November 20, 2014 (this day)

I’ve been terribly busy, bingeing on Sims.  Neglecting what I should do, which is mostly get ready for Thanksgiving.  My mother gets here Monday night, my daughter some time after that.  I’m working the day before and the day after.  I hate that my daughter, especially, is so far away.  She’ll fly, and her visit will be brief.  And I’m so filled with gratitude that she wants to visit and is able to.  When I started this blog she was in college.  She’s now through her master’s and just doing so well, I never would have hoped for such an outcome.  But I miss her.  And that’s awesome also.


I was ready an anti-AA blog or two.  It is just amazing.  AA can ruin your life?  I don’t think so.  It’s bad to be told I am powerless?  No, not over alcohol.  If I was still trying to have power over that, there would be no happy holiday for anyone who cared about me.


There are no downsides to abstinence, people, not any downsides at all.  Downsides to drunkenness?  Those, of course, are infinite.


It’s interesting to watch the regular people think hard about gratitude.  Those of us in AA are called to live it, every single day.  That’s an excellent way to live.

Advanced Humility

Still, however, God continued with my spiritual growth. He showed me, as F. B.
Meyer suggests, that even while I sang His praises, I was inclined to admire my own
singing. He showed me that, while my face shone with a new light, I was noting that
fact in the mirror. He showed me that, in my most earnest appeals to come to Christ,
I was greatly admiring my own earnestness. He showed me that I was proud even of
my new humility and that I congratulated myself on the knowledge of divine things
which other men might not possess.
Carole and I are reading “I Was a Pagan” by V.C. Kitchen.  This was published in 1934 and it describes well some of the Oxford Group philosophy that helped form AA.  Honestly, there are phrases and concepts that leap off the page at us as being extremely familiar, they are so similar to what we find in the Big Book and the 12 and 12.  This book I do recommend that others read, though I have to say I don’t think I could read it nearly as well alone as I do with someone.  If I didn’t have Carole to read these things with, I would probably look to form some kind of meeting to do it, and I would probably run into problems with “unapproved” literature, but she’s here so I’m not facing that.  But that’s a topic for a different post.
We are almost to the end of the book and yesterday we read the passage quoted above, and it smacked us both in the face for its truth and humor.  The book IS Christian, and AA is NOT Christian, so readers will have to be able to get past the C-word in order to profit from the book.  My personal translation of “come to Christ” would be something like “follow the will of my Higher Power.”  So ” . . . my higher power showed me . . . that, even while I sang the praises of God (my higher power), I was inclined to admire my own singing.  God showed me that, while my face shown in a new light, I was noting that fact in the mirror.  God showed me that, in my most honest appeals to know and follow God’s will for me, I was greatly admiring my own earnestness.  God showed me that I was proud even of my new humility and that I congratulated myself on the knowledge of things which others might not possess.”
I just ran this past Carole and asked her what it meant to her, and she said something like, “It shows me where I still need to grow.”  Something like that.  I read it and know I’m looking right at something vitally important to my continued growth, but I’m left feeling a little bit disheartened that I don’t think I’ll ever advance in this way.  I can’t imagine getting to a place where I don’t note that I’ve made progress, if I have, where I don’t admire my own earnestness.
I work with people who have developmental disabilities, and the needs are endless and profound.  There is a young woman I’m trying to help right now, and while it is my job to help her I’m doing more than my job calls for, because I want to and I can.  I’m regularly getting praise for this and the occasional satisfaction of actually getting something accomplished, plus a measure of hope goes along with the situation that I can really change something by the force of my efforts for this person, and I find the hope reinforcing as well.  That’s all well and good.  What I’m trying to describe and maybe bring to light is the positive emotion it all engenders in me.  I cannot understand, at the base of it, if it’s wrong for me to get pleasure out of the praise, the internal satisfaction, the feeling that I really helped change something for the better.
I’m not suffering in the helping.  It does bring me closer to a bad situation than I want to be, but I’m not made to visit her awful environment. I give up a small amount of time and no amount of money or material goods.  Sure many people in my place wouldn’t do what I’m doing, but I know they probably do other good things.  I’m not better than most of them.  I say most of them because I’ve known some bad people but not many.  I think I need to think about more and come back to it.  There seems to be some kind of root of humility that I don’t understand.

“Well,” says the newcomer . . . (Step Two continued)

“Well,” says the newcomer, “I know you’re telling me the
truth. It’s no doubt a fact that A.A. is full of people who
once believed as I do. But just how, in these circumstances,
does a fellow ‘take it easy’? That’s what I want to know.”
“That,” agrees the sponsor, “is a very good question in-
deed. I think I can tell you exactly how to relax. You won’t
have to work at it very hard, either. Listen, if you will, to
these three statements. First, Alcoholics Anonymous does
not demand that you believe anything. All of its Twelve
Steps are but suggestions.
Those are some of the most important words written in the AA literature about AA, I do believe.  Critics will say that individuals at meetings may disagree, and say that if you don’t believe as they do, you will drink, and die.  And a few individuals may say that, but this (to me) is the official AA line.
I hope newcomers or chronic relapsers (like I was) can take heart there, and continue on just that, if they need to.  I came to AA and I left AA (by drinking) and came back and repeated and repeated and repeated.  They did not demand I believe anything.
The group is surely a higher power.  Any group of people is a power greater than me, because I’m only one.  Any group of AA people was a power greater than me when they were able to stop drinking alcoholically and I was not able to.  People who try to skip parts of the program or skimp and parts will be warned, as they should.  I will warn them, if I can, because skipping and skimping meant I couldn’t achieve sobriety, and drinking meant I risked my life and the life of countless innocent others.
I hear that some people achieve sobriety with groups modeled after AA but minus the higher power concept.  That’s great.  I don’t know any of those people, but then I hang out in AA meetings, so I wouldn’t.  If those groups really are successful, they will flourish, and I’ll be glad.  So far they’re not catching on very well.  I also hear there are psychological therapies and medical interventions that succeed, and again, I’m glad.  Maybe the person next to me at work is the product of such a success, but I don’t think so.  Those things are expensive if nothing else, so not readily available.
AA does not demand you believe anything, or do anything, or say anything, or be anything.  AA’s will tell you what worked for them, and if you’re very fortunate, it will work for you as well.

November 1, 2014 (this day)

IMG_1235Last Monday night at around 7:30 my mother’s friend called.  I’ll call her Daniela.  She had been on the phone with my mother when my mother suddenly couldn’t speak, and then the phone went dead.  Daniela lives several hundred miles away from my mother, and I live several hundred miles away from both of them.  Carole called the police in my mother’s area and they said they would check on her.

Now my version of this story is different from Carole’s, even though it happened less than a week ago and we were both paying attention.  This happens often, and we won’t let the fact that I have a degree in journalism and am an investigator for the state give my version any more credence than hers.  Ahem.

Anyway an hour later Carole called back and found out they had sent her to a hospital.  The hospital said she’d been there for six minutes, and they didn’t know what was what.  Finally Daniela called back and said that my mother’s husband had called Daniela to let her know that my mother was drunk, had passed out and was now in the hospital.

Carole called my mother’s husband.  He said that my mother had been drinking for two days.  He said that earlier that afternoon, my mother had gone outside to get the mail and didn’t come back in.  When he looked for her he found her passed out on the walkway.  He dragged her inside and she said she was fine.  An hour later he heard a crash and found her again passed out, this time hung up between the printer and the fax machine.  When I hear this, I recall one of the few memories I have of my father (he died from alcoholism when I was six and he was 33) when I saw him passed out and hung between the couch and the coffee table.  This time there was a little blood and my mother’s husband called an ambulance.  My mother refused to go to the hospital and signed a waiver that she was going against medical advice.  Three hours later, my mother was talking to Daniela when she passed out again.  This time the ambulance took and, her husband said, kept her.  She got two stitches in her head.

