December 20, 2014 (this day)

SAM_2396I’m having extreme business due to the time of year, plus the fact that Carole and I are having our attic finished.  Not finished like heated, but finished like having the ceiling and walls completed.  I love attics.  My love started with my grandparents’ attic where I found relics of my mother’s and her siblings’ past.  I’m also horribly sentimental when it comes to objects and clothing.  I also did not know, until it was way past too late, that I would have only two children.  I always wanted more.


So when my daughter outgrew things I packed them up.  When my son was born I went through them and took out everything a boy could use.  The girls things, the majority of her things, went back into packing.  Then my best friend had three boys, and most of the my son’s things got passed on to her, but the girl things remained and I have moved them across the country and back again.  I’m now finding box after box of pristine girl clothes, more than 25 years old.


I’m also finding relics of my own from before then.  There are many of my papers and tests from college, from 1982 and 1983, the years before I stopped drinking.  Failed tests, terrible papers.  Then a sonogram from May 1, 1985, my first sober anniversary.  I was five months pregnant.


In general it is a terrible idea to get married and pregnant your first year of sobriety, and the marriage was truly a bad idea and didn’t work out.  The kids, or course, I cannot regret.  And a part of me wonders if I didn’t need that life change to finally get sober and stay sober.  At times I used to feel guilty, like I was faking sobriety somehow because I got pregnant, then was a mother, and that’s why I didn’t drink.  At the same time I know that many women got pregnant and became a mother and did continue to drink.


As I’m writing this, my work partner is texting me regarding our combined gift to our staff.  We have 40 people we supervise now, more than ever, and 88 clients, more than ever.  My attic is getting cleaned and my wife and son (and dog) want to go with me to see my daughter, who wants to see us!  Carole and I have been legally married for one year today.  Wonders never cease.


IMG_0314We found, quite by accident, the cemetery of a closed mental institution near where my daughter now lives.  Neglected graves are a problem for closed institutions, and of course as we see here the people were buried without a name, a date, a relationship, or anything besides a number that was given arbitrarily.  I can only wonder about #1253.  Who was it?  How old?  Male or female?  Many people ended up in institutions due to alcoholism and disabilities resulting from alcoholism.  I could have easily been #1253 if I had been born in another time and place.


The speaker at my meeting last night asked the question, “What kind of service are you good at?”  He felt he didn’t give a “good” lead, but that there were other aspects of service he was better at and enjoyed more.


I was thinking recently about other methods of recovery from alcoholism, other than AA, and how most of them don’t ask the recovered person to “pass it on.”  Lots of recovery aim to get the person better, and maybe to maintain that state of health, but usually they don’t then encourage or require the person who has gotten better to go help other people get better.


I often hear people say that aside from a release from alcohol, one of the best, most important things they’ve gained in AA is an unbelievable community.  I also hear that if I don’t participate and work with other alcoholics, I’m in danger of relapse.  I’ve also read that other “temperance” (anti-alcohol) movements may have died out because they didn’t reach out.


AA is not a pyramid scheme and no one recruits or gets credit for bringing people in.  These days new people usually show up on our doorstep and we do our best to help them.  Threats like “if you don’t follow the program you may drink again and if you drink again you may die this time” come from bitter and tragic experience, not an AA manual.


I think it’s safe to say that most of us in AA feel compassion, sympathy toward suffering alcoholics and the desire to share what we’ve found and help them.  The admonition to me that I need to do this in order to stay sober is just the kind of kick in the pants I need.  Not because I don’t want to help.  I do want to help.  But because it would be so much easier for me not to help.  I’ve gotten my recovery.  I’ve got better things to do.  Good luck to you.


So I’m trying to view the concept of compassion in a broader sense, to practice this principle in all of my affairs.  I am a caretaker, to a large extent.  That is natural for me and rewarding for me.  But the people and animals I take care of are a select bunch.  They are mostly the people and animals that I find appealing to help.  I pass by a lot of distress every day that I don’t reach out to touch.  I need to grow in compassion, even when the threat of relapse isn’t involved.

