Endigar 314

The Chaplain’s Find

I have returned from my Army Reserve annual training. This year, like last, we flew all the way to California and settled in to work on our “fieldcraft,” as my commander likes to call it. Last year I was going through some major relationship issues and welcomed the trip into the wilderness of Fort Hunter-Liggett. It was three weeks with some major geographical distance from homeland insecurity. I imagined it would be like going on a date with my Higher Power.

I read a book called “Letters to Jenny,” and took pictures of the foreign landscape, and listened. Nature has always been the most spiritually resonant meeting place for me. The surrounding mountains became my sacred cathedral. At least, initially.

But as the time passed, Lady Loneliness came to me and tucked me into a bed of infirmity with a blanket of futility. I would bring home her lullabies of death and fall into another session of alcoholic relapse.

This year was different. I returned to the same fort, but a different FOB (Forward Operating Base). It was called Milpitas. Of course, the soldier slang name for it became “male peters.” I looked it up and found that it comes from an Aztec word meaning “little cornfields.” The dust was in a state of duress, being constantly kicked up by natural gusts of wind and unnatural movement of military vehicles. Many soldiers went to sick call for respiratory issues.

I arrived on site after I had just picked up 9 months sobriety (again). Last year’s relationship issues were on the mend. And I knew I was on a good path for me internally. When I got on the flight and there was a pretty little female in the seat next to me who was willing to talk, and she was showing cleavage, I knew the Goddess was smiling on me. Teacher at a local cosmetology school. Gets to travel to Cali in order to tweak her skills. I was envied by my comrades.

And yes, I always express gratitude to my Higher Power for the creation and display of cleavage. It is a sacred sign of blessing.

Yet, after my first week on site, the loneliness and sense of futility began to take me. I began to withdraw into myself, and silently scream into the invisible abode of God. “What is going on?!”

Then it dawned on me, or maybe was given to me. I am an alcoholic. This was a dry manifestation of my disease. I had a choice to make. I could attempt to white knuckle it like I did last year. Or I could seek help. I decided to choose differently. I asked to see the chaplain and told him I am an alcoholic, and I need to attend meetings if they are available. I think he was dumb-founded that someone was taking responsibility for their own spiritual life. But he assured me that he would check into it. I told him I would be willing to chair a meeting if I was unable to leave the site. I told him that if he could even find me a Big Book (yes, I left it behind – but it is on my packing list from now on), that would be helpful.

We parted ways and I continued to face my daily duties. But asking for help, regardless of the results, made a difference. It seemed to mark a spot in my psyche that proclaimed the value of my sobriety. I was able to connect with others again. The futility vanished. Another reprieve.

The chain of events: The meeting of a second chaplain while on assignment with battalion who wanted to hear my story – both chaplains finding a meeting on fort, the first holding the scribbled contact information like it was the Holy Grail – The second chaplain going with me to this meeting to learn and see if he could bring this back to his unit in Washington state – meeting the tall, bald, solitary gatekeeper who kept the meeting from going black, because this is what he does to stay sober even with 27 years under his belt.  His name was Vernon and I was so grateful he was there. We had a meeting with this gruff old-timer in his motorcycle vest, who waved his arms splattered with tattoos and periodically dropped f-bombs. I felt at home.  The chaplain asked him about his personal commitment to be there and Vernon gave the minister a Big Book and simply said, “page 181, I can’t say it any better than that.”

It is from Dr. Bob’s story and he had the chaplain read it out loud;

I spend a great deal of time passing on what I learned to others who want and need it badly. I do it for four reasons: 1. Sense of duty 2. It is a pleasure 3. Because in so doing I am paying my debt to the man who took time to pass it on to me. 4. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance for myself against a possible slip.

The next Sunday, I made arrangements with Vernon to go to another meeting off post in a rustic little Episcopal church. (www.stlukesjolon.org). There were about ten of us altogether, including a dog who was quite friendly and seemed to embody the wide open spirit of the land. They had coffee, and they passed around watermelon slices. I listened, I shared, I was refreshed. And my personal recovery network found a western connection, my own Manifest Destiny (historical reference, not illusions of grandeur), from Georgia to California – Atlantic to Pacific.

On the flight home, the Goddess blessed me with another pretty young female and an inspiring display of cleavage. We talked about her network of friends that allowed her to travel the world and her work at a Swedish furniture company in Philadelphia, that added to her litany of travels by sending her for training to Sweden. I never thought that a cosmetology school or furniture company could be a launching pad for travel and adventure.

I had been inspired by so many human connections because of my decision to take personal responsibility for my sobriety. I received two primary lessons for my recovery. First, that sense of loneliness and futility is the dry form of my disease and acts as a warning flag for possible relapse. The second lesson is in the power of taking action to value my sobriety and know that the action doesn’t require successful results to be effective. I gained faith that something out there cares specifically about me and will reinforce my actions toward sobriety with a sequence of events leading to spiritual freedom.

Oh, and just a side note…there was a mission I passed often in my commute from the FOB to the Battalion that I really want to visit. And I would love to be apart of the Archeological digs that I saw going on out there. (missionsanantonio.net).

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