July 23, 2015 (this day)

I have never lived alone, and that’s actually making me feel a little bit ……less than?  I have often been home alone, though, from a time when I was too young to be until now.  I really enjoy the feeling of having no demands on me for a time, although I do have the demands of the pesky job and pesky critters.  But in between, lots of unobligated time.  When these times first occurred they made me antsy.  I had moved from living with my mother to living with my ex.  I had gotten pregnant and had two children and it was years before I spent a night without them, but it eventually happened.  At those time, all those many years ago, drinking sometimes occurred to me in a way it didn’t at any other time.  I think sanity had returned to me at least in knowing that if I drank with the children dependent on me I was risking their lives and their health.  I knew that they would find me passed out and incapacitated.  But with them gone……   I’d think about it, very briefly, and happily I never went beyond that and tried it.

And all these years later, the thing that is going to give structure to my weekend home alone is my AA meeting.  The week days will taken care of by the aforementioned job.  And, when I’m not there, the critters (three cats, one dog).  And Sims.

Life is good.

The Intellectually Self-Sufficient Man or Woman (Step Two continued)

Now we come to another kind of problem:  the intellectually self-sufficient man or woman.  To these, many A.A.’s can say, “Yes, we were like you–far too smart for our own good.  We loved to have people call us precocious.  We used our education to blow ourselves up into prideful balloons, though we were careful to hide this from others.  Secretly, we felt we could float above the rest of the folks on our brainpower alone.  Scientific progress told us there was nothing man couldn’t do.  Knowledge was all-powerful.  Intellect could conquer nature.  Since we were brighter than most folks (so we thought), the spoils of victory would be ours for the thinking.  The god of intellect displaced the God of our fathers.  But again John Barleycorn had other ideas.  We who had won so handsomely in a walk turned into all-time losers.  We saw that we had to reconsider or die.  We found many in A.A. who once thought as we did.  They helped us get down to our right size.  By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.  When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, and faith which works.  This faith is for you, too.”

This section gives me goosebumps.  “Reconsider, or die.”  It sounds melodramatic until I put names to the concept.  Today I’ll add Kelly.  We talked to her mother last night.

I think I came a generation after the “God of my fathers” had already been displaced.  My parents were and are decidedly not religious and of unknown but not obvious spirituality.  My grandparents likewise were not religious or obviously spiritual, though my grandmother was very superstitious.  My Catholic great grandmother warned all and sundry who attended my father’s wedding in a Lutheran church that God would strike them dead.  They attended anyway, apparently unfazed, and many have died but some still live 55 years later.  Such was my upbringing and, as far as it goes, being smart was viewed as a good thing in family, and it still is.    The idea I try to impress on the young people in my turn is that smarts is a gift, something unearned and that, as the passage says, humility has to come first if a smart one is to lead a happy life.

“The spoils of victory” weren’t mine for the thinking.  I could not think my way out of my alcoholic drinking.  I tried, to some extent.  I read about alcoholism, things like that, but I did so while and drinking and the happy result for me is that I concluded I needed help.  The psychological help offered by my school and by the therapists my mother sent me to never seemed like any kind of solution at all.  The people in AA said they understood, and I believed them.  They said they were sober and happy, and I believed them.  In terrible desperation, the times when I fought to stop drinking, there was something in my that cried out to “God” but the people and the program were, to me, a much more understandable, provable, tangible higher power.  And it took some time of just refraining from drinking for me to move beyond that.  I was such a case that I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t think very much or very well while under the influence.

So, they showed me that humility and intellect could be compatible?  Yes.  Some have showed me this by example.  Certainly it is true for me that when I placed humility first, by admitting that the people of AA had a solution to my problem that I did not have, I was able to receive the gift of a faith that works.

But personally I find, sometimes, and anti-intellectual prejudice in AA (and elsewhere in the country, in the world) and I try to speak out about it every time I see it.  Yes, as this passage illuminates, you can be “too smart” for AA, if you can’t summon up enough humility to follow suggestions, stop drinking and work the program.  Reconsider or die.  But I think you can be too stupid for AA as well.  And by that I don’t mean having a low IQ.  It’s true for me that I need to still put some intellectual effort behind my participation in AA or I’ll get numb and bored and, for me, I think that could be dangerous and possibly result in my drinking eventually.  “A simple program for complicated people . . . ”  Well, it’s really not all that simple.  Which to me is a good thing.  I’m a complicated person (and I don’t mean that in a good way) and I need complications to engage me.  Or at least I enjoy having complications that engage me.  It’s worked for me so far.

July 8, 2015 (this day)

IMG_1094

I would like to say that I learned a lot about fear, but it would be more accurate and more honest to say that I hope I have learned a lot about fear.

I went to Alaska.  I came home again.  I am afraid to fly, afraid to leave my pets, and I don’t like to travel.  I don’t like to shop, and I don’t like to spend money, two of the primary activities on a vacation like this.  I don’t like to leave my work for that long.  I don’t like to be out of touch, and in Alaska, on the water, there is no internet and frequently no phone.   This was a long distance, and a long time.  Seven members of my family went also, including four members of the oldest generation now, and it was hard to say goodbye to them at the end.  One member of my family got into big, serious trouble with alcohol.  I could make a joke, and point out that it happens often, but the fact is that many of my family members died young, alcoholic deaths.  So that was worrying.  When that wasn’t worrying, there was alcohol at every dinner, and sometimes at other times, and thankfully in my normal life I do not get that close to it every day.  There were no “real” meetings (more about that later, maybe), sparse program reading and not much program contact.

