Cell Phone 12th Step Recovery?

My previous blog entry discussed my evening at a restaurant with friends that spent their time on a cell phone rather than engaging in communication with the others present at the table. It went on to discuss some of the negative things happening in society that I believe are a direct correlation to how communication is changing with all the advances in technology. This entry focuses more specifically on the use of cell phones during recovery meetings as that too has become a larger problem today.

I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that every 12th step recovery meeting I’ve attended these days gives a reminder to shut off or place in silent mode any cell phones present before the meeting actually begins. It never fails though, there always seems to be at least one phone, if not more, that goes off in the meeting. But an even more disturbing trend lately is the amount of people that spend their time during meetings texting or surfing the internet.

The first and most important thing I’ve learned today with my own recovery and God centered life is to admit my own guiltiness of this. For many years, I came to recovery meetings for the social aspect. I wasn’t interested in doing the steps. I wasn’t interested is listening to the speakers. And I definitely wasn’t interested in doing God’s will. As the pain got greater in my life, so did my willingness to do what was necessary to focus more on my recovery, on finding God, and on removing my self-centeredness.

For a time there was a great tug-of-war game going on between God and me. I kept trying to do my recovery in my own way. And there were many times that as the cell phones advanced into the smart phone generation, I would spend the meetings surfing the web, texting people, or randomly flipping through my digital photo albums. Meanwhile, in my self-centeredness, I never realized what this might look like or feel like to those who were speaking at the meetings I attended.

Imagine for a moment being at a podium, any podium, in any meeting, recovery related or not. Then imagine speaking in front of a group of people at that podium about something very personal to you. Finally, imagine during those moments of speaking, upon looking out at the audience, that the majority are looking down at their phones busily tapping away on the screens and not listening to you. How does it feel? I can answer it because I’ve been on that side of the coin as well.

It doesn’t feel that great. In fact it feels like what I’m saying doesn’t really matter.

To speak publicly about something so personal to me, such as my journey of recovery and seeking God is hard enough. But to have most people not even pay attention and instead spend the meeting time on their cell phones is even harder. I compare it to the feeling I had as a child when I would bring something important to my parents and they were either too busy watching one of their shows, drinking alcohol, or caught up in one of their own dramas.

Meetings are supposed to be for either speaking about one’s experience, strength, and hope, or listening to someone offer the same. Many years ago, when cell phone technology didn’t exist, people sat through meetings with their cups of coffee and listened much more intently on what was being said. Regardless of whether a speaker is truly charismatic or not, isn’t it important to give them our fullest attention? Wouldn’t each of us want the same if our feet were planted in front of the podium telling our story?

I know the answer for me is yes and I have made the corrections necessary in my life to start showing more respect for all speakers. I think back to the time when Bill and Bob attended meetings and have wondered what they might feel like today if they were to attend a meeting and see the vast majority of people tapping away on cell phones instead of listening to the speaker. The most important thing that has helped me to change my meeting etiquette is to place myself in every speaker’s shoes, to remember my own journey to recovery and salvation, and to know that their testimony is equally important to listen to as to when I’m speaking about mine.

The more that I place God at the center of my life, the more that I find myself steering clear of my self-centered behaviors. The more that I find myself steering clear of my self-centered behaviors, the more I see that using a cell phone during a meeting is self-centered in the first place. The more that I see that using a cell phone during a meeting is self-centered in the first place, the more that I have turned it off or left it in the car before entering any meeting. The more that I have turned my cell phone off or left it in the car before entering meetings, the more that I have gotten out of meetings. The more that I have gotten out of meetings, the more that I have placed God even deeper at the center of my life.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson

A Dinner With Cell Phones

A few nights ago I met up with a group of people at a local Bertucci’s to have a good meal as a send-off for a few friends heading on a retreat for the weekend. Being that I normally spend much of my time alone, I looked forward to the interaction with some people I haven’t hung out with in quite awhile. For the hour the meal lasted, instead of catching up with those that I dined with, I got to know better Apple, Samsung, and Nokia. For the majority of the meal, most everyone was either texting, playing Words With Friends, or looking something up on the Internet. When I left, I felt considerably sad that society is beginning to accept these behaviors as a normal way of living. I have begun to wonder how many others are noticing this happening. It seems as if all our technology advances are having a direct correlation to a progression of human interaction going from the very personal to the very impersonal.

In a time period many years before I was ever born, when even the home telephone didn’t exist, people would meet and carry on conversations, build deeper friendships, establish spiritual relationships, and strengthen family bonds. Block parties, family reunions, local festivals, game nights, social clubs and more were all quite prevalent then. But that would soon change. First the home telephone would become commonplace and then eventually, during my generation, Generation X as it was nicknamed, the world would give rise to pagers, then cell phones, and eventually the internet. Although each of these have been great hi-tech developments, they appear to be leading humanity to enjoy spending more time texting, instant messaging, and being on the internet then in developing interpersonal skills. In the last few years, I have intently observed this deterioration of human communication and noticed some disturbing trends.

