E.G.O.


People in recovery talk a lot about ego.  We recognize that our ego's are our downfall.  I heard the greatest acronym for ego.  E - edging. G- God. O - out.  When our ego is in play, we are edging God out of our lives.  We are not letting go and letting God, but rather we are clinging to our own wants and pushing God out of the picture all together.  It's important for me to remember that when my ego is running the show, God isn't, and that always leads to problems.

Old-timers Never Forget


There's a meeting at noon everyday in Vancouver called "Miracles."  It is always an amazing meeting filled with a ton of old-timers (that's people who have decades of sobriety).  The thing that always amazes me about these old-timers is that when they share, they always share a little bit about what it was like before they got sober.  In some cases, these stories are over 30, 40, even 50 years old!  What astounds me is how they remember those stories.  I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast this morning, I can't imagine how I'm going to remember my drunk days thirty years from now.  And yet, I think that the reason these old-timers have time is because they don't forget.  They make an effort to remember.  Going to meetings helps us remember.

I think that folks who end up losing their sobriety do so because they choose to forget.  Who wants to remember all this embarrassing shameful horrible times?  Not me.  If I had it my way, I'd want to wipe those memories from my mind all together and pretend they never happened.  And yet, if I forget, don't I run the risk of repeating history?

As much as I don't like it, I think I do need to remember those dark days.  Doing so will keep me living day to day in the light.

SPONSORSHIP


 As a “progressive Christian” I find myself qualifying my faith to those outside my church so that I can be clear that when I say I’m a Christian I’m NOT saying that I’m a right wing, conservative Christian who supports policy that is not in line with Jesus’ teachings.  I know some of my clergy colleagues don’t say they’re Christian at all; instead they call themselves “Jesus followers” because the name “Christian” is so often misinterpreted by the un-churched world.

I’ve run into that same problem in my AA circles.  My sponsor is not a Christian, but she knows God as Love, just like me.  She’s liberal, just like me.  She has 17 years sobriety, not like me.  She helped me a great deal in my first 18 months of sobriety, but I found myself holding back when I talked to her about my Higher Power. For the same reason I hold back when I talk to the un-churched about my faith, being careful about my language, not using words that are loaded and misunderstood, I found myself being too careful with how I communicated how my Higher Power is working in my life. That’s not good. It’s not honest.

I know that I need to be untethered, free to speak, encouraged to work out how my recovery, faith and call are all intertwined.  So, I lovingly (I pray) told my sponsor, who helped me in ways I can’t even explain, that it’s time I move on.  It was so difficult for me to advocate for myself because quite frankly, one of my character defects is to please people, even if it’s at my own expense.

So, now I’m looking for another sponsor.  I recognize how crucial it is to have someone who is farther along on the path than I am to help me navigate life on life’s terms.  But I also want to be very intentional about who I ask and seek someone who can really hear the meaning of how my tradition’s stories and theologies shape my understanding of how my Higher Power is at work in my life and the life of the world.  I don’t need, nor necessarily want, a sponsor who shares my belief system.  But I also don’t want to have to qualify these stories or these concepts with the person I’m supposed to be most honest with.  I feel like I have to do that everywhere else in the world outside church and it’s exhausting. 

Recovering or Repenting: Same Thing



An article/ad I submitted to our local paper called The Reflector.

My name is Pastor Susan Boegli and I am in recovery from alcoholism.  I wanted to share my thoughts regarding the process of my recovery and the journey toward God.  For me, they’re one in the same.  The word “repent” has a bad wrap.  What comes to mind for many of us is the image of a street-corner evangelists warning those passing by that the world is doomed.  For me, the word “repent” simply means “to change one’s thinking.”  In recovery, I’ve had to change my thinking about a lot of things.  For example, I’ve changed my thinking about alcoholism being a disease rather than a choice.  I’ve changed my thinking that I can only have fun when I’m drinking.  I’ve changed my thinking that it’s possible for me to become sober, with the help of God.  

