August 31, 2014 (this day)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s me, years ago, on the sixth step of Dr. Bob’s house.  I understand it was a contrived thing to give the house twelve steps, but no matter, the symbolism is wonderful.

 

Today would have been my grandmother’s birthday, and I do believe she would have been 111 years old.  When my uncle, her son, died last March, the witnesses to my last drunk were gone.  My grandfather died when I was 18.  He never knew the sober me.  He knew the child me, and the drunken me.  My grandmother did not understand my last drunken episode (so far) for what it was.  She thought I was being hyper-emotional, which of course I was, and she looked at it as a good thing, which of course it was.  But not for the reasons she recognized.  She died when I was five years sober.

 

My uncle died when I was 29 years sober, and I don’t know if he understood my last drunk for what it was.  I never talked to him about it.  I have to live with knowing that I could have made a difference, and I did not try.

 

I’m trying with other people’s aunts, though, the ones who present themselves at AA meetings and ask for my help.

 

Helping others.  When I am privileged to be at the scene of what I hope is someone’s last drunk, my sobriety is strengthened in a way that no other experience provides.  The drunks are often apologetic and sorry for wasting my time.   As I watch time go by in this way, my gratitude grows, my acceptance of my condition grows, my diligence about my sobriety grows, my acknowledgement of the miracle grows.

 

And I so hope that these desperate drunks change from my “go visit when relapsing” category to “call and include when visiting someone in relapse.”

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Non AA-Approved Literature

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The house next door to Dr. Bob’s house in Akron Ohio is filled with books.  Books they used in early AA, when they were forming the program, before there were any AA books.  My little corner of AA is generally afraid of books that aren’t A.A. approved.  A confused newcomer, the thinking goes, could be turned off by one of these books, given the wrong idea about AA, driven away to drink and die, all because of a non-approved book.  Groups are afraid even to use, it seems, the “original” text of the Big Book because it is not, alas, AA approved.

 

I’m an extreme liberal when it comes to books, no doubt, and if someone talks of banning it I try to make sure to read it.  But in AA I’m afraid that using only “approved” books narrows our world and cuts us off from our history.

 

Carole and I read non-approved books that helped form the program.  We learn a lot about the history of AA and the concepts that helped form it.  For me, after 30 years of sobriety and 36 years of attendance at AA meetings, these books add interest and depth to the program and they help me understand it more completely and love it more dearly.  These books didn’t hurt the program when it was starting, they helped it, and I believe they can help it now.

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Came to Believe (Step Two)

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

 

The moment they read Step Two, most A.A. newcomers are confronted by a dilemma, sometimes a serious one.  How often have we heard them cry out, “Look what you people have done to us!  You have convinced us that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable.  Having reduced us to a state of absolute helplessness, you now declare that none but a Higher Power can remove our obsession.  Some of us won’t believe in God, others can’t, and still others who do believe that God exists have no faith whatever He will perform this miracle.  Yes, you’ve got us over a barrel, all right–but where do we go from here?”

 

I was extremely fortunate at the beginning of my AA experience that I saw with wisdom in the concept of making the group my higher power.  I cringe when I hear people say were told that a doorknob or a rock could substitute, in the beginning.  I have never heard this suggest nor condoned.  The group, I believe, is suggested as a collection of people who have solved their alcohol problem.  In that way, they were a power far, far greater than me.  I understood it and I accepted it.

 

I had turned away from the church in a big way and at first I didn’t pray with the people at meetings or pray at all.  Not until I was desperate.

 

Now it seems to me that the belief in a higher power is necessary for newcomers to stop thinking they know everything, and that they can run their own lives.  We show up at AA because we are desperate for help, then we refuse to accept the help offered because we can do it ourselves.  Such is often the dilemma of the chronic relapser, a group I belonged to for a long time.

 

So now, oldtimer that I am, having had the alcohol problem removed from my life, how do I let my higher power restore me to sanity?  I think of it in terms of other physical things that bind me and make me unhealthy and unhappy.  I stopped smoking ten years ago now after many many attempts and partial victories.  I battle food now in a way that really isn’t very sane.

 

I also have to record that my little corner of AA suffered yet another loss, though this time the gentleman was older than the aforementioned Shaums, and this time he was sick.  He died sober, a victory.  They show me I can hope for this, and that is amazing.

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Clarity of Thought

IMG_0516The difference between clear thinking and drunken thinking is vast, and one of the first reward of sobriety that I experienced as clear(er) thinking.  Not only did alcoholism distort everything thought I had when I was under the influence, it also dominated my thoughts on the rare occasions I may have been more than halfway sober.  I always knew how much I had, where I had it, what my plan was for getting more, for getting enough.  I stayed in a terrible relationship and barely scraped through at school or any job I had.

 

Once I became sober for what would turn out to be a good long time, I was better able to work on the brainwashing that is the AA way of thinking.  And I use the word “brainwashing” with the utmost love and respect.  My brain was in desperate need of a wash.

 

The way I see it now, all the things that being active in AA mean worked together and over time to clear my thinking.  They still do, though the results are less dramatic as time goes by.  For me AA provides a plan and a map to follow, and it gives me the unlimited help of people who are being successful at it to guide me through my everyday life and huge events that I experience.  I understand people and things better than I ever had, and it’s not because I read a book or took a class or paid a therapist.

