Step 12 (carry this message)

I’m regularly exposed to a group of very intelligent, hardcore Big Book thumpers. I really enjoy listening to them and learning from them, especially about AA history. But also about everything else. I feel like these people have a bigger, deeper, better understanding of just about everything than I do, and it feels like AA school. I would definitely go to AA school if such a thing existed.

So my distillation of what message I receive from them, what I think they are saying, may be very incorrect. But I’m doing it anyway. They seem to believe that the program (a word they think has been corrupted, along with many other things, by rehabs) as laid out in the book is the beginning and the end. That is it!

I personally wonder about “more will be revealed.” I think of it more along the lines of Quakers not having a “book” because then the “word” becomes solidified and people worship the book.

Anyway these folks are recovered. They have been released from alcoholism and as long as they keep working with newcomers they will not relapse.

There are many, many ways I know I do the program “wrong” in their eyes (me and most of AA, ahem) but at the moment I’m considering the 12th step and carrying the message. In my pink cloud pretend AA universe showing up at a meeting, even if I don’t say anything or contribute to the basket, is carrying the message. Talking to AA friends about specific situations in my life – talking to my WE (I hate that expression, here the thumpers and I are one), is, to me, carrying the message.

I’m sure this blog is filled with me whining again and again about the tough road an introvert must travel in this WE PROGRAM. So I’m whining about that again. I don’t sponsor 12 newcomers. I don’t approach people out in the world (like the supermarket worker I saw sitting on the pavement outside the supermarket smoking a cigarette, probably drunk) with my solution. THE solution. My effort may be directly tied to my happiness or life satisfaction or sobriety. Is it tied to my sobriety? Have I been on a dry drunk these past four decades? Do the thumpers know something I don’t? Surely they do, but they haven’t taught it to me, and I’ve actively trying to learn.

April 30, 2023 (this day)

This day! Thirty nine years ago on this day I had my last alcohol to date.

The topic at my meeting this morning was relapse and denial, and that way my last relapse and the end of my denial.

Until that day, the “lurking notion” kept returning to me that I could drink successfully. I knew I was alcoholic. I knew that meant that I couldn’t drink successfully. But time and again when emotions became too much I tried to drink just the little bit that would relieve my distress. I’m lucky and blessed that it hit me so hard, so young. I’m a miracle in that I was chasing death in a way that has devastated humanity forever and I found a way out.

I’m having a hard, hard reset right now in that I’m not working for the first time in a very long time. My mother is alone far way and the process of getting her to where I am is fraught. There’s the promise of a bright, bright future on the horizon for as long as it may last and the AA experience tells me I probably can’t imagine the details of how good it may be or order anything as wonderful as what will actually happen.

Had I taken a different road at that long ago turning point this story would be full of tragedy instead of triumph. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but so far, so good.

(on the chance that some young person comes across this story I want to say that I was 21 years old 39 years ago and it is the supreme blessing of my life that I got sober so young. Never have I ever wished I had spent any of that time drinking)

These Are the First Fruits of Step Four (Step 4 continued)

So when A. A. suggests a fearless moral inventory, it must seem to every newcomer that more is being asked of him than he can do. Both his pride and his fear beat him back every time he tries to look within himself. Pride says, “You need not pass this way,” and Fear says, “You dare not look!” But the testimony of A.A.’s who have really tried a moral inventory is that pride and fear of this sort turn out to be bogeymen, nothing else. Once we have a complete willingness to take inventory, and exert ourselves to do the job thoroughly, a wonderful light falls upon this foggy scene. As we persist, and brand-new kind of confidence is born, and the sense of relief at finally facing ourselves is indescribable. There are the first fruits of Step Four.

(I hope that if/when they update the language, they will not change “bogeymen.”)

The continued fruits of Step Four?

Changes in my life situation are making me a nervous wreck. Some caution is called for, maybe, but I spend way more time in worry and outright fear than is called for, or than I’d like. My mother made what I thought was an interesting comment about my worry when she said that at some point in my childhood, things may have been financially dicey, and maybe I internalized that. But things never were dicey. If she didn’t have enough money to support us, her parents most definitely would have. The fear of “not enough” has never, ever been realistic for me, but there it is.