The next day Carole and my son talked to my mother on the phone.  She was home, denying any of it had ever happened and that she actually hadn’t gone to the hospital at all, though she did admit she has two stitches in her head.  She’s not a doctor.  She could not stitch her own head.

I am 52 years old, and she is 75.  When I tell people that it’s never too late to give your child a sober parent, I am not kidding.  It is not too late.

Illness or Character Defect?

A reader asks:  Lydia, I’m new to your site and much of it makes sense. How ever with the defect issue I have one thing that bothers me. That would be the influence of anyone with a mental illness. To be clear I’m talking about a diagnosis from Mental Health professional and not one of self diagnosis. I struggle with this. Depression for one is an illness and not a defect in character. I struggle with the concept of defect in relationship to mental illness. Where is the line between a defect and an illness? Maybe you addressed it in another post regardless I would be interested in your take on this.
Thanks Doug

******Extremely important disclaimer:  All that’s written here is my opinion only.  I have no special training or credentials.  I have lots of opinions, and when someone asks, I usually will give it.*******

I gave this question a lot of thought, for many reasons.  Critics of AA find fertile ground here.  AA members span the spectrum on what they think about these things.  As I hope we all know, AA is not an inherently safe place, and people can find someone to say just about anything there.

And that’s part of the problem.  Mental illnesses (including alcoholism), physical illnesses, terrible life situations, bad luck.  Alcoholics can and do use all of these to manipulate people including doctors and therapists.  They can and do use all of these things to manipulate the people in their lives.  They can and do use these things to avoid sobriety, to avoid work, to obtain drugs, to get or avoid attention.

I have personally been pregnant and given birth, I’ve had teeth removed and a dental implant, I’ve gone through bad emotional crises in sobriety and I’ve been offered drugs that I didn’t need and that are dangerous to me by doctors who I’ve specifically asked not to do that.

For me, it is incredibly dangerous.  Once the drug enters my system, my ability to think clearly is compromised.  My brain reacts in a way that does not care if my tooth actually hurts beyond my ability to bear it.  It craves the sensation of those drugs and once it has some it wants more.

Sitting here now, sober, I can recognize and avoid all that.  But “what if” I actually need the drug and have to take it?

What if I don’t actually need it and want to take it?

I know people who have gone out and died because of needed pain killers.  I know people who have not been able to bear the psychic pain of depression and who have killed themselves.

Is “depression” a character defect?  I think so, yes, for just about everyone.  Depression as a mental illness is something else that only some people experience.  Personally I absolutely cannot judge what someone else is going through, and this troubles me very much when I’m asked to counsel or sponsor someone who needs to take psychoactive drugs.  I know that they can be easily abused and misused and cause death.  I know that a lack of effective treatment for some mental disorders can cause death.  What I don’t know is the mind of the person I’m talking to, or thinking about.

People who have serious mental illnesses, including depression, or serious physical disorders, in my opinion, may face a much more difficult time achieving and maintaining sobriety than people who do not have those things in addition to alcoholism.  I try to move very very cautiously when I listen to those people.  I’m afraid I usually end up on the side of not being tough enough in my questions about, “Do you really need this drug?”

The thing is it’s just so, so dangerous to take them.  If there’s any way to avoid it, I’m for that.  But of course I realize there is more danger, for some people, to not take them.  Problem is, all of us alcoholics in some way want to be the person who has to take the drug.

So, to answer the question, is there a line between the illness and the character defect?  I think there is, but it’s a dotted line, not a solid line.  A person who has the mental illness can still suffer from the character defect, and probably does, as we all do to some degree.  It may be harder for that person to deal with the character defect.  That said, in my real life I do know some people who have mental illnesses including depression who are successfully sober for long periods of time in AA.  I can’t pretend to know what they go through, but from my staunchly pro-AA standpoint it seems to me they have lives that are so much richer because they work the steps and participate in the fellowship of the program that was in large part designed, by the way, by a famous depressive, Bill W.

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.