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Destination Joy: Moving Beyond Fear, Loss, and Trauma in Recovery

Destination Joy: Moving Beyond Fear, Loss, and Trauma in Recovery

by Earnie Larsen

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Whether you've hit an obstacle in your recovery from addiction, you're experiencing periodic relapse, or you're simply longing for something more, here is a true and certain guide to living more abundantly in recovery.

With Destination Joy, best-loved author Earnie Larsen provides friendly and expert roadside assistance to weary travelers on recovery's path. Whether


Whether you've hit an obstacle in your recovery from addiction, you're experiencing periodic relapse, or you're simply longing for something more, here is a true and certain guide to living more abundantly in recovery.

With Destination Joy, best-loved author Earnie Larsen provides friendly and expert roadside assistance to weary travelers on recovery's path. Whether you've hit an obstacle in your recovery from addiction, you're experiencing periodic relapse, or you're simply longing for something more, here is a true and certain guide to living more abundantly in recovery. In sharing many different stories of recovering people and the various paths they have taken, Larsen explores ways you can bring greater love, acceptance, and belonging into your life.

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Hazelden Publishing
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5.38(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

from Chapter 1
Learning to Trust Your Story

The only truth we will ever find is in our stories. We are our stories.
Recovery demands we pay attention to what our stories have to tell us.

Want the best possible insights on recovery? Look at your own life story. Paying attention to your life is the best addiction and recovery education possible. Theory is good, but experience is the only proof. Only low spiritual self-esteem keeps us from seeing the grandeur of our own story. Low spiritual self-esteem is the belief that everyone else's story is full of courage, wonder, and beauty, but not our own. It fails to recognize that God is as active and powerful in our own lives as he is in others. Low spiritual self-esteem blocks us from the truth we need to move forward in our recovery. Truth, of course, comes in different flavors. One type of truth is intellectual and abstract, while another is lived and specific. They each serve an important but different purpose. Intellectual understanding of addictions and recovery is important because nothing is gained by crowning ignorance. We all must find and follow the truth about recovery as it plays out in our own lives, or we will forever be running to others, hoping they can deliver us from the uncertainty we find within. The type of truth that is lived is found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) members affectionately refer to as the "Big Book." The heart of the Big Book is the personal truth spelled out in the experiences of the stories. Nothing is real until it becomes personal. This is what makes recovery real.

Sharing with Others

The Big Book tells us, first of all, to share our experience, not what we know, think, or memorize. Our truth is in our experience. From that comes strength and hope. If we want to know what works, we need to pay attention, to listen, to ask questions of others and ourselves. The answers we find will lead us onward to joy and abundance and light our way forward.

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, certainly did not sit around some coffee shop or university dreaming up a new theory of treating alcoholism. The Twelve Steps were drawn from the vast, churning, grinding machine of lost souls seeking freedom. It was born in blood, not water. Incredible spiritual power was generated by these two drunks sharing their experience, strength, hope, and wisdom in Henrietta Seiberling's carriage house in 1935. They weren't conjuring up dreams; they were fighting for their lives. In turn, they traded their self-reliance for God-reliance.

They learned the critical lesson of humility by being knocked down so hard neither one knew if he could ever get up. And they wouldn't have gotten up if they hadn't felt the power of fellowship with the God of their understanding and their recovering kin. Bill W. and Dr. Bob felt, saw, touched, and learned from their past experiences. The Twelve Steps are a direct result of those experiences. Bill W. and Dr. Bob learned by doing, and in doing they became the lights in the darkness shining down the corridors of time.

Us and Our "Isms"

Without a map, moving forward on our journey of recovery is dangerous and difficult, if not impossible. How could an effective, efficient program of progress be put in place without a map showing us where we are going? The recovery field knows how to arrest addictions. The question is "How do we learn to deal with our lives in a more organized, structured manner after that separation from the addiction—or the devastation caused by a close relationship with an addict?" My personal experience over the years is that there are many who hunger for more in their recovery. We call this rebuilding our lives after arresting the addiction Stage II™ Recovery. In this stage of recovery, we learn how to deal with the pain, shadows, and secrets in our lives. This may seem like a luxury for some people. For many of us, steady progress toward this "more in our recovery" is not a luxury at all. In fact, it may well be the difference between life and death. We all know we either recover or slide down the throat of whatever "ism" is snapping at our heels. Alcohol is the symptom of the disease of alcoholism. Take alcohol out of the equation, and what's left is us—us and our "isms."

