October 18, 2014 (this day)

IMG_1217It is so hard to photograph black animals!  This picture from last year’s getaway sent me down the road of thinking about the year.  Last year, we probably exposed the dog to the ticks that gave her Lyme’s.  I don’t know for sure, but she had a bit of a rough year physically.  She may be about ten years old now, getting up there for a dog her size.  She doesn’t follow me up and down the stairs every single time I go now, just most times.


Last year at this time, my work partner and her husband took a vacation that would be their last.  He had symptoms that finally compelled him to see a doctor, too late.  His cancer was diagnosed in December, and he died in March.  I spend my days with her and I have done so for 15 years.  She’s ten years older than me, and I try to ready some little part of my heart to accept working without her, to accept living without this dog.  I know that I may not experience these losses, but that I probably will.  If I’m lucky I will.


We made that trip last year with some women from AA.  One spent the year since then drinking, on and off.  She’s sober now, back in the fold, trying to embrace AA again as the only lasting answer.  I think, briefly, of what her life would have been like had she stayed sober.  I wonder if she could go back and do it again if she’d be able to stay sober.  I remember the lie my brain – my disease? – would tell me that alcohol would make me feel better, even when it didn’t, even when it hadn’t.  Reality was just too much to bear.


Really.  And my reality has never been all that terrible.  Maybe it’s not reality that I couldn’t bear, but just my undrugged self, my real self, my raw self.


I’m reading a book about lying.  I’m reading it because, as an investigator, I’m often trying to discover the truth about what happened from people who would rather I didn’t.  Reading about the way we individually view lies and lying made me jump to the program of AA.  I was raised in an average way for my time and place.  I wasn’t raised with strong morals or a serious code of ethics, beyond the regular WASPy-upper-middle-class values that predominated my neighborhood and my schools.  But in AA I learned to consider honesty as a character trait I would like to have, dishonesty as something that is bad and that will lower the quality of my life.  Active alcoholism taught me to lie as much as I needed to get what I wanted, which was a slow kind of suicide.  AA taught me to tell the truth in ever-increasing circumstances and situations and to consider carefully the content of my character.


So back to my friend who spent the past year drinking, on and off.  I think that if she had stayed sober that whole time, she’d be at least a little bit further down the road that values concepts like honesty and teaches us how to live them in the real world.  Instead she stayed still, or moved a little farther down the road of death and destruction.

Amends – how, when, what?

A reader asked, “I’m wondering if you would consider writing some posts about making amends… how, when, what…? Thanks for considering it.”


The amends of Step Nine are an effort to clear away wrong-doing of the past, to make those things right in as much as that is possible.  I believe that many people have difficulty staying sober when they think about the bad things they’ve done, the people they’ve hurt.  Alcoholism as I understand it works this way.  I feel bad and guilty, so I drink to suppress or forget those feelings, or to black out entirely.  This causes more bad behavior.  This is bad behavior in itself.  So I drink more to deal with those feelings.  Making amends is an effort to break that cycle.

amends: reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense. 

make amends, to compensate, as for an injury, loss, or insult.


It’s a stark and ugly realization for many of us that we can’t actually undo the harm we’ve done.  But if we want to live, we can’t take that hopelessness as an excuse for further drinking.

The Big Book and the 12 and 12 have many suggestions for how, when and what.  It’s important to discuss these with someone else because this stuff is so emotionally laden it is easy to go wrong.  How is in the most tangible way possible.  Pay back money, that sort of thing.  Recently some women in the program and I had the chance to care for the pets of someone in rehab.  I saw it as a kind of way to make amends to the cat I had while I was drinking.  When would be as soon as possible.  Sometimes it’s possible right away, other times it’s never possible.  What can also be difficult.  As I’m about to help someone with this step, I’m concerned that she will either apologize for too much, or not enough.


The step can’t be done perfectly and more can always be added in the future.  Part of the not so fun part of recovery can be remembering things we’d rather forget, sometimes years later.

Of course the important part, the part I can control, is the changing part of amends.  I am to try as I can to not repeat my bad behavior of the past, and not find new ways to behave badly.

Part of our literature describes a time when Dr. Bob went around making amends to everyone he could think of, the day of his last drink.  We can see now that he surely had changed permanently, but I’m sure there were some doubters at the time.  Whatever he felt was different for him, inside, he expressed on the outside as a true and lasting change for the better.

October 2, 2014 (this day)

IMG_0582The weather has been absolutely perfect for a long time now.  Windows open day and night.  Mostly sunny, not too hot, and even a little rain to keep things hydrated.

Carole and I, and two other AA friends, have been helping care for the cats of a friend of ours who is in rehab.  When we tried to convince her to go, the first thing she said was, “My cats . . . ”  We promised we’d care for them and we have.  We’ve strengthened our sobriety in many ways, by knowing that it could easily have been and still could be us who needs rehab and pet sitters.  I feel that in this way we’ve also made amends to the pets we had when we were drinking, who we neglected or didn’t treat right in other ways because drinking, it was all about me.  Taking care of the pets of an alcoholic who can’t do it makes sense to me.  And we’ve shown our friend and her family that AAs will do lots to assist the sobriety of someone who asks for help.  I’m so hopeful about her life after rehab.  She was clearly going down, getting worse, insanely hoping to still figure out how to drink successfully.


I was at a meeting where they were talking about how drinking kills people.  I thought of my uncle, and of my ex, and of my father.  I had my ex’s girlfriend’s Big Book.  She died years ago, in her 30s.  My father died in his 30s.  My uncle and my ex died in their 60s.  All ugly, painful, unnecessary and sad deaths.  I once her heard it put this way, that some of us would rather die than live a spiritual life.  Anyway, our friend in rehab does not have to die that way.  With the alcohol out of her, I believe she has a choice, and I hope she chooses to live.  If she’s like me, once she picks up, her choice is gone and she’s compelled to continue.


So with the perfect weather I’m doing my best to enjoy a perfect, serene, wonderful life for this day.  And I have very high hopes for tomorrow as well.

Let’s look first at the case of the one who says he won’t believe (Step Two continued)

Let’s look first at the case of the one who says he won’t
believe—the belligerent one. He is in a state of mind which
can be described only as savage. His whole philosophy of
life, in which he so gloried, is threatened. It’s bad enough,
he thinks, to admit alcohol has him down for keeps. But
now, still smarting from that admission, he is faced with
something really impossible. How he does cherish the
thought that man, risen so majestically from a single cell
in the primordial ooze, is the spearhead of evolution and
therefore the only god that his universe knows! Must he
renounce all this to save himself ?
At this juncture, his A.A. sponsor usually laughs. This,
the newcomer thinks, is just about the last straw. This is
the beginning of the end. And so it is: the beginning of
the end of his old life, and the beginning of his emergence
into a new one. His sponsor probably says, “Take it easy.
The hoop you have to jump through is a lot wider than you
think. At least I’ve found it so. So did a friend of mine who
was a one-time vice-president of the American Atheist Society, but he got through with room to spare.”
This was me, in that I wouldn’t believe.  I wasn’t all about science, not at all, but I was severely disillusioned with my quasi-religious upbringing and I just thought God and the church were ridiculous.  I absolutely rejected this spiritual side of AA.  I stood and held hands at meeting, but I did not pray.
No one laughed, for which I am very grateful.  And thinking back, it seems to me it was the language of the books that finally cracked my door open just a little, just enough.
I try to maintain this attitude today with many issues.  I am very stubborn.  It is difficult.  But I have such a shining, such a drastic example of how this worked for me in my past.  I wonder if there are any more new lifes for me to begin.

September 21, 2014 (this day)

IMG_0546I recently had a reason to really think about how much time I devote to AA and AA activities.  It’s licensing time at my work, and that means, for me, a lot of extra work as we get ready then live through it.  It happens every year, for sure, and I should be better about it after all these years.  I am better about it, but still not great.  We’ve had lots of new clients, which is a good thing and a blessing, but new clients bring more work.  My work partner’s husband got seriously ill and then died this year.  We lost some key staff and we have been disappointed by other staff.  But I digress.


AA has asked a little bit more of me recently.  Through most of the last fifteen years of my sobriety, I’ve coasted along very nicely at a pace I enjoy.  I got to one or two meetings a week, including the group I helped found, and I do little extra jobs there most of the time.  I read AA-related literature with Carole most workday mornings and on my own at a slower pace.  I write here and read AA blogs and I help when I’m asked.


I guess that’s what’s increased.  Without being too specific, just because real people are involved, I will say more people have asked me for more and different help than usual.


