Any Number of A.A.’s can Say to the Drifter (Step Two continued)

Any number of A.A.’s can say to the drifter, “Yes, we were diverted from our childhood faith, too.  The overconfidence of youth was too much for us.  Of course, we were glad that good home and religious training had given us certain values.  We were still sure that we ought to be fairly honest, tolerant, and just, that we ought to be ambitious and hardworking.  We became convinced that such simple rules of fair play and decency would be enough.

“As material success founded upon no more than these ordinary attributes began to come to us, we felt we were winning at the game of life.  This was exhilarating, and it made us happy.  Why should we be bothered with theological abstraction and religious duties, or with the state of our souls here or hereafter?  The here and now was good enough for us.  The will to win would carry us through.  But then alcohol began to have its way with us.  Finally, when all our score cards read ‘zero,’ and we saw that one more strike would put us out of the game forever, we had to look for our lost faith.  It was in A.A. that we rediscovered it.  And so can you.”

Again, I’ve included this mostly for completeness.  I find it interesting that the passage goes from “alcohol began to have its way with us” to “one more strike would put us out of the game forever. ”  For me, the time between those two was very short.  The time when, for example, my good enough behavior and intelligence got me good grades in high school to the time when alcohol made me fail and drop college classes was very short.  I’m grateful.  So that’s the way I came back to believe, by being driven to my knees by the obsession to drink.

May 17, 2015 (this day)

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Something old!  That’s me!!  On May 1 I marked 31 years sober in AA.

There are people, I know them, who want to go out most nights to meetings the way they wanted to go out to the bar.  There are people who need the endless repetition of the 12 steps and first 164 pages over and over and over again lest they lapse into alcoholic thinking.  I’m glad they are there and I suspect they form the backbone of AA.

That’s not me.  I drank at home and I prefer to be sober at home.  I get bored with the same material interpreted in the same way over and over and over again.  I need intellectual stimulation to keep my interested and yes, entertained.

I find all that in AA.  I always have, and I have hope and faith that I always will.

Courage to Change the Things I Can (from the Serenity Prayer)

Immediately when I contemplate this I know that I can only change myself, primarily, my mind.  There are worldly things I can and should work to change as much as I can, but change in the object is not assured.  I can only try.

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The changes I attempt to bring about in myself are mostly things that bother me.  OK, they are always things that bother me.  My character defects bother me, and so I seek to change them.  I’ve heard it said a lot lately in the rooms that I can’t think my way into right action, I have to act my way into right thinking.  I learned this, didn’t I, when I had to stop drinking first in order to achieve sobriety?   My drunken self was never ever ready to live life sober.  I had to act sober by not drinking in order to learn how to do it and to get comfortable at it and to get good at it.

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So it goes with the things I try to change now.  I’m trying to be a thinner person by counting calories and so eating like a thinner person eats.  My chubby self is never ready to eat like a thin person.  I’ve learned over the years to stop when something triggers anger in me, not to react but to let it sit for a while and see how I feel about it when the anger chemicals aren’t flowing.  I’m trying to do that with the things I fear.  I’m trying to calm my body and my mind and feed the rational, sane side that knows for a fact this thing is not dangerous, or that nothing bad is happening right here, right now.

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I’m finding it harder to change as I get older, and I think that’s because the changes are not so drastic now, plus I have to accept the changes of aging, and those can be difficult to adjust to.  As always I’m extremely grateful for the template Alcoholics Anonymous has provided as directions for how to do these things, and the successful it has given me in doing it.  Can the pickle ever turn back to the cucumber?  I don’t know, but today I don’t seek or even accept alcohol, and that is a drastic and successful change if ever there was one.

April 28, 2015 (this day)

She’s there and she’s fine.  I’m here and I’m fine.  This amazing life is brought to me by Alcoholics Anonymous!

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The anticipation was murder, and the first day was pretty bad as well.  I’ve been engaging in nonstop activities of many sorts like meetings, work, shopping, a play, a concert.  I’m still terribly, terribly worried and frightened also, but I’m able to tolerate it and enjoy my days and nights.  I don’t have much time for the regular stuff, like writing here.  But that’s OK.  I’m making it.  And I’m practicing for the next time.  Because my darling daughter informed me that “next” she wants to go to Argentina.

