Spiritual Sandpaper

Brc-recoveryMy name is Ricka Messerve, I am the Women’s Segue Supervisor. I have been sober for over six years and a loyal employee for BRC for nearly five years.

I was recently given an opportunity to do some service work within my own family. At the request of my elderly Mother she asked if I could come to her house and assist her after she had knee replacement surgery. Naturally I accepted the challenge. This also has an added blessing… You see, when I was active in my addiction I gave birth to a son that my Mother adopted eight years ago. Did I mention that he is a special needs child? Okay, now the picture is coming clear. This all this sounds like a wonderful experience, which it was, it all comes with many challenges which leads me further into my experience.

I began texting my sponsor well into my trip going on and on about “stuff”. Things like melt downs of an eight year old autistic child which an entire blog could be written, difficulties of caring for an elderly Mother who was limited in her abilities to do the most natural things and the character defects of others that were bringing mine out front and center. Agenda driven as I can be sometimes and with my show not coming off well, I was open and ready for the truth to be revealed to me by my sponsor.

She sends me the simplest of texts that reads “spiritual sandpaper”, and I felt once again like I’d been slapped with the truth. I couldn’t get the words out of my mind. Although I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her message was resonating with me, I couldn’t put the pieces together…

So I began to research this concept and found that “spiritual sandpaper” is a term used by many old-timers in the twelve step fellowship that refers to people in life that rub us the wrong way or grate on our nerves. So the question is posed-Why does wood need sanding? It is the process which removes bumpy, discolored, rough and splintery areas by slowly and repeatedly wearing them down so in turn the wood can be fresh in color, smooth and free of splinters.

Now I get it!! So how can I learn to practice the spiritual principles of patience, love and tolerance if I am not confronted with people that try my patience (family or not)? How can I learn how to love others if I am blocking myself from loving unconditionally? How can I learn to tolerate other people if I am not faced with intolerable persons or situations? How can I continue to grow spiritually if I do not acknowledge my own faults so they can be sanded? How else will I continue to experience spiritual growth? After all isn’t that what most all of us are trying to do.

Now that I am feeling well sanded with the bumps and tarnishes of my character feeling shiny and new, I will wait patiently for the next opportunity for Spiritual Sanding to arise. I do not doubt for a second that it won’t be long. Until then…

Segue by BRC RecoveryRicka Messerve
Segue by BRC Recovery



A Parent’s Perspective: The Dreaded Telephone Call

“I’m sorry—we found him too late. There is no hope.”

“She overdosed last night and died early this morning.”

The phone call every parent fears. While the vast majority of parents never receive it, parents of addicts have a greater probability of receiving it than do other parents. Our call came 11/11/11, just after we touched down in Orlando for a Disney World vacation. As we sat on the tarmac waiting to deplane so we could spend a week at “the place where dreams come true,” the dreaded words knifed through the phone.

“Brandon’s dead—you have to come home!”

What?!? How could our 25-year-old son be dead?? It was 1:30 in the afternoon—was it a car wreck? We stumbled off the plane in a haze of disbelief and stared numbly at the attendant at the gate’s desk. “Our son is dead—we have to go back.” Waiting to board the same plane back to Dallas; talking to the detective at the scene and asking, “Is there any hope of resuscitating him?” Hearing the finality in his tone, “I’m sorry—we found him too late. There is no hope.”

We soon learned Brandon’s death was caused by an overdose of Opana mixed with alcohol. What we didn’t immediately understand was that we had been initiated into the club no one wants to belong to—The Dead Kid Club.

Parents of addicts and people who attend Al-Anon are more likely than other people to belong to The Club or to know someone who does. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs with dead. You can’t “un-dead” someone—it can’t be fixed. And for Al-Anons, who are adept at problem solving, that is a soul-crushing obstacle.