There are those that continue to try to have romantic relationships using only the Internet and cell phones, many of which profess their undying love before even their first meet and greet. Sending instant messages to each other and trading pics are all great ways to begin a relationship with someone. But what about the things you generally won’t learn about using those modes? There are many online who are not who they say they are. From bad habits, to age inconsistencies, to likes and dislikes, to looks and appearances, it’s sad to say that all too often the whole truth is not revealed. Some even fail to mention they are already married, dating someone else, are former criminals, or suffering from serious health conditions. There are even those too that lie about their gender.

Then there’s text messaging. Is anyone noticing how this seems to be rapidly becoming the preferred method of interaction between people. Some teenagers I know text close to several thousand messages to each other monthly. Don’t get me wrong; typing a sentence on a phone to let someone else know a very quick thing, such as the time and location to meet, can be handy. But on the other hand, it can appear rather unfriendly and rude when one calls another to say hello and carry on a conversation and the response comes back in the form of text or a quick e-mail.

Also unsettling is the effect that both online instant messaging and cell phone text messaging are having on the English language. The use of abbreviations are becoming quite commonplace now because of these modes of exchange. “NYOB, TTYL, LOL, H2CUS, IDK, etc.” are just a few examples of the hundreds that now exist. Sadly, these are now finding their way into school papers, letters, and e-mails and many people like myself don’t even know what most of them stand for.

At first glance, these points might not seem to be that big of a deal. That viewpoint might change though when one considers the subsequent questions that I believe are directly related to this path our communications are heading on.

Why are the number of cases of depression increasing each year? Why is the rate of suicide on the rise every year? Why is it that someone is going on a killing spree and massacring dozens in just a matter of moments weekly these days? Why are anonymous sex and promiscuity increasing at alarming rates? What explains the reason why alcohol and drug abuse are becoming so widespread? Can anyone really explain why the rate of divorce has become so staggering? These are just some of the questions I continue to ask myself and all of them are leading to a domino effect on life, as we know it. All of the following are reportedly now also on the rise too: child neglect and abuse, mass hysteria and fear, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, crimes and violence, gangs, etc. Can anything really be done to stop this downward spiral? What I’m really posing here is the question of whether it’s really possible that all of these trends are directly related on some level to texting, instant messaging, and the internet?

There are so many people feeling neglected and unloved these days. In the many years that I felt that way, I sought out alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, and local gangs to deal with the emptiness. I had many online romances that never materialized. I entered and left many intimate relationships. I even attempted suicide. The more I stared at pixels on a computer screen or at words on a phone during all those years, the less I was able to experience that which drew me closer to others and the less that God was able to create the love that bonded me to any of God’s children. In the past few years, I’ve removed the texting plan from my phone, pulled myself off of internet chat sites, and made it a point to leave the phone in my pocket when I’m out being social with others. The result has been that I’m a lot less depressed. I feel more connected to who and what God wants me to connect to. And I’m not living with toxic addictions or friendships anymore.

All of us face loneliness on some level, but maybe some of it can be prevented? While each of these technological advances in computers, the Internet, cell phones, and more are useful in their own ways, they were never meant to replace direct human interaction and communication like they seem to be doing. So the next time someone calls on the phone, answer it and say hello instead of texting in response. The next time there’s a social engagement with others, keep the cell phone silent and put away. Make it a point to spend quality time in person with those that texting has been the only means of communication.

Maybe then when enough are making these changes, it might just begin to reverse some of the problems that seem to be increasing everywhere in society today.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson

It’s Disabling To Prove Disability!

Just over four years ago, I really believed I was flying high on life. My health was top notch. I was active in many different things including bowling leagues, golf and tennis outings, and game nights with a lot of people I knew in AA. I was living comfortably in the Boston area back then and my only debt was the bed and breakfast that I owned which I was a silent partner in. It was on the market to be sold and my hopes were that my $500K to $600K investment was going to be returned with a large profit.

Sadly, that never happened.

In January of 2010, my bed and breakfast had to be sold as a short sale. The housing market had dried up and people weren’t buying businesses. I lost every dollar that I had placed into the B&B venture and I walked away with just the shirt on my back. Suddenly, that feeling of flying became one of me crashing to the ground.

