Part 2: “Love Everything Alive”

Part 2: “Love Everything Alive” 

By Reverend Charles F. Harper M.Div.  Spiritual Care Counselor , Betty Ford Center 


“ To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” 

     Abraham Lincoln  


In this series we have been explorng what it means to be in a place of spiritual awakening. Specifically, what qualities of the spirit are manifested by a spiritual person ?  In our last article “ I Celebrate Myself “ we explored the manifestation of loving ones self, “inner leper and all.”

This reflection explores Love, or what I call “a passion for compassion.”

In the journey of recovery we are on a path from selfishness to selflessness from the exclusive service of our needs and desires to serving others who are out there suffering. Indeed a passion for compassion is essential to our sobriety

All the world’s religions point to the power of love and our obligation to love our neighbors.  The radical Jesus of Nazareth goes further, telling us to love our enemies. And Jewish mystic Ray Kook adds, “It is our right to hate an evil man for his actions, but because his deepest self is the image of God, it is our duty to honor him with love.”

Love forms the basis of  a recovering person’s  intent, it under girds his or her perseverance when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, and it keeps us in a personal space of serenity when encountering the “slings and arrows of discontent” and the trickster of our addition.

Love conquers all.  By helping us to see our fellow travelers in AA/NA and those who are still out there using and ourselves, as sacred beings not to be manipulated and controlled or judged ,  love transcends the “isms” that divide the human race. It is love that cultivates a spirit of unity while respecting diversity of ideas, visions, and opinions.

There are essentially three kinds of love: Eros, Platonic and Agape.

Eros is romantic love.  The second kind of love is platonic. It’s the type of love that grows out of friendship, an intellectual love devoid of physical passion yet strong enough to weather even the fiercest storms of one’s life.

The most enduring love, and perhaps the most valuable kind of love, is agape. Agape is selfless love.  It is so powerful that it allows us to go the distance to sacrifice for another human being or for a vision far greater than ourselves–visions like those embraced by  Bill Wilson, Marty Mann and Betty Ford.

Agape is a love sustained in the heart and every fiber of one’s being.  Despite anger, hurt, disappointment and all the stuff that happens in life, this is a love that leads to works of altruism, and random acts of kindness and courage, as well as providing the fuel for pursuing a vision of living  “ happy. Joyous and free.”

Poet Theodore Roethke illustrates this beautifully when he discovers this love in the realm of nature and renews his love and enthusiasm for life.


“The Sun! The Sun!

And all we can become!

And the time is ripe for running to the moon!…

My spirit rises with the rising wind;

I’m thick with leaves and tender as a dove…

I recover my tenderness by long looking.

By midnight I love everything alive.”

After a day of things going our way, after a good night’s rest, it’s fairly easy to say: “This is going to be a great day! I’m going to be a blessing to anyone who crosses my path and they will be a blessing to me. And those who don’t embrace me for who I am , well that’s okay too.”

But after a full day of work and stress and disappointment, and the hurtful and hateful things that people say, it takes a spiritual awakening, , to drop the resentments, the bitterness…to be finished with the nightmares, and to be free to say, “By midnight I love everything alive.”—to be back in touch with the love that lives at the center of the universe and in the center of one’s own soul.

To quote Elbert Hubbard, an American collector of sayings: “The love we give away is the only love we keep.”  Armed with agape every person in recovery has what it takes to inspire others and come closer to realizing the seemingly impossible possibility of his or her own vision of a world free of addiction.

So, when we are filled with a “passion for compassion” the question we are asked as people in recovery we will no longer be: Should we love the world,?”  Rather “How shall we love the world?”


Signs of A Spiriutal Awakening

Butterfly in HandsPart 1: Celebrate Yourself !

By  Rev. Charles F. Harper M.Div. Spiritual Counselor , Betty Ford Center 


“Sel love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self neglect.”

William Shakespeare


In AA/NA we always suggest to newcomers seeking a sponsor that they should find a spoinosr who has some “thing” , some  indefineable ut attracttive “it” , some manmifestation of spirit that they want.  In this series of articles we explore what someone who is in a place of “spiritual awakening “ might just look like.

As we make our way down the road less traveled, it is strongly suggested that we look at our selves: “inner leper” and all. Here we face the truth of who we are by taking a moral inventory or, if you prefer , a “truth” inventory.