Progress-Not-Perfection-BRCOnce you or a friend has joined The Club, what are “normal” behaviors, feelings, and experiences? Grief is such an individual experience that virtually anything is normal. Some people even contemplate suicide. If that is the case with you or your friend, seek help immediately; there is hope, and there is help. Although it seems like the sun will never rise again, people do find happiness after the death of a loved one.

What does it feel like to be part of The Club? People have various responses. It may feel like you can’t breathe; you feel devastated, hollow. You may want to be dead—you don’t want to kill yourself, you just want to wake up dead one day, because it would be easier than the unfairness of life. No parent should outlive a child.

You may feel closer to or farther from your Higher Power. You may need to visit the grave daily or never. You may need to save or to get rid of all his or her belongings. You may not be able to eat or to stop eating. You may need to tell everyone you see, including the grocery clerk, or you may not be able to tell anyone. There is no right or wrong way to feel; what you feel just is. In fact, you may feel nothing for a period of time; numbness is a way to deal with the death by avoiding the feelings you have about it. For more than three years, that was my preferred method of dealing with Brandon’s death.

It can be awkward to talk to someone who is in The Club if you’re not a member. What can you possibly say to help? The most helpful thing people said to me was any version of this: “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say.” Because that was true—especially if they had never had a loved one die. And even if they had, everyone’s experience is different. There are so many factors in grief: What type of relationship did you have with the deceased? How close were you? When was the last time you saw him? How did she die?

Some of the most hurtful things people said to me:

  1. “You have such a strong faith – that will really help you.”

No, Brandon’s death pretty much destroyed what faith I did have, and it has been a long journey back.

  1. “My child was doing crazy things too, but now he stopped that and is doing great; but for the grace of God, that could have been us.”

Yes, someone actually said that to me. No further comment necessary.

  1. “You’re so strong. I could never go through what you’re going through.”

Seriously? Like I signed up for this because I’m so strong? No one chooses this path; and if you’re chosen for it, you DO go on, even when it feels wrong that you’re still breathing, because your     body keeps going. This is the club no one wants to join. We are not paragons of strength and virtue; we are people with crushed souls and bleeding hearts who go on despite the pain.

If you know someone who belongs to The Club, there are ways you can help. People who have just joined The Club are in shock, and often they can’t identify their needs because they’re wandering around in a fog of disbelief. Some ways to offer concrete help:

  • I’d like to bring you dinner. What night would be best for you? How many people will be there? Does anyone have food allergies?
  • I’d like to mow your lawn. What day/time is convenient for you?
  • I’d like to take your child to the zoo/a movie/for a play date. What day/time is convenient for you?
  • I’d like to come over and clean your kitchen and bathrooms and do the laundry. What day/time is convenient for you?

Whether you belong to The Club (or fear joining it), worry and fear can take over your life—fear that another child (or your child) will die, fear that you will never be happy again, fear that your surviving child will always live in his or her addiction.

How can you return to happiness and not allow fear to rule your life? There are several ways to help yourself:

  • Get healthy physically; make healthy food choices and begin taking a daily walk or returning to the gym.
  • Get healthy emotionally; find a grief counselor or group.
  • If you have other family members or friends who are addicts (or even if you don’t), find or return to an Al-Anon group where you feel comfortable and accepted. If you find benefit in attending Al-Anon, you are welcome to be there.
  • Learn the Al-Anon slogans that help you. Some of the slogans that helped me most and why:
    • One day at a time – this helped me not feel overwhelmed
    • Progress, not perfection – healing is a process; it doesn’t happen overnight
    • FEAR (forgetting everything is all right) – the vast majority of the time, everything IS okay
  • Ask yourself, “Is everything okay at this moment?” Usually, it is.
  • Remember that worry does not change the outcome; it only robs today of joy and peace.

If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you may remember Matthew’s death at the end of season 3. In season 4, his mother Isobel is reluctant to attend a dinner party. When she is pressed to attend because it isn’t good for her to sit home alone every night, she explains, “Yes, but you see, I have this feeling that when I laugh or read a book or hum a tune, it means that I’ve forgotten him, just for a moment, and it’s that, that I cannot bear.” Isobel does end up going to the dinner, and her son’s widow laughs during the dinner. Isobel is uncomfortable with that, but she acknowledges that it is time for Mary to move forward and reclaim her life and happiness.