From the very beginnings of Twelve Step fellowship, the founders of AA had this ongoing movement in mind when dealing with the "us" that is left after sobriety. On page 132 of the Big Book they admonish, "We absolutely insist on enjoying life."

I fully realize that many in recovery feel no need for ongoing growth aside from going to meetings, doing their readings, and being open to service work. They are doing fine at this point in their recovery, and they want nothing to do with anything like Stage II Recovery. My intention is certainly not to suggest anyone "should" or "needs to" or "must" do anything in the program. What others do in their program is not my business. I have enough trouble working my own program. My intent is to show anyone who is interested one possible road to recovery.

+ + +

If You've Been There, You Know

I encourage you to honor your story no matter how many bad times there may have been. Our story is all we have. It is the raw material we are given to make our existence a thing of beauty. What we have made and can make of those bad times, as bad as they may have been, shall be the most glorious part of all.

We have been there, and we do know. And what we have gained is priceless wisdom earned the only way wisdom is ever earned—by going into fire to get it. We all must leave a gift of blood at the spot where wisdom is won. Isn't that what wisdom has cost you, the price of blood?

If ever a college or university program were created that supposedly conferred wisdom, what would it look like? How would that class be conducted? What would the participants have to do to get their Ph.D.s?

You know. You probably already have a Ph.D. in life.

Everyone in recovery who gets up each morning committed to "practicing these principles in all our affairs" knows. Like you, I know and treasure many people in recovery who may be only semiliterate but who are geniuses in the ways of a life well lived. I seek out these giants so I can stand next to them hoping some small portion of their light may rub off. They are the glory and the treasure of the program. They have learned and in learning have become more than they ever thought possible. And we have learned! Look at your journey. Look where we have been and what has happened and what splendid lessons we have taken away from the fire.

If you've been there, you know:
What it means to be broken. You know the soul-saving lesson of having lost it all so that you may be opened up for more riches than you ever thought possible. We know what it is to hit bottom, to have no idea of where to go or what to do and so are forced to surrender to a Power greater than ourselves. And from that surrender, we are able to lay claim to a Power that truly is without end. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
The indescribable agony of watching someone you love die an inch at a time from addiction and realizing there is nothing you can do about it. Or worse, thinking there is something you can do about it and that, in fact, you are responsible for the person's sobriety. (Even though half the time you think if the chemicals don't kill him or her, you will.)

But learning, I mean really learning, that we aren't in control of anyone else. None of us are. We love most genuinely by allowing and insisting the other reap the consequences of his or her own behavior. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
To stop judging others. Our job is not to judge others but to show up with compassion. Our own walk has taught us well enough to seek mercy rather than strict justice. Who are we to cast stones at one another? We learn from the inside out, from having been there, from the responsibility and incomparable honor of being at the other end of the rope when another reaches out for help. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
God never sleeps and God never leaves. God is even more patient than this disease of alcoholism and addiction. We were never lost because God always knew where we were and was always waiting for that opening to help us get up.

We know what a tap on the shoulder is all about. We know what it means to be found. Many of us can tell you the day, month, year, and sometimes even the hour and minute when we heard that Voice. We know by experience that touch of the divine picking us up. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
There is no such thing as being hopeless or beyond recall because we were too far gone to be saved. Yet here we are. Imperfect, to be sure. Full of faults and defects and perhaps with a haunted house for a head. But here we are. Upright. Looking forward. Willing to be used in any way our Higher Power wishes to use us in reaching out to others. Knowing in our deep-heart that there is no situation that cannot be made better and no human being beyond the reach of grace. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
As we move through those first agonizing meetings and begin to nibble at the banquet that recovery is, we come to glimpse the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we can win at life. Maybe we don't always have to be the one standing outside in the dark watching others feast on family, fun, and friends. Maybe I, too, can find a way inside. Maybe I, too, can have a seat at the table, and maybe this program is the way. Maybe I can learn that I, too, belong. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
The greatest treasure life has to offer is not measured in numbers. It is not about material baggage but rather the quality of our friendships. No amount of money can equal the quality of friendships formed in the program. We all know that.