I was wondering how sharing this fear with others in the program helps, as it certainly does. I know Big Book thumpers who put down the “we” at every turn. For the record, I HATE the word “we” when AAers us it as a noun. My WE. Yuck. But the fellowship. If I’ve worked the steps why am I so messed up?

Having, I hope, bottomed out on my experience of my current fear, I’m grateful for the tools I can use to attack it. I’ve used these tools for so long they are a part of me. Pride and Fear tell me not to look but AA and experience tell me the opposite. You better look! You won’t get better if you don’t look.

March 19, 2023 (this day)

I go to a zoom meeting every morning at 7. One thing I swore I would NOT do when I was no longer working was go to a meeting every day. Two or three a week, sure, but not every day. I didn’t envision them on my computer, though. Or I did, but not like this.

My wife and I met at an online AA meeting in 1996. At those old school meetings we typed what we wanted to say, read what other people said, and used an exclamation point to raise our hand. I had two young children and while I did go to one or two in person meetings a week at that time, I also had many lonely hours after they were in bed, too young to leave alone.

But that format was clunky. I’m sure it still exists but anyway, zoom!

Early on in the pandemic we used my wife’s zoom room to gather friends into a meeting every single night. That fell away as meetings opened and in some ways I know we all miss those times, but not the deadly virus or lack of toilet paper. But of course other meeting persist and there is now an official online AA intergroup. Amazing!

The 7 am serves many purposes for me not least of which is getting me out of bed at a consistent, early time which helps me go to sleep at night immensely. I won’t “join” this group yet because I don’t want to belong to a group that I don’t contribute money to, and I don’t want to contribute money because I don’t want another online entity that has my financial info. Venmo. No. I know I’ll look back and think how silly I was.

It’s a wonderful thing to attend and it’s opened up meetings for so many people who can’t for so many reasons go to in person meetings, or can’t go easily. I used to think that should I end up in an old folk’s home I would miss AA tremendously, but no more. People are there from nursing homes and hospitals and trains and planes and automobiles, on vacation and at work.

But what I really wanted to write about is the bombers. I did volunteer to co-host this meeting on zoom which means I sometimes look for shenanigans and actually throw people out of an AA meeting. In the 6 billion meetings I’ve attended in person I can’t say that anyone (including my drunken self) was thrown out. It’s a rare thing. I hate doing it.

Googling zoom bombers AA brings up tons of articles in the news as well as AA entities doing their best to keep the meetings safe. My meeting has been attacked by pornography and by children with drawn-on mustaches. We’ve put all these measures into effect to thwart the racial, personal, terrible and stupid attacks on the group and on individuals. There is from time to time someone who creepily comments on what people are wearing or what’s on their mantel. At every meeting two or three people don’t really listen to the meeting but rather scan for shenanigans or for outright hate.

At my personal most dramatic I’m afraid they could possibly be sending some vulnerable new comer to their death.

Step 11 (through prayer and meditation)

How do I change my mind?

I landed on the rocky shore of AA because my mind needed to be changed. My mind contained an over-riding obsession with the vehicle of my destruction. It still does, though the vehicle has changed and is less fast-acting.

I change my mind by action. I’ve been trying to develop the habit of drinking a glass of water before lunch and before dinner. Physically doing the action of drinking the water makes me more likely to do it again. I’m seeking to make it a habit so that after a time I won’t think about it anymore, I’ll just do it. I succeed more than I fail to drink the water, but I haven’t attacked this problem with every tool in my toolbox. There’s no alarm on my phone. No one calls me to remind me or tell me I’m going great with it. But still I do the action and I believe that if I continue to do it, I will make it a habit and I’ll drink water before lunch and dinner without thinking about it overly much.

The other way though besides doing the action is through prayer and meditation. I don’t pray about water or meditate about it, but I do pray and meditate about being healthier. Euphemism for thinner! I do it in distress and also in quiet. I’m seeking to change my mind, or let God change my mind to take care of this body I’ve been given.

I’ve recently been successful, often, with 10 minutes of meditation at an AA meeting I attend. The meeting uses the Daily Reflections, which I hate. It also uses music, which I strongly dislike. Sometimes the book or the music disturb me so much that I can’t meditate, but usually I’m successful. That is the only time I am.