It has always, always, been a profound blessing to me to be asked for help in AA.  My own story would have ended when I was not yet 22, and actually way before that had not the good people of AA helped me and helped me and helped me.  I honestly see any help I can give today as a way to pay those people back.  It’s also a way to keep AA going into the future.  And, oh yeah, the program tells me I have to give it away to keep it.  I am seriously invested in keeping it.  Helping others gives me life.  And it is a joy.


Then there’s the introverted me who needs time to do nothing, and to do it alone or in the small context of my small family.  At thirty years sober I don’t need a meeting every day.  If I ever do need that, I will joyfully attend and be grateful they exist.  But two is good for me right now.  When my kids were younger, it was often one meeting a week.  I put my personal minimum at that and kept it religiously.  Also, for my sanity, working five days a week works great for me.  Again, in past times when I had to work six days a week I did so gratefully, but that’s not now.


Anyway I had these increasing works demands, and suddenly these increasing AA demands, and I really thought, “How much time should I give AA?”  How much time, in order to live the best possible life I can live?  Because it is, of course, all about me.


And I thought about it and I decided.  I have to give AA all the time there is, if that’s what’s asked.  All my time, since May 1, 1984, belongs to AA.  The other things that ask for my time, including my job, exist for me because first there was AA.  AA didn’t put a limit on the time it gave me.  It gave me as much time as I needed, and it still does.  I’ll never be able to repay it.


IMG_0554I recently heard that if you have a close associate who has lost weight, or quit smoking, your chances of also doing so are greatly enhanced.  I believe it.  I was unable to quit smoking while Carole still smoked.  When I quit drinking, I was in a (terrible) relationship with someone who was not an alcoholic and who would refrain from drinking around me to help me.  I then got involved with my ex, who was also sober in AA.


So now Carole and I (also my work partner and I) struggle with eating right, and so often we drag each other down.


But in just about every other way, I do believe we are good for each other and bolster each other and support each other and succeed together.  I know it is that way for our long-term sobriety in AA, at least for today.  Without looking up the meaning, I’m taking “codependent” to mean “too dependent,” and there probably isn’t a way to live in a marriage with at least some of that.


As well there is unfortunate truth to the notion that a wife and mother will have a hard time being happy if everyone else isn’t happy, especially with young children.  We should be peaceful, knowing we’ve done our best, but if our best isn’t good enough, there won’t be peace.


AA helped me through the years with all of that.  It gave me endless resources of sober people to guide me and make sure I didn’t go off the rails with anything, relationship-wise and with my children.


And now, Carole and my work partner make me more friendly, and I make them more the thoughtful.  And the three of us need to lose weight.

September 8, 2014 (this day)

IMG_0558I just got home from a meeting where the topic was today’s Daily Reflection.  I don’t like that book.  I also really wonder about blogs that repost today’s gift from Hazelden.  If I wanted to read today’s gift from Hazelden, I would.  Those blogs clog up the ‘alcoholics anonymous’ feed.


Anyway the Daily Reflection had to do with ‘complete abandon.’  I thought about ‘abandon.’  Giving up completely.  Ceasing to take care of or look after.  Completely leaving.  Somewhere in one of the books it says “abandon yourself to Him.”  Abandon myself.  I was so very bad for myself that I had to abandon myself in order to stop killing myself.


Today, as far as my relationship with alcohol, I will call this abandonment a success (just for today).  Today I didn’t drink it.  I went with God’s will rather than my own will, as an alcoholic.  Although since many many years have passed since I last drank alcohol, I do believe my own will conforms for the most part to God’s will in this matter.  I will never think it’s safe for me to drink again (God willing).


But there are other ways in which I have not abandoned myself to God’s will as completely as I finally did with alcohol.  I still “take care” of myself in many ways, and my will doesn’t get closer to God’s will and doesn’t conform, and my mind doesn’t get changed, and my brain doesn’t get washed.  There are character defects that make themselves known to me many times a day, often many times an hour, and I still don’t do what I know very well I “should” do.  I’ve come to think of that “should” as a sort of voice of God.  When I know what I “should” do I know what the right thing is, and I very often fail to do it.  Even though my one complete abandonment (maybe two, counting cigarettes) has gone so well, improved my life, and given me life itself.


I wonder what Hazelden’s gift for today is.