I think the word ‘shock’ best describes what I was feeling when the paperwork was signed and I truly realized I had lost everything. Unfortunately, the saying that ‘when it rains, it pours’ is true at times for some people. At the time when I lost my B&B, I was actively engaging in an extremely toxic but intimate relationship with a married man and it was destroying my soul. When I lost my bed and breakfast and all that money, I didn’t grieve, talk about it, or work through anything. I just submerged myself deeper into that toxic relationship. I distanced myself from everyone healthy, from AA, and even from myself. My depression began to grow deeper and my anxiety attacks began to get more frequent.

A few months passed with me in limbo where the only progress I had made in life was in teaching meditation. It was my goal to start my own business with teaching meditation at the center of it. By the time the calendar day became April 27th, 2010, I had turned into an extremely unstable individual and was suffering from regular bouts of anxiety and depression. That night I had been hired at a Yoga studio to lead about 30 students in a guided meditation. During it, pain was shooting down my leg and my low back was hurting quite severely. I got through the instruction and went home to bed earlier than I normally would hoping to awake in the morning free of pain. Instead, the opposite happened. I awoke to even more pain. As each day passed after April 27th, the pain grew more and more severe, until seven days later, a good portion of my left leg and left foot went numb. Over the course of the next few months, my Fibromyalgia returned, I developed Prostatitis, and my depression and anxiety became life disabling.

From the year 2000 until 2010, I had gone on a quest to remain free from doctors, medications, and medical testing. Prior to that, I had become hyper sensitive and was having severe side effects to many prescriptions that I had taken. I had also become addicted to seeing doctors because of my hypochondria and found myself going to their offices sometimes five days a week just to get reassurance in my life that I was going to be ok. So when all of this began after April 27th, 2010, I vowed I would heal from it naturally and not complicate it as I had done so many times before in my life. I spent the rest of 2010 isolating and tried on most days to just conjure up enough energy to make it through each day. I was barely functioning half the time and was grateful that I didn’t have a job as I knew there was no way I was going to be able to work given my state of mind and body. Thankfully I had a sister who was helping me financially get by and I had given myself a year to work through what I was going through without medical help. Unfortunately, it didn’t get better and instead grew worse.

2010 became 2011 and I spent the next year in and out of doctor’s offices, in and out of medical treatments, in and out of physical therapies, and in and out of having suicidal ideations. I finally broke down and decided that I needed to apply for Social Security Disability with my onset date of April 27, 2010. It didn’t appear that I’d be able to go back to work anytime soon and I knew my sister couldn’t keep going on and supporting me indefinitely. It took a lot for me to apply for disability as I have been told many times in my life that there’s always someone much worse than me. But I didn’t feel like I could get much worse as by the end of 2011, I had attempted suicide.

When I had received my first disapproval from Social Security around that time, I was given reassurance that most people get turned down from their first attempt. It wasn’t very reassuring though. The letter I received from them indicated that I didn’t have enough proof that I was disabled on or before December 31st, 2010. I appealed, but this time, I attached letters from my therapist and several practitioners indicating how severe my state of mind and body was and that I was incapable of working while I was trying to focus on my healing. A few months passed, and towards the end of winter 2012, I received my second letter from Social Security and had been turned down once again. I sought legal advice from a lawyer and was told that my best bet was to appeal again but this time I would be going to court. That was over a year ago.

I just received my court date a week ago in the mail. My hearing is going to be on May 7th, 2013. Currently, my lawyer is working pro bono and will only get paid if I win. I’m told that my case is weak because I don’t have enough evidence that I was disabled in 2010. In a nutshell, my decision to try to heal for the first year holistically and not see any MD has proven to be a major snafu in this whole process. What I never knew before was that Social Security is like having any type of insurance. When one pays into some type of insurance, there is a window of time that is covered. The last time I paid into my Social Security was December of 2004 when I was still employed in the corporate world. It’s window of coverage was until December 31st, 2010. Thus, I have to show proof of being disabled on or before that date. All of the doctors, hospital visits, medical testings, and rehabilitations I have gone to beginning in 2011 don’t seem to matter when it comes to this process of trying to show proof I’m disabled.

So I’m doing the best I can to bring as much evidence to the trial of my history of chronic pain, anxiety and depression. I’ve had to go back and contact therapists and psychologists from over a decade ago to ask for letters showing my mental health history. It’s possible my sister may even have to testify as she is one of the few people who really saw how disabled I was during 2010. I never thought that all that money I paid into Social Security for so many years would be so hard to get back when I really need it. Ironically, the path I’ve been on these past few years to get disability has been quite disabling. At times the stress has really overwhelmed me and caused my symptoms to get worse.

I’ve had to place this whole process into God’s hands. I continue to pray about it and turn it over to Him, sometimes even more than once a day. On days when my pain is so great like I wrote about yesterday, and even like I feel right now, I question if all of this work to get disability is in vain. Whatever the decision though, I’ll take it as God’s will and trust that I’ll be ok either way as I know I’m in His healing hands.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson