by use and abuse. After wave upon wave of alcohol hit’s the brain and passes through the judgment center to the next layers over and over again,, the brain becomes addicted to the drug and craves it. Actually it will not function properly unless it has the drug mixed with its oxygen supply. The brain makes an adjustment to accommodate the drug and will not function without it. Now, if the drug or alcohol is withheld, the brain will punish the body with stomach and muscle aches, head aches, depression, and nightmares sleepless nights and paranoia.
All this is very much like being anesthetized for surgery. With the first shot you feel happy, Relaxed, giddy, and carefree . The judgment center and emotions and feelings are all drudged. The anesthetizing continues until one is out cold and the anesthetist brings the drug to the edge of the Vital area of your heart and lungs. He watches’ the monitor carefully to keep your heart and lung operative. You are now as close to death as you can get and recover. If there is no anesthetist to measure the doses, there is great danger. Drug addicts sometimes forget how much they have taken and overdose. It flows on through the brain to the vital area and anesthetizes the heart and lungs. We think this is probably what happened to Whitney Houston last night in California and to Amy Winehouse last Summer and of course to Michael Jackson.
And finally our single lady bus driver who is a menace on the highways.
After an evening of drinking, her judgement center is gone as well as her moter skills. She will tell you she is perfectly capable of driving home when she can’t even walk. Denial is the chief symptom of this disease.
There are numerous professionals in this field that believe the entire country is in denial about the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse.
In the last decade there were an average of 33,000 deaths on our roads and streets per year. Half were due to drinking, drugging and driving’
During the past decade there were 90,000 teen deaths. Nearly all from alcohol. The number one drug on campus is not pot or meth, it is alcohol.
The number two killer in America is alcohol. Number one is heart disease. We believe that half of heart disease deaths are caused by alcohol.
One last statistic. During the last 8 years in the war we called “Operation freedom for Iraq,” 4695 of our military were killed . That’s a shocking number.
However, in the same period of time, during the past 8 years we killed 8 times that number on our highways. 264,000. Half were alcohol related.
When we talk about Recovery, we have to talk about God. All 12 step programs and treatment center therapies are God centered. When the ill person attends AA or NA or treatment for the first time he/she is totally spiritually and morally bankrupt. The process to return to sanity and health is to trust the leadership of a power greater than ourselves, whom most choose to call God. We do not try to make God relevant to our lives, we try to become relevant to his. To do it His way, follow his lead. To learn to be truthful honest and trustworthy sober and serene
The entire program can be boiled down to three parts. “Let go and let God, Clean up your act and Reach out to others.”
May we end this by saying together the final paragraph on the Resource Sheet, from the Promises in the AA. “Big Book”