Sometimes AA comes harder (Step Two continued)

Sometimes A.A. comes harder to those who have lost or rejected faith than to those who never had any faith at all, for they think they have tried faith and found it wanting. They have tried the way of faith and the way of no faith. Since both ways have proved bitterly disappointing, they have concluded there is no place whatever for them to go. The roadblocks of indifference, fancied self-sufficiency, prejudice, and defiance often prove more solid and formidable for these people than any erected by the unconvinced agnostic or even the militant atheist. Religion says the existence of God can be proved; the agnostic says it can’t be proved; and the atheist claims proof of the nonexistence of God. Obviously, the dilemma of the wanderer from faith is that of profound confusion. He thinks himself lost to the comfort of any conviction at all. He cannot attain in even a small degree the assurance of the believer, the agnostic, or the atheist. He is the bewildered one.
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I don’t have a lot to say about this section or the one that follows, but I want to include them for completeness and because it’s good for me to study the whole text.  I was brought up in what I think was a typical fashion regarding religion in my time and place.  I had a childish “faith” because, as I child, I believed what I was told as much as I could.  I found it wanting and turned away from it and arrived at AA, at the age of 16, firmly against “God” and religion and not participating in those aspects of AA.  Not praying, for example, though I stood and held hands.    Many of the people I hear talk at meetings say they arrived not knowing much of anything.  Regardless, the important message is that AA has space for everyone, and people of every attitude have successfully recovered.

April 15, 2015 (this day)

I’m having a tough time (as I’ve written and written and written and written).  I’m terrified that something awful will happen to my daughter on her week in Greece, and right now I can’t imagine coping while she’s gone.  She lives, I have to point out, more than five hundred miles away from me here in the US so I can’t exactly respond to an emergency when she’s “home.”  She is, I will also add, 29 years old, and so far a much better put together human being than I ever was.  She is (a daughter is) what at one time I wanted more out of life than anything else.  She is more amazing and remarkable than any daughter I could have dreamed up, if I could have described my ideal.

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And so.  I’ve planned activities for myself after work when she’s gone.  I’ve planned to buy a new computer then (and new Sims!!!) a new toy to distract me.  I plan to make lots of meetings.  I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of trying to go to all of the meetings in my area’s meeting list, which won’t ever happen because it covers a very wide geographical distance but I think it will be interesting to try.  Well, there’s the distance and the fact of that pesky day job.

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I love my job and I am aware that it is an incredible blessing to love your job, a blessing which most people probably never experience.  I need to rededicate myself to it because these should be some of my prime working years, and because my work partner will retire probably ten years before I do.  I’m also incredibly blessed by being able to work in social services and have a wonderful life because I don’t have to support myself.

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I’m nearing (God willing-Carole hates that, of course God wills it!) thirty-one years sober on May 1st.  Should I present at meetings as the basket case I currently am, or is that a bad reflection of long-term sobriety?  I don’t know, but I think I should present that way.  My problems are luxury problems for sure, luxuries made possible by AA because I was dying without it and certainly could not have brought forth and nurtured new life to the point where it could take itself to Greece unaccompanied …  I am a mess, but I’m not self-destructing and actually I am looking for ways, in the midst of this, to CONstruct a better and less anxious me.  From someone who was killing myself with alcohol I have evolved into someone who knows with restored sanity that drinking would bring tragedy on all my situations.

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This is what (almost) 31 looks like and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

Courage

SAM_2532This little tree held on for who knows how many years, trying to grow up through the hedges.  It was spared the blade of the lawn mower but kept getting cut down with the bushes until we decided to let it grow.

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As I thought about courage, thunder started (early in the year, for goodness sake) and the dog began her thunder shake.  She gets scared down to her bones, although bad people and giant dogs don’t scare her.  I don’t actually know if she’s met any bad people, but she has charged and frightened more than one Newfoundland at the dog park, and though she’s big, she’s not that big.  I remember commenting about this to a friend and she said, “She knows what to do about people and dogs, but not thunder.”

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I’m full of fear right now, and courage means something like “the ability to do what frightens one.”  I have no choice but to live through my daughter’s adventure, and then on to my own long, long, long flights, long and far away trip.  I have a choice there, but I’ve always chosen to fly even though it frightens me.  So maybe I do have courage, but also lots of anxiety.  There’s no way to know how I’d be if I’d lived and not had the program.  I assume, based on my history, that I’d be a horrific mess who couldn’t raise someone as awesome as my daughter, or think about  traveling to Alaska.

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The “courage to change the things I can” of the Serenity Prayer means, to me, to change my mind.  I’m battling to have my rational mind understand that flight is safer than driving, that whatever the outcome for my daughter, my fear adds nothing to the situation but weakens me.  It takes some courage to stop drinking and to go along with a program like AA for a little while, until rewards start to happen.  To do what frightens one.

April 2, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0354A year ago a big leak lead to a partially redone kitchen.  There were frightening moments, and honestly what I was frightened about was money.  How much it would cost.  This year there is a falling ceiling in the basement.  But, we wanted an old house!  We do love the old house.  I love to imagine who sat in this room before me, who looked out this window, what she saw, what she thought.  And we’re privileged and blessed with the resources to keep the house up.  And we even have a legally gay marriage.  The man we bought the house from had bought it from “a spinster and her mother.”  If the “spinster” was gay (which, weren’t they all?) I’m sure she couldn’t have imagined us here in her house, legal and all.