December 8, 2014 (this day)

IMG_0625The sky often on fire like this when I go to work and when I come home at this time of year.  Beautiful.  Sometimes though that sun is blazing in my eyes each way, and that is difficult for me to bear.  It comes through the windshield at just the right angle to blind me, and I can’t get the visor in any position to block it.


This time of year is wonderful and difficult for me.  There are lots of interactions required of me, lots of time spent with people.  Like most of us I also miss people at this time.  I was just looking at pictures of my grandparents first as children, then as my grandparents.  It surprises me every time I see a new person on Facebook I went to school with way back when.  We’ve all gotten so old.


There are things I feel sad and even bitter about, but AA has taught me that I can’t stay in those feelings for very long.  They will eventually cause me to drink.  And I don’t know when eventually is.  More than that, I’ve learned to feel serenity and happiness.  I want those, every time they leave I want them back.  I’ve learned how to cultivate them and I’ll keep doing that as much as I can for as long as I can.


There will be moments coming up in the next few weeks when I find it hard to cope, when maybe  I fail to cope.  But I do not think of drinking any more than I think of breaking my own leg, or poking out my own eye.  Drinking would hurt more.  That’s what my sanity looks like today.



I remember when I heard that George McGovern’s daughter Terry had died from drinking and falling down, frozen in the snow, in 1994.  I had ten years of sobriety then, but before I got sober I had my own could-have-died experience in the snow when I pulled off the road, too drunk to continue, and snow quickly covered my car.  AA friends found me and likely saved my life that time.  They took me to the hospital for detox but when I got out of the hospital, I continued drinking.


Terry’s story is like that but obviously, ultimately, much worse.  She was a life-long journal writer, and her father went through those journals after she died, and he uses many of her own words in the book.  He was not an alcoholic, but he tried hard to understand alcoholism and to explain it to us.  Some of the passages he uses from her early journals show what we would call “alcoholic thinking,” and he does a great job tying them to her inability to maintain sobriety through many, many years of trying.


It is certainly a tragic story.  Terry had, it seems from the outside, just about everything, and her family supported her financially and spiritually and even left her to herself when it seemed best to do that.  Terry had education and brains and two great children.  She went through literally years of daily psychotherapy, and she spent years in AA.  She went to expensive elite rehabs and she got committed to hospitals against her will.  They were just about to commit her again when she chased the drink as far as possible, and she died.


I highly recommend the book.  I feel it is very well done, and it adds insight from the unusual perspective of a father informed by his daughter’s own writings.  When Terry died, I knew that it could have been me.  I knew that it would be me, if I was lucky, if I started drinking again.  It reaffirms for me that I am one of the lucky, lucky, lucky ones, just for today.

Second, to get sober and to stay sober . . . (Step Two continued)

“…Second, to get sober and to stay sober, you don’t have to swallow all of Step Two right now.  Looking back, I find that I took it piecemeal myself. Third, all you really need is a truly open mind. Just resign from the debating society and quit bothering yourself with such deep questions as whether it was the hen or the egg that came first. Again I say, all you need is the open mind.”
“To get sober and to stay sober.”  What amazing words!
I began attending AA meetings when I was sixteen, almost seventeen years old.  I had consciously turned my back on the God of my upbringing, and I was having nothing to do with the religious aspects of AA.  I held hands, but I didn’t pray.  Things like that.
No one pressured me to accept “God,” and I’m grateful.  I could understand the group as a power greater than myself, it surely was, and I could go from there.  I think I did have some understanding of an open mind.  Most of the time, when people won’t give AA a chance, I think it’s because of a closed mind, a mind that is closed to some concept or “suggestion.”
I would urge beginners not to get stuck here, but to go on.
My oldtimer take on this concept is different.  I’ve come to be at least sort of comfortable not defining the “higher power,” not actually knowing if it is supernatural or not.  I have been restored to sanity, for today, as it relates to me and my relationship to alcohol.  I know today that it’s poison to me and that if I start, I most likely will not be able to stop.  But in other ways?  There are other ways I know I deny reality, just like I kept trying to drink.  There are all kinds of manifestations of powers greater than myself.  I know they can restore my sanity on many issues, but I don’t turn my will and my life over.
To be continued.

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.