It is believved that if we do this , we can come into a healthy  relationship understanding,  acceptance and ultimately a compassionm or love for who we are as authentic human beings. As Abraham Heschel wrote : “Being human is difficult. Becomomg human is a lifelong process. To be truly human is a gift.”

Before the  invenmtory process  “the better angels of our nature” as well as our “inner lepers”have  lurked in the corners of shadowed consciusness. As we do our inventory we  are blessed with an illumibating light. Miraculously, by bringing our angels and our lepers into consciousness, we are no longer fractured but we ccome into a relationship with ourselves as whole human beings worthy of love. Moreover, the masks which have suffociated and restrained  the very expression of out authrentic beings are tossed aside with gladness. Ultimately and with humility we are liberated into a “lightntness of being.”

For example, when I took a moral inventory I came away from the mirror  painfully admitting  that I was at that time and I think to a large extent today the same person I was when I was a “yuppie” .  The same underlying patterns of  entitlement, resentments, ego run riot,   judgement and resentments were and are still a part of my being.

Today my perfectionism stiill urges me  to do things things at which I excell. Rigid plans leabve me irritated when disrupted by the gods. My selfishness makes me keenly aware of whether or not my self interests will be served and I still do things with the same inner energy of an alpha male.

There is however a change in me. As a young man  I was a master of the universe. Today, I believe, no, I know. I’m not in charge.  Translated this means, in spite of shortcomings and  defects of character  that the God of my understanding loves this particualr “work in progress”  anyways.

In his poem “Song of Myself” the poet Walt Whitman was able to reconcile his own feelings of feelings of inadequacy and all his failure and write about himself :

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.


I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,

I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,

Hoping to cease not till death…”

This surely what it means to experience a dimension of spiritual awakening. This, I think, is a telltale sign of an spiritual person so enthralled with the day and the mission of life and self that he or she is able to  “celebrate myself and sing myself…Hoping to cease not til death.”  May it be so for you.


Betty Ford Center Spiritual Counselors Book Wins Award

Rev. Charles HarperAmazing Grief: A Healing Guide for Parents of Young Addicts by Rev. Charles F. Harper, M.Div., has been selected as a winner of the USA Best Books 2011 Awards.

Reverend Harper is a spiritual counselor at the Betty Ford Center.

The publication took first place in the category of Health: Addiction & Recovery, according to Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of USA Book News.

“Winners and finalists traversed the publishing landscape,” Said Keen. “Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s Press, Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and hundreds of independent houses contributed to this year’s competition. Our success begins with the enthusiastic participation of authors and publishers and continues with our distinguished panel of industry judges who bring to the table their extensive editorial, PR, marketing, and design expertise.”

Rev. Harper describes his book as “a hands-on, interactive guide that represents 30 years of working closely with addicted young people in crisis. As the title suggests, the 300-page book offers a power­ful and hopeful refuge for parents who often have few answers for their agony outside of conventional and often very expensive treatment programs for their children.”

A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Rev. Harper previously served as an advertising executive, senior pastor and spiritual counselor. He has worked with over 200 fami­lies devastated by the addictions and behaviors of their sons and daughters.

“Parents are the most neglected partners in the recovery of a young addict,” he says. “Yet a parent’s emo­tional and spiritual good health is essential to the recovery of their child. Specifically, an addict is twice as likely to recover when parents focus on their own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.”

He articulates “11 Stages of Grief” to help parents cope with the loss of innocence of their children and the overwhelming guilt and shame they often feel after the shock of discovering that their son or daughter is an addict. Powerful exercises, meditations and prayers accompany a discussion of each stage of grief to assist families on their journey. The meditations and prayers are available as free downloads at The book may be purchased through this website and will also be available after December 1 at B& N, Kendall and Amazon.

Self Pity – Video from Rev. Harper

Self Pity is a natural stage of grief and outcome of depression. Learn more in this video:

Watch the video. Full screen available.

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Get the book Amazing Grief 


Virtue of Honesty: To Thy Own Self Be True

By Reverend Charles F. Harper, M.Div.

Honesty & TruthAll honesty, whether it’s telling the truth about chopping down a cherry tree, or stopping the impulse to take or keep something that is not ours, or avoiding the inflation of our image with a spin of fiction, begins by facing the truth about who we are.

No matter how great we are or were as parents, in the end, we are only human. As such, in the process of going and growing as parents and as people, we must be self-honest. To be honest we must have the courage to take an ongo- ing, honest and fearless inventory of ourselves AND our role as parents.