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I’m worried.  My daughter is going to Greece this month, and everyone and her uncle agrees this is a frightening thing.  I’m going to Alaska after that and most normal people wouldn’t be frightened of that, but I am.  I could easily spend all this time wrapped up in fear and I don’t want to do that.  Easter is coming, and I’m not going to see my daughter, she lives so far away and is getting ready for her big trip.  I’m not going to see my extended family because I moved away from them a long time ago.  I would love to experience the babies my younger cousins are having but I’m not going to.

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So, the lessening of fear and the cultivation of gratitude.  These are my projects for this month and next.  In one month I will have 31 years of sobriety, and I didn’t do all that to suffer like this.  So easy to be so hard on ourselves.  I should be better by now.  Hell, I should have been better a long time ago.  Of course we don’t get to know what I would have been like without the program, assuming I lived, which I would not have.  Come to think of it, I’m actually being afraid of some of the rewards of sobriety.  I’m determined to surrender that, and to stop it.

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And, like I said to Carole, whatever happens after this, for the rest of my life I can say, “At least she’s not in Greece!”

Smashed

Smashed, by Koren Zailckas, is a memoir of the author’s “drunken girlhood.”  It was an interesting experience for me to read it.  My history with alcohol between the ages of 16 and 22 is here in this blog.  Basically I drank too much too often.  Whereas I sought out solitude, though, Zailckas sought out company and so reading the book showed me what I might have been like in a parallel universe.

She remembers her experiences very vividly, except for when she doesn’t, and she describes them beautifully, maybe with an over-abundance of metaphors, but beautifully.  It is most certainly a cautionary tale for  young drinkers.  She got hurt, badly, many times, and like me I think she’s just lucky that she survived.

Zailckas says she’s not an alcoholic, yet the only way she’s found to cope with alcohol is to abstain.  She says in the book that she’s gone to AA meetings, but she doesn’t describe any or report actually going, just walking past two.  It seems there is a school of thought that labeling someone alcoholic will impede or prevent that person from seeking help.  That may be, but would labeling someone as having cancer impede or prevent that person from seeking help?  No one wants to be alcoholic.

Smashed doesn’t describe any program of recovery or way to recover.  If Zailckas has recovered, that’s great.  Letting young women know that their dangerous drinking is common is also, in a way, great.  But this book doesn’t point the way toward any kind of happy ending, even if the author experiences one.  I would urge anyone who identifies with the drinking described in Smashed to seek out AA.

Consider Next the Plight of Those Who Once Had Faith (Step Two continued)

Consider next the plight of those who once had faith, but have lost it.  There will be those who have drifted into indifference, those fill with self-sufficiency who have cut themselves off, those who have become prejudiced against religion, and those who are downright defiant because God has failed to fulfill their demands.  Can A.A. experience tell all these they may still find a faith that works?

Those who have become prejudiced against religion I meet many of in the rooms of AA.  It’s a common occurrence and an affinity many of us have for each other, and it can take a little explaining to help people understand that AA itself is not religious.  I was very young when I started, and I didn’t know much about AA, and I didn’t have the “cult” perception that seems common now.  But I was smart enough to understand that they were praying and chanting and that did seem like religion to me.  For that reason I’m personally against chanting at meetings.  I politely stand there and probably no one knows I don’t chant.

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Those filled with self-sufficiency make me smile.  How self-sufficient is someone who shows up at AA due to a drinking problem?  Most newcomers I meet and some degree of terrible shape or they wouldn’t be at an AA meeting.  “Your best thinking got you here” applies in more ways than one.

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Indifference and defiance.  The long and short of it is that AA taught me a different kind of belief in a higher power, and different reliance on concepts outside of my own making than I had ever understood before.  Defying a higher power is just stupid.  It’s higher, it will win.  Alcoholism is also more powerful than I am.  If I fight it, it will win.  Me against it is a match with only one outcome.

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At this point in my sobriety I find it very difficult to keep going forward and to keep increasing my understanding of these concepts and what the universe wants from me.  Somewhere else in the literature there is a sentence something like, “this is the way to a faith that works,” or “a faith that works under all circumstances.”  I’ve shared before that my circumstances have never been all that difficult and I really haven’t been tested with big time hardship or tragedy.  So I don’t know if my faith would work then.  I do know that “God” does give people more than they can handle.  It happens all the time.  It’s happening now.  For what I’ve been through, the program has been more than sufficient.  For what’s to come I will have to wait and see.