When you’re grieving, the first smile or chuckle feels like a betrayal—how can you possibly find enjoyment in anything after your loved one has died? But we are still living, and we have a choice. We can live a sad, angry life, which I did for more than three years, or we can choose get help, seek healing, and move forward.

A-Parents-PerspectiveI will always remember Brandon. And although I have received the phone call every parent fears, I will carry memories of him in my heart as I begin to find purpose and happiness in life once more.

Diana Urban









Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child by Ellen Mitchell

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping, and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

The Grief Club by Melody Beattie

Counseling and Groups:

The Christi Center (A grief-healing center in the Austin, Texas area; look for similar centers in your area)

The Compassionate Friends (Nation-wide support after the death of a child)

GriefShare (A nation-wide Christian-based healing group)

Grief counseling – seek resources in your area

Change is Good and Other Irritating Grownup Sayings

Psalm 16:8 - BRC RecoveryAm I the only one who felt like 2016 was upon me before I was quite ready? My house was just beginning to smell and feel really Christmas-y when I looked up one day and the poinsettias were dried up, the cookies were stale, and it seemed like we were taking down the Christmas tree only a few days after it was put up.

To be fair, last fall was a bit of a whirlwind. I sold my house, purchased and remodeled a new one, moved, traveled extensively, started practicing Bikram Yoga and all the while watched BRC Recovery grow by leaps and bounds right before my very eyes. I’m not complaining, really just observing and marveling at the gifts of recovery and the Power of the Universe. Wowzer!!

But somewhere around January 1st, I got the news that one of my team members had decided to take a position with another company, in a whole other field. Screeeeech!!! The needle is yanked off the record. Hold up! Everyone stop dancing for a second. What did you say? You’re leaving? I don’t remember visualizing this as part of the plan.

Self-centered fear (who’s going to help me with my 2016 expansion projects?), anxiety (oh God, am I going to be okay?), regret (was it something I said or did?)…. All of these thoughts and feelings come flooding through me. Quickly followed by a mind moving at the speed of light attempting to manage the thoughts and feelings with solution after solution. And last but not least, the Spirit shows up and gently reminds me that it’s all okay, God is in charge, and God brings good in every situation for all involved. Aaahh, shoulders relax, heart rate slows, and breathing returns to normal.

I would love to say the above series of events happened in the reverse order, but for this perfectly broken warrior of the light, that is just not the case… Yet. Psalm 16:8 tells me, “I keep my eyes always on my God. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” I know this to be truth from my very own experience in recovery. Mark Houston told me once that after I made a real 3rd step decision, nothing, absolutely nothing, touches me that God has not sanctioned and designed to take my life places I have never dreamed imaginable. Translation-no fear.

So, here we go 2016, ready or not. They, annoyingly and collectively, say change is good. I am trusting this process once again. Stay tuned…

Marsha_Blog_Change is GoodMarsha Stone, CEO
BRC Recovery

A Parent’s Perspective: Embracing Uncertainty

I’m a recovering control freak (I like to think of it as “control enthusiast”) and a grateful Al-Anon. After spending 2014 in introspection, meditating and reading self-help books in an effort to learn more about myself and develop a motto for my life, I was inspired to “embrace uncertainty.” As it turned out, my Higher Power had a sense of humor, because I didn’t even know Step 1 yet! Within a few weeks, I found myself in the rooms of Al-Anon, where I learned Step 1, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Admitting powerlessness meant embracing uncertainty and giving up the control I thought I had. I soon learned that thinking I could control other people and situations was a delusion.

brcrecovery.com drug-rehab centersI was still in full “control freak” mode when I found Al-Anon. On the lighter side, I exerted control by forcing my family to have “family time” to make sure we had fun together. On the darker side, I often cancelled dinners and events at the last minute so I could rush home, thinking somehow my presence would keep my loved one from using. But in both cases, my effort to control the situation was futile and the outcome was negative. My family grew to resent “family time,” and my loved one still found ways to use. Finally, I experienced the insanity that goes along with doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome each time. This insanity led me to Al-Anon and kept me there.

