My father would have been . . . I don’t know how old today. Nearing 80 I guess. But he died at 33 from alcoholism. My first thoughts about this today are that 1) that’s part of what saved me by getting me to seek help so young and so early in my drinking and 2) if there are degrees of alcoholism, and if they are hereditary, I believe I inherited severe alcoholism. My third thought is that I have, hopefully, broken the chain. Oh my goodness how I hope that. Both of my kids drink, and it frightens me. They’ve both gotten into trouble with it, though not, to my knowledge, lately. No question they both function at an incredibly higher level than I ever did, drunk or sober. They have no idea this is their grandfather’s birthday. He plays no part in their lives, expect for the questionable genes he’s passed down. We’re all short.
In my little world, the insurance man comes tomorrow to tell us if insurance will cover any of the damage we’ve had due to a leaky pipe. We’ve had the plumbing fixed, some cabinets dropped, and we have a mold estimate. I’ve been with the same insurance company since I was 16. Every car and every house, and never a claim. I really hope this is covered.
But if it’s not, I’ll be OK. AA taught me that and though I know I haven’t experienced it yet, I’m pretty sure it is true.
I struggle with what to write about change, because I struggle with change. It’s a worthy topic at AA meetings, I think, because we all to some degree have trouble adjusting, even to good changes. Change means to become different, and I like almost everything to stay the same. Nothing does, and so my struggle.
I would have been happy to always live in my hometown, to always work at my first job, to live in one house as an adult. Instead I’ve moved many, many times, from one coast to the other and back again, and in between. I like where I live, and this is where I’ll stay for quite a while to come, mostly because of Carole’s job, which is a great job that pays really well and exists in this place. I’ve lived in this area for 15 years, 10 years in this house and that’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere practically since I was born. Writing this, I remember moving as a kid, from one end of town to the other and back again. That made me different. Everyone else (so it seemed and was mostly true) stayed put, with their mother and father and siblings. That’s not what my life was like.
So now I know that I should embrace change, and sometimes I actually do. I know I should make peace with it in order to be at peace at all. I know that so many changes are for the better and I should welcome them. I know that I’ve been blessed with imagination and optimism and other tools I can use to cope with and welcome and actually affect changes in my world. I know that even sad changes often lead to new happinesses, and if not that at least the sadness will abate somewhat with time.
AA is where I hear other people struggle and make peace. I get to hear about people who struggle more with sameness, always wanting something different, wanting everything to change. It’s where I learned to appreciate what I have, to remember that it’s all temporary, to live in the now. Even as now is changing, has changed.
Wednesday night, we had water in the kitchen. Thursday, the contractor who redid out bathroom last year opened the ceiling. Friday, a plumber gave us an estimate. Saturday, a plumber came and fixed the leak. Saturday, a young man with a mold company waved he gauge around the whole house and said the cabinets should be replaced (among many other things). Today is Sunday, a day of rest?
Through all this, the insurance company has been telling us that it may or may not be covered, and that it may be more than a week until we know.
Today, Sunday, I flipped my saying of the week from “That which does not kill me makes me stronger,” to “So, if you think you are standing firm,be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
So yeah, not that I can’t bear it. Luxury problems, for sure. The repair will take time and money, and I know that compared to many (most) people I have an abundance of both. The feeling of scarcity that came down to me from my grandparents through my mother may not have really existed for any of them, and certainly hasn’t for me. One step at a time, we’ve come through this very quickly and even though there is a gaping, moldy hole in the kitchen, the kitchen and the bathroom are fully operable. We have a contractor, plumber, and mold guy we trust (though the insurance company is questionable at this moment). We have a gratitude list that stretches to infinity and a broad, broad view that tells us this is most certainly the small stuff.
It is a tremendous satisfaction to record that in the following years this changed. Alcoholics who still had their health, their families, their jobs, and even two cars in the garage, began to recognize their alcoholism. As this trend grew, they were joined by young people who were scarcely more than potential alcoholics. They were spared that last ten or fifteen years of literal hell the rest of us had gone through. Since Step One requires an admission that our lives had become unmanageable, how could people such as these take this Step?
For anyone who doesn’t follow my details, I was 16, almost 17, when I went to my first AA meeting. I called AA on my own, because I knew I was in trouble. I achieved lasting sobriety when I was 21, almost 22. For years, I was almost always the youngest person in the room at meetings. At times, it was hard to relate, for sure. I hadn’t yet acquired a family, a car, or a job to lose. But I was more than a potential alcoholic. I was quickly, after I first started drinking, the real, full-blown thing. That doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to hardly anyone. But it happened to me, and I’m grateful.