I’ve written before about my only successful meditation experiences at a Quaker Meeting, so I guess I really benefit from the group setting. That may be something about me or it may be that I rarely, very rarely, try at other times. Toolbox unmolested!

February 8, 2023 (this day)

At my online meeting this morning, two of the topics were anonymity and being useful. A woman shared how she had recently been deeply depressed, but being given and seriously ill puppy had put her on a pink cloud. The puppy is well (and is named Joie de Vivre) and the woman is feeling great.

Two weeks ago I began tutoring two young women from Korea and Belarus in English. I can say that while I’m not on a pink cloud, my world certainly exploded in a good way and I have lots to think about that isn’t MYSELF and how I FEEL. I’m being useful.

It brought up a funny issue of anonymity today though, as we were talking about what time we get up in the morning and my pupil asked me why I get up at 6:30. I didn’t explain my attendance at an online meeting every morning at 7. After all, we have just recently met…….

A Soul-Sickness in its Own Right (Step 4 continued)

All these failings generate fear, a soul-sickness in its own right. Then fear, in turn, generates more character defects. Unreasonable fear that our instincts will not be satisfied drives us to covet the possessions of others, to lust for sex and power, to become angry when our instinctive demands are threatened, to be envious when the ambitions of others seem to be realized while ours are not. We eat, drink, and grab for more of everything than we need, fearing we will never have enough. And with genuine alarm at the prospect of work, we stay lazy. We loaf and procrastinate, or work at best grudgingly and under half steam. These fears are the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of whatever sort of life we try to build.

(Aside: genuine alarm at the prospect of work is one of my favorite phrases in all of AA literature)

Fearing I will never have enough is the name of game for this period of my life! Despite all the evidence to the contrary. I’ve stopped working, for the first time in 30 years I’m not making any money. I’m too young for Social Security so I’m literally not taking in any money at all, except for Christmas and birthday presents from my mother. My wife plans to stop working in the near future. A frightening time for anyone, but I am materially blessed and lucky and privileged.

I heard someone at a meeting the other day say it helps her to think of character defects, instincts, in terms of what they meant to most people and what they still mean to some people as they scramble all day to meet their basic needs. The fear of not enough is real for so many people alive right now. I don’t know how far back I’d have to go with my own ancestors until I found someone who didn’t have enough, but I’m she is he is there within the past few hundred years.

Getting old – there isn’t enough money and technology to mediate all that’s wrong with my body, but still I get along.

I’m very intrigued by the idea that fear generates more character defects. I know I’m less effective, less pleasant, less happy when I’m afraid. And I eat more than I need not because I fear there won’t be enough but because I’m a glutton.

So I’ve got nothing helpful or hopeful here except the gratitude for a program that makes me look at these things and offers a spiritual solution.

January 8, 2023 (this day)

Zooming right along.

I’ve been attending a Zoom meeting every morning at 7 am, pretty much every day now that I’m not working. I even attended when we went away for Thanksgiving. This is far more AA than I’ve been to since I was new and attending 90 in 90. I’m still going to my regular Saturday night group most of the time. A meeting I used to go to in person on Sunday nights has moved to Zoom and I attend that. I also usually attend another meeting or two a week, and that is for a me a lot of meetings. The Saturday, Sunday, maybe another meeting is what I used to do before Covid and before I stopped working.

The Zoom every morning has been very interesting. My first ever AA meeting was in 1978, and I’ve attended more or less at least once a week, usually more, since then until now. In the late 90s I attended online meetings where you would type into a sort of chat what you wanted to say. It was tedious to say the least. As my kids got old enough to leave home alone I stopped doing online meetings until the shut down.

This online meeting meets every morning at 7 am. Between 70 and 90 people attend, with many regulars. There are a core of people who chair the meeting, bring up topics, and reliably share during the meeting. There’s a treasurer and a secretary and calendar keepers who keep track of who will chair. This meeting has “pop ups” where they gather in person out of doors once a month, and I went to one of those over the summer.

There are Zoom bombers who either play ridiculously (children with drawn on mustaches and eyebrows telling us how long they’ve been sober) or taken over with disgusting pornography and hateful messages in the chat. An online intergroup has been formed and this meeting has a representative.

People from around the world visit this meeting and that is amazing. Some of them want to tell their story, which isn’t fun. I picture these folks going from meeting to meeting wanting to command the attention of internet strangers. The chat is left open, and people post encouraging messages and quotes from relevant literature.