As I continued to attend Al-Anon meetings, I discovered that control comes in many forms, and I am particularly good at two of them. The first is exerting control by trying to gather all the answers so I can be prepared for anything that might happen. The May 29 reading in Courage to Change, an Al-Anon daily reader, addresses this:

Most of our fears will never come to pass, and if they do, foreknowledge probably won’t make us any better prepared. But as we grow in faith, self-esteem, and trust in our Higher Power, we become capable of doing for ourselves what our anticipations could never achieve—taking appropriate action in any situation.

Now, instead of asking every question I can think of to gather every tidbit of information possible, I am learning to ask a few basic questions, then my place trust in my Higher Power.

The second way I excel at exerting control is through intellectualizing. I avoided having faith and placing trust in my Higher Power by analyzing everything. The October 11 reading in Courage to Change addresses this:

“… I began to analyze everything: Was Al-Anon a philosophy or a philosophical system? What would be the logical outcome of believing in a power greater than myself? And just when was the alcoholic going to have a spiritual awakening? These questions and others like them kept my mind busy but did not help me to get better…. When I stopped trying to analyze and explain everything and started living the principles, actually using them in my everyday situations, the Al-Anon program suddenly made sense—and I started to change.”

Not long after I read that, I had an epiphany—by continually analyzing and questioning every thought, every decision, and every insight about Al-Anon and my Higher Power, I was making my life much more difficult than it needed to be. The entry continues:

“Does analyzing my situation provide any useful insights, or is it an attempt to control the uncontrollable? Am I taking inventory or avoiding work that needs to be done by keeping my mind occupied? I have heard that knowledge is power. But sometimes my thirst for knowledge can be an attempt to exercise power where I am powerless. Instead, I can take the First Step.”

I realized that was exactly what I did – I analyzed and intellectualized everything in an effort to control my surroundings, including the lives of other people. I knew what was best for everyone, and I made sure people knew what I thought they should do. Al-Anon has taught me to “let go and let God.” As I practice this, I am getting better at letting go of trying to control everything, and my family is grateful that I have stopped forcing them to have fun.

By working my own program, I came full circle. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the life motto I distilled at the end of 2014 through my introspection and self-study, “embrace uncertainty,” embodies my recovery. The decades I spent trying to control myself, other people, and every situation have helped me understand that I have control over very little. I can only control myself; I am responsible for how I respond to people and situations, and I have choices about how I spend my time. I have discovered that the best thing I can do for myself is to admit I am powerless, turn my will and life over to the care of my Higher Power, and embrace uncertainty.

Diana Urban


Courage to Change, Al-Anon daily reader

When Your Past Is Hurting Your Present, Sue Augustine

Codependent No More, Melody Beattie

The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, Martha Beck

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown

When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, David Hawkins

The Control Freak, Les Parrott III, Ph.D.

Operation Warm: Winter Wear Donation Drive Kicks-off

Operation-Warm-2015Operation Warm is an opportunity for us to celebrate our many blessings with loved ones and to be of service to those less fortunate.

Please join BRC as we gather to give back to the community this holiday season through Operation Warm. Participation is easy! Beginning today, through December 23, 2015, BRC Recovery will be collecting new or gently used jackets, gloves, hats, scarves, blankets, and monetary donations to be distributed by BRC alumni and staff in downtown Austin on Christmas Day.

BRC Recovery - Operation WarmDon’t miss this opportunity to share the Christmas spirit with those in need!

Please contact David Hutts, Director of Alumni Services, at dhutts@brcrecovery.com to coordinate donation drop-off and if you would like to help distribute.