My recovery requires self-refection, righting where I have wronged others, study of those also in recovery, and a lot of prayer.  My spiritual journey requires an effort to “know thyself,” confession, diving into Scripture and readings from spiritual gurus across the world and throughout time, and of course, a whole lot of prayer.  Sharing my recovery and spiritual journey, and listening to and pondering the journey of others, is what I call “church.”  

You are invited to join us on this sacred journey to a “new way of thinking,” because I believe that how we think effects how we live.  We at Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church strive to have the same mind as Christ Jesus and live in the manner he lived – simply by loving God and loving ALL our neighbors, no exceptions.

500 Days


 It’s been 500 days since I’ve had a drink or smoked a joint.  500 days of being on this twelve step journey toward dependence on God and living a life that is joyful, peaceful, fulfilling, creative, empowering, and more…. I told my sponsor last week and those at my meeting yesterday that I don’t feel any longer that I HAVE TO go to meetings.  I’ve shifted into the grateful feeling of I GET TO go to meetings.

I have come to realize and experience that this journey of recovery is pulling me deeper and deeper into a spiritual health that I knew existed but didn’t ever believe I would have the good fortune of experiencing.  Last night I shared in a meeting that I truly wish everyone was an alcoholic so they too could embark on a program like this one.  I wasn’t serious about everyone being an alcoholic of course, but I am serious about the blessing that this journey is and how I deeply wish everyone had 12 simple (but super hard) steps to growing closer and closer to their Higher Power as they understand Him/Her.

It’s true, I am on what AA’s call a pink cloud, but for now, I’m just soaking it all in. So taking one day at a time, I am looking forward to writing my post when I reach 1000 days… God willing

Difficult Gifts


Often people will refer to others or situations as a gift, or maybe a blessing.  Most often those gifts or blessings are things that we want, things that make us feel good.  But I was reflecting on the book "The Book of Joy" which is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama mentioned "difficult gifts."  The idea of a gift being difficult made me reflect on the definition of "gift."

What I've come to believe is that a gift is any person or situation that brings us closer to the heart of God.  That means a gift can be a wonderful thing like the birth of a beloved and long awaited child.  But "gift" can also be a tragedy.  Tragedies and hardships often lead us to the place of calling out to God.  In fact, we more often call out to God in the mist of the darkness than we do when all is well.  I hear quite frequently in my AA groups that people are "grateful alcoholics."  I now too am a grateful alcoholic because my disease, as awful as it is, has led me deeper and deeper into my holy walk.

Therefore, I no longer attribute "gift" to warm-fuzzies.  Rather "gift" is anything, either good or bad, that pulls my soul into the Beloved One.  May each and every one of you find your daily gifts wherever you are.

Inheriting the Earth



I've been reading, hearing, witnessing, etc... a seemingly Divine Truth these past weeks, so I'm assuming this is God drumming a message into my little brain.  Perspective, perspective, perspective?  When Jesus says "inherit the earth,"  I really had no idea whatsoever what he meant.  "Inherit the earth?"  huh?  Well, it came to me through my reading, hearing and witnessing, that "earth" really means "world."  Not as in the big round blue ball floating in space, but in the way we say things like, "Her world is pretty chaotic," Or "His world is full of blessings."  And what we mean by that is our personal experience and our perspective on our own individual lives.

Emmet Fox talks about "inheriting the earth" meaning we gain control over how we perceive our reality.  And that brings us to our topic today... How we think.

How we think shapes our reality.  If we think we don't have any friends, then we will make little effort to make friends and then our thinking will be our reality.  If we think we can't stop drinking, then that will be our reality.  If we think we're not worthy of love, then we probably won't experience a lot of love in our lives.

Lately in my recovery meetings, I'm hearing over and over again from some folks who have a lot of time living sober, that the transformation that occurred in their lives began with how they thought about things.  As they slowly changed their thinking, their behavior changed.  For me, two months ago I decided "I'm a non-smoker."  I didn't say to myself "I'm going to try to stop smoking" because whenever I try to do something I tend to fail at it.  Making the decision and choosing to think differently about cigarettes has helped me stay off them for two months now.  I believe that if I maintain my thinking that "I'm a non-smoker," that will continue to be my reality.

Now regarding food.  I've gained 15 pounds since treatment and I'm thinking that if I change my thoughts about food, the 15 pounds will come flying off.  But here's the thing, if I'm really and I mean rrreeeaaalllyyy honest with myself, I don't want to change my thoughts about food.  I don't want to give up my chocolate every night.  I am not ready to make that a reality because I enjoy food so much.  The work ahead of me now is to move into a place where being a comfortable weight outweighs my love for food.  So I begin with prayer, asking God to help me have a desire to be healthy.  That's how prayer works, it's the beginning of changing our thoughts, thus changing our reality, hence "inheriting the earth."

Thoughts after one year...



I just realized, I never wrote a post about my one year birthday (April 24).  Well, it came and went.  I now have an additional tattoo that represents one year of freedom from drugs and alcohol.  I plan on getting a new butterfly tattooed up my arm and all over my back, so that when I'm 85 years old I will have a flock of freedom.

In AA, to be sober, they tell you that you must choose to go to ANY LENGTHS to stay sober.  For me, ANY LENGTHS meant going public with my disease and tattooing myself for all eternity (at least until I die).  Those lengths have made the choice to pick up a drink or not pick up a drink fairly easy most of the time.  

I've said before, but I don't mind repeating myself, my AA meetings are Church for me.  I continue to be inspired by the spiritual practices and journeys of my fellow recovering peers.  Their testimonies of having a life with serenity and connection to their Higher Power challenge me to work more diligently on my own connection.  The rawness of someone's share where they vulnerably cry out in anger and despair continually reminds me that the same despair is waiting for me after that first drink.  

It's this inspiration that I want to bring back to my congregation.  I'm using Emmet Fox's book "Sermon on the Mount," which influenced the founders of AA and much of the creation of the 12 steps.  I'll be preaching a summer sermon series where we are diving head into the sermon of one of the most famous spiritual guru's that ever existed - Jesus of Nazereth.  My sense is that if I can move my congregation away from religious doctrine (what to believe about God) and toward spiritual practices that nourishes the soul, we will become a vibrant community of people who take their journey with God seriously.  As Emmet Fox writes, the whole point of Jesus' teachings was to "wean our hearts away from relying upon outer things, whether they be for pleasurable gratification or even for spiritual salvation," he wanted us to separate ourselves from these external ways and drum into us a whole new attitude of mind all together.

My prayer is that I will continue to develop this whole new attitude of mind and find the kind of Joy, Love, Peace and Hope that only God offers.  And then... pass it on.

I'm Addicted to Tootsie-Pops!


For ten and a half months I have smoked an average of a half a pack of cigarettes a day.  As of Saturday, when I embarked on another 5 day Academy for Spiritual Formation, I decided I would no longer be a smoker.  I'm not going to try to quit.  I'm simply going to be a non-smoker.  

After treatment, as I faced life without my drugs of choice, I picked up an addiction that simply replaced another addiction.  Clearly I have an addictive personality so my new addiction is Tootsie-Pops!  If you see me constantly sucking on a lollipop, remember that it's because I'm sober and a non-smoker.  To be honest, the cigarettes served me well this past year, but my one year sobriety birthday is a week from today and they no longer fill a need.

I owe whatever strength I've found in this journey to God and God alone.  My spiritual life has become key to recovery and I find myself more in tune with God than I ever have before.  The 12 steps are simply Christian practices, not doctrine, but practices, and as I work the program I find myself becoming more and more Christian as my doctrines that I've clung to give way to my heart.

When I was in treatment, a very wise spiritual director who was a recovering UCC pastor and alcoholic said to me, "Susan, you went to seminary for your head.  Imagine this place to be seminary for your heart."  A heart theology has been my inspiration this past year and it is a heart theology that heals the broken and leads to transformation.  I am a work in progress.

What is the Truth?