For me, and for others who have commented, this meeting gives me a structure that not working has taken away. I set my alarm for 630 and sometimes hit the snooze. If I fall back to sleep I always make it out of bed by 7, almost always before. As I listen to the before meeting chatter I try to feed the cat (I offer him food anyway), make coffee, arrange myself. As the announcements go on (too long, but I don’t comment because I haven’t joined the meeting because I don’t want a venmo account) I check email or real estate and by the time they’re ready, I’m ready.

This is just a miraculous development in my AA life, one that I never imagined. It would concern me at times that there may be a day when I can no longer attend meetings but want to, but now we have people in hospitals and nursing homes attending. I’m grateful that I get to experience this evolution in AA meetings. I can try to imagine what it’s like for people just coming in, and I can imagine my younger, introverted self never venturing out in person if online had been an option back then. But my imagination can’t capture the true essence of what’s going on in this new reality. It’s added so much to my personal experience of “the program.”

Step 10 (continued to take personal inventory)

This mostly takes the form of “beating myself up.” I’m GLUTTONOUS (over eating). I’m SCARED (frightened, anxious). I’m SLOTHFUL (lazy, should CERTAINLY be doing more).

To my own eye, some of my character defects have gotten worse over the past little while. Not from the distant past, when drinking made me a menace. But from a few years ago.

My life has changed. I’ve completely stopped working now, though I want to get a job after Christmas (which plan and idea fills me with fear!). It’s a huge life change. Since I was in college, and drinking, I’ve either had babies and small children or I’ve been working.

Also I’m physically …… not great. Nothing seriously wrong, just dizzy and achy with ringing ears and a stuffy nose.

I need to add to my list of defects that I’m UNGRATEFUL. I really “should” be enjoying this interval of leisure time and relative excellent health more.

My number one tool and antidote is gratitude and it still works. Next, looking outward to be useful and of service. My job working with people with disabilities for not much pay covered that for the past 30 years. As I’m writing, I’m waiting for training to begin so I can volunteer to teach people English (though this engenders FEAR in me, but I’m doing it anyway). I am going to more meetings that at any other time in my life, thanks to zoom. I don’t serve much there, to be honest, but I go. Taking more than I give, I’m afraid.

These Step Four character defects, these Step Ten daily experiences, this is the path I’m on.

A story. I need a tag for losses. I turned 60 this years. My high school class had only 200 people, so everyone knew everyone. A few had died but not many. Someone posted an obituary the other day of one of our classmates. This woman seemed super excellent to have be amazing and have everything. She was a doctor with an exciting and important career. She traveled and loved this that and the other. She had siblings and parents and nieces and nephews and a significant other. She died “suddenly.” At the bottom it said she struggled her whole adult life with alcoholism. I don’t know if that killed her at 60, but it seems likely, even if by accident. My accomplishments read nothing like hers but as we both left high school in 1980, I eventually embarked on the path that lead to a lasting sobriety.

My uncle died at 60 from this, and so did my ex. I’m humbled that I may reach 61 and blessed that I very much want to.

November 16, 2022 (this day)

I can’t believe I haven’t updated since August. A lot has happened. My work place is closing. I’ve worked there for almost 25 years, and it was my second job ever. I’ve known some of those people for 25 years. I left supervising there last February but I’ve stayed on helping out two days a week since then. Lots of the people, clients and staff, are already gone. Many, many goodbyes I didn’t want to say. In a way that I didn’t want to say them.

My mother’s husband passed away. It was a hideous experience listening to my mother suffer through arranging and giving his care, but that part is over. She’s alone now, thousands of miles away, but looking to move close to me and my children. We haven’t all lived near each other in almost 25 years.

My across the street neighbor of 20 years moved away, and we are looking to move to somewhere without the god-forasken STAIRS. But, loss.

I turned 60 in May and as it may be evident from my longevity at work and in this house, I don’t like change. Though everything is constantly changing.

Somewhere in the literature (I’m bad at this) it says something like no one can build a house without first imagining it. Time for me to turn positivity toward the unknown future and be constantly grateful for the good things I know about, the good things I don’t yet know about, and the fact that I’ve arrived here at this day a bonus day, as every day has been in sobriety.