There are those we see or meet in the program whose appearance alone assures us that everything is okay. We are okay. We'll be fine. They, too, have gone through the fire. They know and understand the power of a smile, a nod of recognition, or the subtle squeeze of a hand. They, too, understand the immense power of friendship. And they take the hand of another and then another still. That line of linked hands, souls, and lives goes forward and backward as far as our minds can travel. And God is the glue that holds us all together. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
We don't have to be perfect to be acceptable. We learn that anyone who demands perfection of us is not to be taken seriously. We are all past imperfect. We learn to love ourselves despite and even because of the crooked timber with which we are made. We come to understand the need to treat ourselves as we treat those whom we love. And when we fail to do so, as we surely will, rather than flog ourselves as in the old days, we learn to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start over again. We learn to trust that God is in charge and is taking care of us. How much is that lesson worth?

If you've been there, you know:
The promises are for real. Love, peace, self-respect, or family (whether it be an old one or new one) is possible. It is available. It is accessible. We learn that the hardest lesson in recovery is not to give love but to receive it. The greatest gift we give one another is to allow others entrance into our lives. And we learn to stop pushing that love away. For if God is love and God is in people, each time we pushed others away, we also pushed God away. How much is that lesson worth?

Uncommon Goodness Surrounds Us

We who have been given the gift of the program are all so blessed. Doesn't your story shout that truth? Surely one of the major blessings is in the people we are given to walk with, our mates in the Twelve Step fellowship. Nowhere in the world could anyone possibly meet a more improbable collection of fascinating characters and clay-footed saints. Central casting in Hollywood could not hold a candle to us.

People do not come into the program because they are healthy. We come in sick. Yet if we hang around, we find an avalanche of uncommon goodness also surrounds us. Jimmy R. had fifty-four years in the program when he died. He went back so far, he used to fish with Dr. Bob. Over the years, he had been an anchor for thousands of new members. Just to be in the same room with Jimmy gave a person confidence and hope. I saw a hundred new members with Jimmy sport the look of little brothers with a trusted big brother. The look said something like, "I'm here with him. We're friends. So, I am somebody too."

The last dozen years of Jimmy's life were a constant struggle with chronic pain because of a nerve disorder. So bad was the pain that Jimmy had to all but quit his beloved Friday night meetings. Still, his buddy Duane called him every week to see if he was up to going. One bitter cold Friday evening in January, Duane hobbled with emphysema, pulling his oxygen tank behind him, when he came to get his friend, Jimmy. When, as Vince Lombardi said, fatigue would make cowards of us all, I think of these two old men. I picture them some twenty years ago on that cold, cold evening: Jimmy so tall and frail that a breeze would blow him over, and Duane huffing and puffing in the –30ºF weather. But there they were, going to their meeting. And here I am, many years after the death of both of these giants, still basking in their glow and telling you about them. I once asked Jimmy why he went to such effort to get to a meeting when he surely was beyond getting thirsty. He just smiled and said, "I don't go for me. Maybe there is someone I can help at the meeting." Then he threw in his favorite program saying: "You know, program isn't a gift. It is a debt." There is uncommon goodness.

This book has been written for the long line of millions whose linked hands and hearts stretch all the way back to a sitting room in Akron, Ohio, in 1935. Here, God let go a mighty wind that would circle the globe. It was a wind not carried by the mighty and powerful, as those in the program know so well, but by those in the rank and file who are given the responsibility to carry the message.

These pages are for those who understand that for this wind to be made available for those who seek it—we are responsible.


1. What does the phrase "low spiritual self-esteem" mean to you?
2. How has the meaning of that phrase affected the quality of your recovery?
3. What are three of the greatest lessons you have learned upon reflecting on your unique life story?

Moving on to Chapter 2

A map of recovery is essential in order to answer the following questions: Where are we going? What is our direction? How shall we know if we are moving straight and true or not?

¬2003. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Destination Joy by Earnie Larsen. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Hazelden, Center City, Minnesota, 55012-0176.

Meet the Author

Earnie Larsen was a nationally known author and lecturer. A pioneer in the field of recovery from addictive behaviors and the originator of the process known as Stage II Recovery, Earnie authored numerous curricula, DVD's, audio CDs and books with Hazelden and other publishers, including his 2010 Hazelden book, Now That You're Sober: Week by Week Guidance from Your Recovery Coach, written with his sister, Carol Hegarty. With degrees from Loyola University and the University of Minnesota, Earnie had been a counselor for over 40 years. Larsen passed away in January 2011.

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