 

And if anyone reading this knows the answer to this question, please tell me:  What does the “Think Think Think” slogan mean, and why do we put the sign upside down?

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August 12, 2014 (this day)

I’m still in the “this day” mode.

I wrote about the death of a local AA member. The day of his funeral, two others of my local AA crowd got married. He would have been at the wedding. It’s not quite a baby being born, but it seems more than symbolic enough – life and death, future and past.

The couple who got married have not had an easy time of it, for many reasons. But several years now of right living has given them great rewards and amazing promise.

I’m reading another book that criticizes AA for several reasons, and it puts forth the old statement that there are more effective treatments for alcoholism than AA. What these critics don’t say is that we can’t possibly send someone to some kind of therapy, say, every day for 90 days. We can’t drive them there if they’ve lost their license. We can’t give them a list of people to call all hours of the day and night until someone answers, and we can’t give them positive role models of sobriety to emulate without AA.

A few hours ago I saw Robin Williams being interviewed by Diane Sawyer, and he said something like, “It waits. It doesn’t go away. It waits.” I’ve always kept that concept, and the word “insidious,” and the definition “patiently waiting for a chance to ensnare” close to my heart.

This is disjointed, I know, it’s just what’s been on my mind. Sometimes I’m struck with a feeling of unreality, like this really can’t be me, sober, at all, at last, and for so long.

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August 6, 2014 (this day)

My little corner of AA lost a very important person two days ago. 
It so often happens to me that when someone passes away, my estimation of that person doubles and triples in goodness.  For people in AA at least, if they die sober they are, in my eyes, the ultimate winners.  There is no proof of permanent recovery before that.  But after a sober death, it means to me that all the wonderful things they espoused were true, or true enough. 
It sounds false to me to recount here, really, that I never heard Shamus say a bad thing about anyone.  Or act annoyed, or bothered.  But it’s true.  Would I have said that last week?  I think I would have.  But I’ll never know.
I last heard him tell his story on the 4th of July at an AA gathering.  A big group.  His story had funny parts, like when he got a DUI on the way home from court appearing because of a previous DUI.  He had more DUIs, I think, than anyone I know, and I know many people with many DUIs.  His story had not so funny parts, like when he lost a really good job, or when he lived in a homeless shelter with his wife and two small children.
I knew his wife a little bit, and as a couple I know they were very helping and giving to some of the more difficult to love people who frequent AA meetings.  A few years ago, his wife died, also sober, and left him with two teenagers.  I know he’s had serious trouble with at least one of those kids.
One thing I always made note of regarding Shamus was how he’d often express something along the line of this:  “I know everything will be all right.” That is something I just can’t believe in, and I wondered how he could express that, having been through at least the death of his wife.  I kind of wish I had asked him, because now that he’s gone, I’m wondering if he had some deeper, better understanding of things than I do.  He had obviously at least in some ways reached the place where what he had been through was, for the moment, all right.
Anyway, AA is my world, and my world is in mourning.  How awesome is this place, where someone like Shamus could influence and help so many people.  How rich is my life for knowing these people on such a deep level.  It’s a miraculous, wonderful place where we go from hopeless drunks to compassionate friends and tireless helpers and where victories over alcohol take place every single day, and some are permanent.
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Step One (some closing thoughts)

On vacation, I faced a buffet of many fancy and slightly different foods than what I know and am used to.  Most of the labels, if there were any, were in French, which I studied for nine years in school but do not speak.  I take a hard line on alcohol and I like it that way.  I won’t knowingly ingest anything that contains alcohol, has been cooked with alcohol, tastes like sounds like or has ever been near alcohol.  I see no reason to do so.  I don’t want just the “taste.”  I never wanted just the taste, and the way smelling cigarette smoke makes me want to smoke, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that just the “taste” of whatever remains after the alcohol has “cooked off” will make me want to drink it.  To feel the effects, of course.  That is what I wanted from my first drink until my last.  I see absolutely no reason so risk my sobriety or my serenity for such nebulous benefits.  I have complete and total power over alcohol, as long as it remains outside of my body.

 

Anyway at this buffet, I steered clear of anything that was at all iffy, of which there really wasn’t anything, no problem.  But dessert.  When I went to try a dessert (or three or four), Carole was indisposed.  I looked at them and read them as best as I could and really didn’t see anything suspect.  And I absolutely could have asked the restaurant staff if anything contained alcohol.  I even discussed with Carole whether just asking, or saying I was “allergic” would make the explanations be more thorough but I do so hate to interact with strangers, and to draw attention to myself, and in the end I decided to go for it and see what happened.

 

There is actually a climax to this long story and it is that when I took into my mouth some white puddingish stuff that had a brown liquid at the bottom of the tiny glass cup, I had a physical reaction to what I perceived could, possibly, be alcohol.  I felt a fear reaction that went from my mouth down my throat and into my stomach.  It was visceral.

 

I sat kind of paralyzed and when Carole returned, we decided the liquid was, alas, something mapley, not alcoholic at all, not even the “cooked off” kind.

 

I just marveled and still do that I could change from someone who needed to drink second only to breathing, even though it brought me steadily and quickly toward my destruction, to someone who remembers that fact so deeply that I react physically and mentally to what I think might even just possibly be alcohol.  That is a miracle indeed.

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