IMG_0118

There were some of the most incredible sights I will ever see, sights that most people in the world never get to see.

I feel a huge sense of guilt listing all the ways this trip was difficult for me.  I didn’t hold my family back, and I hope I was mostly pleasant and someone they were glad to have along.  I am happy with myself that I went and I made it, and unhappy with myself because of the degree of distress I let it cause me.

I was at a meeting two nights ago where they read from the Daily Reflections book and it said something about not being willing to suffer from the effects of my character defects anymore.  I’m not willing to.

Right now, today, I don’t know what to do about that.

When Is a Meeting No Longer an A.A. Meeting?

A reader asks:  I … have a question about when would a meeting evolve to no longer be an AA meeting?

Page 563 of the Big Book answers:

Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A.
group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
My personal feelings about it are that I’m glad it’s broad, and accepting.  I don’t think that these “special” meeting threaten AA in a serious way.  I don’t think that meetings that part from the traditions last long, or thrive or survive over time.

June 14, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0984In two different and somewhat wacky situations, Carole and I have visited two old institutions this month.  These are asylums built in the 1840s and beyond, now abandoned.

In a different time I would have been locked up in one of these, if I was lucky.  Until recently there was no AA, and I doubt that any of the previous or current, for that matter, treatments would have worked for me.

AA works for me and it has been for 31 years.  I recently heard an “oldtimer” or three talk about the good old days of AA, 30 years ago or more, when they started.  AA was better than, they say, and they worry about the future of it, it’s gotten into such a state.

All this talk does, I think, it possibly discourage the newcomer who has been unlucky enough to miss the glory days.  I disagree with this.  I think AA is just as vital and flourishing and wonderful as it ever has been in my 31 years of sobriety and 36 (7?) years of attending meetings.  I would like to ask these oldtimers to talk amongst themselves, for goodness sake, and not express these things at a meeting that includes newcomers.

Anyway.  I will soon fly far away and I’m still afraid of flying.  Faithful long time readers and people who know me may remember that years ago I flew thousands of miles.  I’m afraid to fly and I’m afraid to take drugs that will change my fear into something else chemically induced.  I’m afraid I will love the drugs too much, and end up in a screened off room.  I’m afraid I’ll have to fly regularly, and need the drug regularly.  I’m afraid I’ll have to fly in some emergency without notice and not be able to secure the drug.  For these reasons and because I’m an alcoholic, I choose not to take drugs to deal with fear, today.  I may change my mind about that some day, but not today.

So instead I’d like to deal with my fear and get rid of it.  I succeed at this to some degree because of what I’ve learned in AA and in childbirth.  I’m thinking of it from the angle of sanity.  It is not sane to fear flying, because flying is safe.  Also from the angle of character defect.  This fear is an invention of my over-evolved mind.  What I focus on grows.  Or my two favorite thoughts of the moment.  One, my daughter is not in Greece!  Two, there are many many people who have real problems.

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful

Remember that we deal with alcohol–cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us.

Cunning, baffling, powerful.  Sly, deceiving, confusing, perplexing, bewildering, mighty, having great influence.  It isn’t the liquid itself that possesses these qualities, but my desire to drink it in the face of my imminent destruction.  I’m reading a biography of e. e. cummings, and in it he describes his friends who went to their alcoholic deaths as “lemmings,” members of a group who follow an unthinking course toward mass destruction.  e. e. apparently learned to successfully moderate his drinking.  Lots of others did not.

To be a little lyrical, I sometimes can picture my alcoholism as something alive and separate from me, but part of me.  A hideous parasite that will kill us both.  Sayings like “the disease that tells you you don’t have a disease” resonate with me.  “That’s your disease talking,” makes sense to me.  It’s like there’s this entity that is bent on self-destruction.  I know it exists.  Like e. e. cummings, I’ve seen the people go to their deaths, brought there by their own hands.

I think that for me, for today, the part that wants to kill me is weak and actually dormant.  I’m smarter than it.  I’m not deceived.  I’m not confused about this, at least.  The part of me that wants to live is more powerful than the force inside me that wants to die.  The liquid has no power over me while it remains in the glass.  The program has given me the power to leave it there for today.

May 31, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0450

We went to a meeting at this place in Canada last year.  This year, I don’t know.  Alaska?  Maybe.  Probably not.  I know I did not want to go to a French-speaking meeting in Canada, since I don’t speak French.  Happily English meetings were plentiful.  It’s a blessing I’m always aware of and grateful for, the meetings in the places I go.  I know many people in the world aren’t so lucky.

We celebrated May anniversaries at my group last night and I got an XXXI coin.  It’s truly amazing to me, like an unfathomable amount of money or something.  I remember a long time a ago when a sponsor of mine celebrated 16 years and that seemed like an incredibly long amount of time to have in the program, not drinking.

I don’t have much to write about, but I do want to say that I still participate in Alcoholics Anonymous for many reasons, but I guess the biggest reason is that some bit of sanity has returned to me, and I realize that without it I couldn’t stop drinking, and that drinking was killing me and giving me an awful life in the mean time.

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)

IMG_2702

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.

_______________________________________________________________________________

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.

____________________________________________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________

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.