Although I don't have a year of sobriety yet, it was Good Friday where I felt Jesus speak.  In the opening liturgy to the service I put together, the congregation responded to each call with "What is the Truth?"  "What is the Truth," Jesus asked me and I knew.  I knew Christ knew and I knew the truth deep in my soul.  I am an alcoholic and addict.  I am broken.  I am a hypocrite. I am full of shame. 

What is the Truth?

On that fateful evening, I was graced with a strength that did not come from me.  I knew that I had to tell my truth if Jesus was going to save me from my brokenness.  I had to confess to myself, my family, my church and my D.S.  I knew that confessing out loud to another human being (especially my church) my life would never be the same, but I could no longer live with the woman I had become.  And so I gave Jesus my disease, and He took it to the grave.

What is the Truth?

I have a new Truth.  I celebrate the Truth that I have new life.  I celebrate the Truth that I offer myself to God each and every day to live the life that I've been called into.  I celebrate the Truth that without my God and without my support system, I would fall back quickly into the place of dry bones.  

What is the Truth?

The Truth is we are all imperfect.  The Truth is that we are all loved.  The Truth is God's saving Grace is offered every day, every moment of our lives.  The Truth is we are never alone.  And for me, this is how I understand the idea that "Jesus died for my sins."  Symbolically we remember the day Jesus died and offer Him our brokenness to take with him to the grave.  Give God your secrets, Give God your distress.  Give God your darkness, your shame, your anger, your hatred, and your addictions.  Give to God what you want brought to the grave.

For me, the Truth is God Loves even me.

From A Recovering Pastor to the PNW Annual Conference


From A Recovering Pastor to the PNW Annual Conference

I have ten months of sobriety.  Yes, that’s right, my name is Pastor Susan and I am an alcoholic and addict.  I’m also bi-polar so I had a double whammy against me.  I quite willingly offered to write this article to reach out to the other 14% of you who may or may not be living in silent desperation.  I’m writing to encourage you to ask for help.

Ten months ago, I led our Good Friday service high.  GASP!!!! Have you ever done any church related event under the influence?  Maybe a Bible Study?  Well, my new low was leading worship high.  During that service I had a “come to Jesus” moment (some might claim it wasn’t a spiritual experience, it was the drugs.) But that moment led me to finally gaining the strength to ask for help.  I called my D.S and made an appointment.  I feared that I would lose my nerve if too many days went by, but alas, I found the courage.  I knew, before I sat down with him, that my whole life was about to change.  There was no going back from this time forward and I experienced both terror and a great relief. 

My DS and I then told my lay leader and SPRC chair and shared with them that I would be going into treatment at the Hazelden Betty Ford Treatment Center for at least a month.  This was the right place for me particularly because they serve those with a dual-diagnosis (mental health and addiction.) The God-thing was that my SPRC chair at that time, is a retired drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor.  He knows full well about the disease of addiction and he has been my most forthright advocate and supporter ever since.

So it was 10 months ago we celebrated Easter, and 10 months ago I began my journey.  Easter week I admitted myself into treatment, and I considered it to be my own resurrection into new life.  I even got a tattoo of a butterfly on my forearm, so I would be ever-reminded of this new life of sobriety.  Since that fateful Good Friday, something miraculous happened.  I no longer crave drugs or alcohol.  I WANT them, but I don’t CRAVE them.  I hear that’s quite rare, but I believe God loves those rare times.

Since I left Hazelden, I regularly attend AA meetings and sincerely feel that it’s church for me.  Leading worship, and not having the chance to “just worship” leaves me lacking for a time when I can just be.  AA offers me that opportunity and I absolutely love learning about how others imagine their own higher power.

My SPRC chair and I plan on visiting BOM, Cabinet, and speaking at Annual Conference to do three things:

1 – Help our leaders of the church create a safe place for those active in the disease so that others may have the courage to “come out.”

2 – Offer education on the conference level as well as local church

3 – Encourage those still suffering that it will be OK.  That you won’t lose your job by asking for help.  That your church can be offered some education around the issues of alcoholism and addiction so that they can support you with compassion.