In doing so the hero discovers two truths:
1. Parents (like all of us) are Children of a Greater Power. As parents, we learn that our identity is not determined by na- ture or nurture. We know that we are not held captive by our past, no matter how much of a victim of circumstance, of other people or of our own bad choices we were. We know that genetics may have a say, but not the final say, about who we authentically are. Parents know that situations we live in or find ourselves in do not define us. We know the props of our lifestyle define us neither as good or bad, as a success or as a failure. We do not even define ourselves by what we do or by title. Finally, we know our identities are not created by what other people expect, say or think about us. As one of my parents said to me, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Indeed a parent is defined not by where we’ve been or where we are but by where we are going.

If nature or nurture or other people, places and things do not define a parent, what are we defined by?

If all of us, including parents, have the courage to be honest with ourselves. We learn that, in our essence, we are stand-ins, if you will, for what Native Americans call the “Great Spirit.” When it comes to the struggle for justice, we’re called to provide the muscle; when it comes to those who’ve been marginalized, we’re the heart of compassion; when it comes to the sick, the hungry and the tired, we’re the healing hands.

As children of a power greater then ourselves, we are called to acknowledge, understand and embrace our authentic identities as courageous, compassionate, joyful, humble, honest, persevering, responsible, accountable, visionary people. Anyone who claims they are less then this is simply not being honest with themselves or others. Indeed, if we are not honest about our true nature, we will fail to realize our heroic nature as parents.

To stay in integrity, to be true to ourselves, to stay honest parents, we are asked on a daily basis to look themselves in the mirror and evaluate how we measured up when it came to courage, compassion, honesty, responsibility, forgive- ness, serenity, patience, faith and other virtues of the spirit. When we’ve fallen short, we make amends to ourselves and others and learn from our mistakes.

2. Parents (like all of us) have a shadow side. If a parent is honest he or she will acknowledge, understand and em- brace the fact that far from being perfect, life is a “work in progress.”

While a parents’ authentic being may be defined by the virtues of the spirit, if this is all they (or anyone else) believes about themselves, then they are bound to commit acts of hubris. Hubris inevitably leads to the collapse of the paren- tal pedestal, or worse, the victimization of others.

So the second truth the parent (and by extension, all of us) must face with courage is that within us lives a shadow side. Our shadow side is fully capable of morphing into an anti-parent–something quite ugly and self serving. We deny this truth at our own peril.

Now the shadow may include anger, selfishness, jealousy, pride, insecurity, feral nature or destructiveness. Although the shadow is a part of who we are, it seems natural for us to deny or hide it. When we do this it’s inevitable that it’ll creep out of our inner being, and we’ll end up projecting the shadow onto others, including our spouses, children, friends, and neighbors and noticeably onto other races or cultures and societies.

Parents know that it is much easier to demonize enemies and blame things outside of themselves. Leaders of nations do this as well as private individuals. Failing to be honest and recognize our own complicity in family dysfunction, including the addiction of our loved one, we can choose to project the problems of our own lives onto innocents. We can actually believe we have the corner on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

How can we be honest?

Catholic priest Richard Rohr once said: “God calls us to take the path of the inner truth–and that means taking respon- sibility for everything that’s in you: for what pleases you and for what you are ashamed of …. In…life nothing goes away. There is no heavenly garbage dump. Everything belongs.”

Parents accept the truth that we are not perfect. We are conscious of our shadow side. As such we are able to name the demons of jealousy, pride, greed, impulsiveness, insecurity, destructiveness to self and others when it arises within and address them. Resisting the temptation to demonize or blame our addicted loved one, we learn and grow from our own shortcomings and defects of character. We also know we are not alone. But most of all, parents learn to not only love the virtues we carry within, but also to “love the leper inside.” (St. Francis of Assisi)


Why do Recovery Programs?


Rev. Charlie Harper

Rev. Charlie Harper

Why do I believe in recovery program? Families and friends are spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to send their loved one away to a recovery program. Recovering addicts are spending thousands of hours away from the familiarity of home and family and friends. All this with no guarantees that they’ll be better off for all the time and money spent at a recovery program in Malibu than they would have been incarcerated or in a public institution for delinquents.

And you know and I know there’s no magic at any recovery program. The rooms are plain old bricks and mortar. Pretty much the same group meeting rooms that you’ll find anywhere. The counselors? We don’t have any magic either. They’re neither pillars of virtue or in possession of some deep dark wisdom. So, why are would anyone go to a recovery program ?