Operation Warm was initiated in 2012 as part of BRC Recovery’s tri-annual charitable donation drive to benefit the homeless community in Austin, TX. Operation Sparkle in March provides toiletries and personal hygiene products, and Operation Journey provides new backpacks in September.


The Joy of Sponsorship

inpatient-drug-rehab-texasI was told that the key to happiness in sobriety was helping others. The way I understood that statement was this: As soon as I discharged from BRC Recovery I was going to get at least 8 men to sponsor and all of them were going to remain sober because of me.

I could not have been more wrong! I was sober for more than a year before another man asked me to take him through the 12 steps. At first I despaired over the fact that no one was approaching me to get some of what I had. I could not figure out what I was doing wrong. I went to my sponsor and he told me that God would put the right person in my path at the right time. I was just expected to show up.

So, that’s just what I did. I showed up to my home group every week. I chaired meetings at that home group, I made coffee and I greeted people at the door. When I was asked to join a panel at a treatment center for adolescents in south Austin, I said, “yes”. For more than a year on Tuesday nights I went to that treatment facility and carried a message of hope…one that had been given to me freely.

Sometime during that year my perspective on sponsorship began to change. I began to understand that a sponsor is not responsible for another man’s sobriety – that was up to the man and God. My responsibility was to take the man through the 12 steps, to the best of my ability, so that he could get connected to a Power greater than himself, and he, in turn, could help still others on the path to sobriety. At a time in my life when I thought I could not handle any more on my plate, that is when men began to ask me to take them through the 12 steps. My God certainly has a sense of humor.

The men I currently sponsor have varying lengths of sobriety from 18 months to 90 days. I enjoy working with each and every one of them, and they all teach me something new on a weekly basis. They keep me honest and they keep me in touch with my 1st step. When I pray for patience, one of them tries mine. When I pray for selflessness, one of them calls me during The Walking Dead. When I pray for an opportunity to help, one of them wants to meet on a planned “veg-out” day. And when I am full of self-pity and fear, they all call me that day with situations much worse than the one I am facing. That, in a nutshell, is the joy of sponsorship.

David_Joy-of-SponsorshipDavid Hutts
BRC Recovery

The Power of Surrender

Pic-1As I sat through a lecture at an addiction treatment conference last year, I listened to a respected professional in the field speak about empowerment. She stated that the primary goal of the treatment center at which she worked was to empower clients. I often hear this language used to describe part of the mission and vision of a recovery program. I spoke with one clinician who told me that empowerment and choice were two of the main principles that every treatment program should promote.

If by empowerment we are talking about helping clients to achieve their goals and reach their potential, then I am all in favor of it. I believe recovery is all about allowing a client to take an active role in the re-creation of their life. Often, however, empowerment seems to mean that we should allow the clients to do whatever they want. At many treatment centers, empowerment means that we should put the ball in the client’s court and allow them to make important decisions around treatment such as length of stay and aftercare plans. Based on my experience, I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach.

One of the first principles of the recovery process is admitting powerlessness. As the Big Book states on page 45, “Lack of power, that was our dilemma.” My first and perhaps most important goal for a client who enters our program is to help them fully realize this dilemma. A true, gut-level admission of powerlessness provides the fuel that propels a person through the rigorous and challenging recovery process that so many fail to earnestly follow.

Clients don’t end up at BRC Recovery because they have a history of making good decisions. Addicts are notorious for taking the path of least resistance,− the easy way out. A person in early recovery can be incredibly short-sighted. Their focus on short-term comfort often comes at the expense of what is their long-term best interest. If we allowed each client to decide their course in the program based on what they wanted, their chances of success would be greatly diminished.

Mark Houston once summed up recovery in one simple, yet profound sentence. “Recovery is about submitting to a will other than your own,” he said. We ask our clients to submit to the will of our program, the will of their sponsor, and ultimately the will of their Higher Power. Egotistical addicts often have a hard time with this submission. This process of surrender for most clients can be an arduous task. In a chronic relapser, failure to surrender is usually a primary factor in a person’s inability to stay sober despite numerous treatment attempts and a wealth of recovery knowledge.