Back then, I knew on some level that I was an alcoholic. I had a very shallow understanding of alcoholism, but my father had died very young from it, so I knew there was that. I knew that I quickly broke the rules I had set up to, for example, never drive drunk. I didn’t know then that the very setting of rules proves the alcoholism. Normal drinkers don’t do that. And I wouldn’t have lasted another ten or fifteen years, not at the rate I was going.
That’s just my experience. It doesn’t match the experience of most people in the rooms, but it does match some. One of the wonderful things about AA. My life became quickly unmanageable, and when I say I’m grateful, it’s because I’ve gotten to spend so very many years sober in AA.
Today Carole and I went shopping at an outlet mall. I came home with all of my money. This has nothing to do with AA except that it is an infinitesimal part of my feeling “different” like we all did, but I wear a size 5 shoe and they just don’t exist.
Tomorrow I will start my fourth week at work without my partner. And she’ll start her fourth week in life without her husband. I can do it, but I don’t like it. I miss her terribly, there. Because at home, I’m lucky to live near her and to be a friend, so I don’t have to actually miss her in my life, just in my work life. It’s just so sad.
Last night I chaired my meeting and I made cookies for the occasion from a mix. All I had to do was add butter and water and I still messed them up. There were four left over, so you know they were bad. I don’t like to cook and I’m not good at it and I don’t know why, once every decade or so, I try.
So I’m lucky that for just this moment, there’s really nothing else going on with me. And that’s the way I like it.
Saturday night I was asked to lead my meeting with two minutes warning. I think that’s the least amount of warning I’ve ever had when asked to tell my story. I didn’t hesitate to say yes (though I didn’t want to do it). I was told to say “yes” to anything anyone asks me to do in AA (within reason, and having to do with AA, and that I can possibly do) and that was an excellent idea for me to internalize. Left to my own desires, I would never want to tell my story and I probably never would.
For the topic for discussion I chose “carrying this message.” People talked about some of the many ways AA members carry this message. The literature tells us that we must carry this message to stay sober, and that working with alcoholics is the surest way to ensure personal sobriety.
All acts of service are carrying this message as we keep AA going for ourselves and for those yet to come. And even though the concept of carrying this message appears in Step Twelve, the newer newcomer is also doing it when he or she helps someone who is even newer. Also anytime we encourage someone or help someone or share our experience to ease the way of someone we are carrying this message.
Someone mentioned being “out” as far as the people in his life know he is in AA, so they can come to him for help if they want help. It made me think about a few of my favorite active alcoholics, all family members. My mother and my uncle certainly know that I was a big bad problem drinker way back when, but I don’t know if they, especially my uncle, ever thinks about those times or realizes that I am 100% sober. He surely doesn’t know I’m in AA.
I struggle with things like that, and years pass during which I offer no help to anyone outside of AA. Within AA I’m rather poor at reaching out as well.
On to the character defect list I go . . .
It was two weeks yesterday since Alek died. Since then I’ve been to his funeral. I’ve been to my daughter’s new place far far away from here. I’ve been to work without my partner for two weeks. I’ve been to an AA meeting far, far away from here (in my daughter’s new place). I’ve been in freezing fog (coming home from my daughter’s new place). I’ve been in winter and now I hope to be in spring.
In writing all that, I hoped to develop some over-arching truth about something that would make me feel better about it all. I am actually better about it all. Getting back to work last Wednesday without Irene there was easier for me than it had been the week before. Every moment didn’t fill me with terrible sadness, like the moments did before. Maybe it helps that’s I’ve seen my daughter’s new place and can picture her there a little bit. Maybe it helps that she seems happy with her choice so far. That certainly helps. A reprieve from snow and ice is also a wonderful thing. And Alek’s death at 61 makes me and most of us who knew him determined to be less sad about things that are actually happy.
OK, maybe that one is just me. I talked to someone from work the other day about her struggles with her step children. Having lived through one of the roles in that unhappy constellation and having come out the other side with my wife still here and my children still speaking to us, I was so able to see that the things my colleague was stressing over were so minor in the scheme of things. Not worth the negative emotion she was spending on them. I’m hoping to do that for myself in my new situations.
She said my talk with her was “uplifting.” How cool that I, who was once drunk and dying under the table, today can “uplift” someone. That’s all because of AA.