I believe, when it comes to inpatient recovery, we make a promise to the recovering addict to help them practice a very different language in recovery than the language we have learned out in the so called “real” world. [Read more...]

Signs of Spiritual Freedom: Love of Self : Passion for Compassion

The SunAs we travel through the rough terrain of the strange land of addiction, we can suffer from compassion burn out, not onIy around our suffering child but also toward all those in our family or close circle of friends with whom we have shared our compassion and love in the past.

I appreciate it when poet Theodore Roethke discovers the spirit of Love in the realm of nature. In this natural epiphany he renews his love and enthusiasm for life.

With great joy, he says:
The Sun! The Sun! and all we can become! And the time is ripe for running to the moon!… My spirit rises with the rising wind; I’m thick with leaves and tender as a dove… I recover my tenderness by long looking. By midnight I love everything alive.”

I hope you can feel his enthusiasm too.

After a good night’s rest, when our day has flowed smoothe and pretty, it is fairly easy to say, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” But after a full day of fear and stress and disappointment and the hurtful and hateful things that our own child may say to us, it takes freedom, extraordinary spiritual freedom, to say, “By mid- night I love everything alive.” When we say this and feel it , we know we’ve dropped the resentments, the bitterness. We’ve finished with the nightmares. It has been a long hard season of forgiveness but now I am free to love everything alive…”

By midnight the slate is wiped clean. By midnight I’ve dropped my anger, resentments and guilt. By midnight I’m back in touch with the love that lives at the center of the universe.

Signs of Spiritual Freedom: Joie de Vivre

Joie de VivreAs parents of an addict, or as an addict for that matter, the simple pleasures of life can be lost in the haze of our fear and trembling as we rush from stone to stone in search of a solution.

Pleasure is an attitude toward one’s being that should be nurtured. An attitude commonly referred to as joie de vivre, or the joy of life.

One cliché defined joie de vivre in these words:

“Work like you don’t need money Sing like you’re in the shower Love like you’ve never been hurt And dance like no one is watching.”

That’s certainly joy. That is certainly being in the moment and drinking of life’s most honest pleasures. Thomas Wolfe put it this way: “joie de vivre is not a desire to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping you.”

Signs of Spiritual Freedom: Love of Self

Butterfly in HandsEven in the midst of our child’s relentlessly painful and grief filled addiction we have the possibility of discovering moments of spiritual freedom for ourselves.

The question is what does spiritual freedom look like? I’ve identified seven signs of spiritual freedom. Here’s one of them.

As parents of an addict , or as an addict in recovery, we may have an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. We may be weighed down by our sense of failure.

The Poet Walt Whitman wrestled with his own feelings of inadequacy and all of his failures. Believe me, he had quite a few. In spite of these, I like it when he was able to love himself including the “inner leper “ within and write:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself…. My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same, I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death.

In part, this surely is what it means to be free spiritually free. This I think, is a telltale sign of an spiritual person so enthralled with the day and the mission of life that he or she is able to “celebrate myself and sing myself…Hoping to cease not til death.”

Why is it so hard for your child to get and stay sober?

Healing,transformation,hopeThey don’t believe in a higher power, and addiction is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual solution. Young ad- dicts are no strangers to the spiritual.

When they drink and drug, they are chemically filling “the hole in their soul.” Theologians call it a “higher-power hunger.”

Martin Luther said, “Whatever thy heart clings to and relies upon, that is higher power.” Likewise, the theologian Paul Tillich said that higher power is whatever concerns us ultimately, our “ultimate concern.”

These definitions fit all addicts, for indeed their “ultimate concern,” their higher power, is their drug of choice. So addicts do know what it means to organize their lives and wills around a higher power that is their particular ad- diction; yet ironically, identifying and turning their lives and will over to a higher power that is a symbol of positive virtues and action becomes their biggest hurdle. This hurdle is so daunting because teen addicts don’t really know what “spirituality” is.

Spirituality seems like wu-wu and God an enigmatic figure of mythology.

- Excerpt from Part 2 (Reason number 3 of 12) of Amazing Grief: A Healing Guide for parents of Young Addicts

Best Books Award Winner

Amazing Grief wins USA Book News Award in the Health: Addiction & Recovery Category

To scroll to the category and runner ups:

USA Book News - Click Here