To produce this surrender, it is important to remove the false sense of power from the client. Working with a chronically relapsing population that tends to be entitled and arrogant, it is often important to let the client know that they do not have power. They are not the expert, nor do not get to make the final decisions regarding their recovery. Our team of experts, consulting with the family, create the optimal plan for the client. Then, we unapologetically use leverage to get the client to follow the plan.

I have seen so many cases where a resistant client’s family was willing to hold their boundaries and success ensued. For the first time ever, the client realized that they were not going to get their way. They couldn’t run away from the pressure, they couldn’t hold their breath through another rehab, and they couldn’t manipulate to an easier, softer way. The client was forced into submitting to a will other than their own, and thus had their first experience with surrender.

At BRC Recovery, we do not negotiate with the disease of addiction. Our primary goal is to connect our residents to a Power greater than themselves, not to “empower” them by giving them a lot of choices. We allow our residents to have an experience with the paradoxical freedom that comes from surrender.

In early recovery, I had to learn that what I wanted really didn’t matter. I had been doing whatever I wanted for a long time, and the result was my life was a complete disaster. I was forced into doing things I didn’t want to do. My power was taken away. As a result, I learned to tap into a source of Power that has allowed me to pursue my goals and re-create my life. I hope every client at BRC can have an experience with loss of power sufficient to effect a fundamental change in their way of living and thinking such as I had. And I will keep fighting to make sure they don’t get their way.

Greg_The Power of SurrenderGreg Fabry
BRC Recovery

There is a Solution

There-is-a-SolutionGrowing up in a town right outside of Boston, MA, I always felt like I was shielded from the most dangerous elements of society and safe from harm. Warm summers, cool falls, snowy winters and crisp springs made New England one of the best places to live. Leaving home and heading to college at 18, I was about to embark on a journey that would eventually land me in Austin, TX at BRC Recovery.

“Did you see the paper this morning? Seven more deaths due to overdoses.” This question, followed by harsh news, became my reality during the past 2 years. My parents still living in New England, would daily check the obituary section in the local newspaper noting that the number of deaths due to heroin and other illicit drugs would continue to spike.

The problem has become especially severe in New England, where officials have called for a renewed effort to confront it. “Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont devoted his entire State of the State Message in January to what he called “a full-blown heroin crisis” in his state. Like the new White House effort, the governor called for a new, treatment based approach.” (Michael Shear, NY Times)

The heroin epidemic in New England has taken a toll on all communities: race, ethnicity, age and class aside. A little over 2 years ago, I myself was using heroin, playing the dangerous game of Russian roulette like so many others in New England. The disease of addiction has caused many in my home town area much trauma and many sleepless nights. When would this epidemic end?

The White House, on August 17, 2015 announced a program that could very well improve the government’s response to the heroin epidemic across New England. The focus of this program will be on treatment, rather than punishment of addicts. The Office of National Drug Control Policy said it would spend $2.5M to hire public safety and public health coordinators all throughout the New England area.

Four of my friends from high school have passed away due to overdoses. Receiving these phone calls has never been easy but because of this epidemic, they don’t surprise me anymore. Confronted with the disease of addiction myself, I went to BRC Recovery in 2013 in an attempt to overcome my hopeless state. BRC taught me discipline and the spiritual tools necessary to combat my disease. The staff challenged me daily and got me to fully surrender to the program of recovery.

As I sit here now, over 2 years sober and after having been invited to join the BRC staff as a Recovery Manager, I find that I have a real passion for recovery and a mission to carry the message to those who suffer from this disease. I desire to help families who have gone through tremendous lows watching their loved ones put themselves in harm’s way. Time and time again there is a solution. If confronted with the disease of addiction, don’t give up. With the help of our government and the premier program of BRC Recovery, many have and will continue to recover. I know this to be true because I have.

David_There is a SolutionGod Bless.

David Walsh
BRC Recovery