I think the most important thing I learned while in treatment was from a neurologist from OHSU.  He showed us the brain of a “normal” person and compared it to the brain of an addict.  There was a clear difference and what my take away was, is that this is a disease, just like diabetes or cancer, I am living with a disease AND IT’S NOT MY FAULT.  Phew…  Have you ever felt like it was the addicts fault?  Do you feel that stigma?

One last thing, the most difficult and excruciating part of holding onto this disease were the secrets.  The secrecy was absolutely killing me.  My alcoholism flared up soon after my provisionary status and it was full-blown before my ordination as an elder.  I held onto this secret all through those sacred times, and deep within I felt like a horrible fraud.  In fact, I couldn’t wear my robe.  I told everyone it was because I wanted to be seen as another “bozo on the bus” but the truth was, I didn’t feel worthy of the call.  How could I preach on our healing, loving God, when I myself was so broken and felt God had abandoned me? 

I am living a new kind of freedom that I haven’t known in many many many years.  I believe I am soooooooo much better at what I do, not simply because I’m sober, but because I allowed myself to be vulnerable before my flock.  My experience tells me that as we open ourselves up and show our true selves, others will do the same for us.

In closing, I want to tell you that the conference, the cabinet, my district superintendent and my congregation have been unquestionably supportive and compassionate to me on my journey toward recovery.  For example, even though Hazelden Betty Ford was in network, I still walked away with a $4,000 price tag.  Annual Conference picked that up for me.  Also, while I was in treatment, I received 86 cards.  90% of them came from my congregation.  There is a lot of love, mercy and grace out there, and I know this to be true because I was a grateful recipient of it all.


For more on my story, you can read my blog “A Recovering Pastor” at therecoveringpastor.com.  If you would like to talk more about your particular situation or the situation of a loved one, please don’t hesitate to call me at 360-342-7913 or email me at pastor.boegli@gmail.com.  This is my new call and I’m here for you.

Happy Birthday to me :). 9 months of sobriety.  WOW!  That's a really really long time, but frankly it didn't feel so long.  At nine months I've learned that no one has the same recovery program.  Just like our spiritual journeys, where everyone is on their own path, so too is our recovery plan.  For some they have to go to meetings every day, For others, once a week is fine.  For some, calling their sponsor every day is imperative, for others texting a couple of times is enough.  Whatever your program, you have to make it your own.  We all have different challenges and demands on our lives and we have to be realistic, but in the end, it's up to each individual to determine what will keep them sober and growing, and what does that program look like for them.  My program is still being shaped.  Trying this option or that option, I'm working out what my recover looks like.  My recovery plan is synonymous with my spiritual plan, so to do one, is to do the other.  Let's see what will be my practice for another 9 months of sobriety.

A Sober Holiday Season



I am aware that my last blog was about learning to have good sober fun, but not all my drinking was detrimental to my spiritual and emotional health.  There were times when my drinking was downright fun, without repercussions, and some of those times were during the holidays.

This past Thanksgiving was my first sober "Turkey Day" for as long as I can remember.  It was pleasant, but it wasn't the rollicking fun I became accustomed to.  Putting up the Christmas tree without my bourbon and a splash of egg-nog seemed strange to say the least.

And you know what?  I find myself grieving for those days.  My life is forever changed now that I am living a new sober life, and that includes letting go of the good times, and the fun holidays, that included a lot of laughter with family and friends alike.  But the truth is that many times I drove impaired and it is only through luck that I didn't kill myself or another.  I'm grateful that I don't have to worry about that reality any longer, but still, not celebrating with things that loosen me up sucks!

I guess my point is, part of my recovery involves grieving the loss of living out those wonderful, wasted days that I remember so fondly.  It also includes relief that I'm not going to bring distress on anyone through my reckless behavior.  It is the paradox of living in recovery.  This may be a simple program to live by, but it is in no way easy.

Happy Holidays everyone.  May you all stay safe and embrace your loved ones with appreciation and warmth.