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.

March 14, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0337Twelve months ago Carole and I were visiting our daughter for the first time in her new location, exploring, among other things, the “foreign” foods there.  I hated her being so far away and I didn’t love the place she went to, either.  She’s still there, and I have to call this year a huge success in terms of her.  She’s safe, she’s reasonably happy, she’s self-sufficient and embarking on an incredible adventure.  For the uninformed, a week in Greece, by herself, not part of any group or tour, and she doesn’t speak or read or have any knowledge of Greek.  For me, her mother, this is a bit of a nightmare.

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I for myself am OK.  We’re ending a season of extreme cold and snow here, and I haven’t gotten to as many meetings as I would have liked.  The last bits of snow are melting and Carole is recovering from her most recent surgery and I’d like to get my meeting like back to normal.  Years ago, when I lived alone and had school-aged children at home in bed, I went to online meetings in addition to my once-a-week-bare-minimum real life meetings.  I met Carole there so I don’t recommend it.  I don’t think I’d have the patience for online meetings now, and the idea doesn’t appeal to me at all.  But I’ll do it again in the future if I can’t get out.  It’s amazing to think that when I started, there wasn’t online anything.  There were no cell phones, no text messages, no GPS to guide you to a meeting in a strange place.  Soon no one will remember when these things didn’t exist.  And in my personal universe, there was no daughter and my hypothetical, not-yet-existent children were in very real danger of being hurt or worse by my alcoholism.  I don’t know how that would have worked out of this daughter, but she probably wouldn’t be going to Greece.

Contempt Prior to Investigation

A quick search tells me this quote is misattributed and misquoted, and that it has moved around the Big Book.  No matter.  To me it’s an AA concept, one of those axioms that explains so much about the world and how I failed to relate to the world in a healthy and correct manner.

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Where it shows up in the book now, at the end of an appendix explaining a “spiritual experience,” I have mostly taken it to mean that people who arrive at AA skeptical of a spiritual program, skeptical of a higher power and skeptical about a program of recovery may and often do doom themselves to an alcoholic death.  I was certainly skeptical of all those things, though I didn’t begin to understand them at the time.  AA is a program of last resort.  We urge the skeptical newcomer to stay a while and give it a try.  We hope whole-heartedly that they will.

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Beyond that, now, for me, this concept has proved eminently useful and when I recognize that I’m being contemptuous of something I don’t understand, I can often stop and try a more open-minded approach.  As I get older, I find myself more set in my ways.  I know more about what I like, what I believe, what I want as time goes on.  So am I more stubborn about not considering alternatives?  Is it right that I be so?

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I’m grateful for this concept that will make me at least see my problem, and the example that something I once did not believe in saved my life.

March 4, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0756The weather has been kind of relentless and the people in this part of the world are sick of it!  I didn’t make it to the Thursday meeting last week and I probably won’t tomorrow, either, because of snow and ice and snow and freezing rain and snow and cold and snow.  In my early sobriety it was important to chase the program as enthusiastically as I had chased alcohol.  Now I will go to my home group every week and wait for the weather to clear for the rest!

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I was reading a book (not AA-approved) that said the winners continue to try to get better because they want to, and they should.  The losers wait until the pain is too much to handle, then improve only enough to stop the pain.  It’s an interesting concept.  I didn’t stop drinking until the pain was so bad that I was just about dead.  I think I do now continue to try to get better just  because I should, but mostly nothing motivates me as much as pain does.  Just about everyone in AA got there due to pain.  If, after not drinking for a long time, I still the program as the road map to follow to change myself so that I end up in less pain, I count that as a good thing, and myself as a winner (for today) for sure.

Search Terms that Brought You Here (PS this is my 1000th post!)

AA Couples:  Yes, my wife and I are one.  I was thinking recently how we can be at a meeting together and be the only couple, while at other meetings there are several couples.  Through the years I’ve seen advantages and drawback to this in my own life and in the lives of others, and my ex and I met in AA as well.  Local AA can be a small world, depending on your location.  When an AA couple breaks up, it’s not always nice or easy or serene or sober.  I’ve know people to all of a sudden not say anything at all personal at meetings, since their ex is also at meetings.  People want to and have to avoid meetings because of exes, and people also say way too much at meetings about someone the other people know.  None of that is nice, but if the people stay sober I think they work it out.  It’s a huge danger that one or both will drift away and maybe drink.  In my life the advantage have far outweighed the difficulties, though.  In my previous existence, my ex wasn’t going to local meetings or participating much in AA, and I moved back home after a short time, so the only AA difficulties I had involved long relationships, and really those were OK.  Now it’s great to have this is the primary thing my wife and I have in common, because I still believe it makes everything else in my life possible, and I also find it ceaselessly interesting with people, places and history to explore.  I wouldn’t trade it for a religion or sport or hobby or vocation in common.  Those all come from this.  And for today it’s all good, as long as we don’t take each other’s inventory.  : )

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Meeting Girls at AA Meetings:  Don’t do it!  See above.  I have to stress I did make my wife wait until she was one year sober before I would meet her.  At which point I wailed to a friend, “She only has a year.”  My friend asked, “How much time does someone have to have to meet you?”  I guess a year was a good minimum.  AA is where I meet almost everyone I don’t work with or live near.  I have moved so many times in sobriety, I can’t imagine meeting people without AA.  I don’t know how so-called normal people do it, but I’m glad I’m not them.  But early in sobriety it’s usually suggested that people stay out of new romantic relationships.  After early sobriety, let the meeting begin, I guess, there’s no way to avoid it and why would you want to?  Now someone who would feign alcoholism to meet people in AA is a sick cookie.  People new to AA, beware, this could totally happen.  There can be predators at AA meetings, just like at church, or in the supermarket, on the street or at your job.  Beware. 

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What Should I be Grateful for in Life?  Everything.  The should of this question leads me to the ideal, and my understanding of the program is that I am to aim toward being grateful for every single thing as an aid to continued sobriety.  Pain is the touchstone my life as it is now was built on.  The fatal and crippling malady of alcoholism forced me to seek a spiritual solution to live, and in the process gave me an excellent life.  Using that as my template I can see good in and strive for gratitude for every single other thing, good and bad.  This is really rough and I often fail, but at least I know where I’m going with it.

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As Going Human Concerns:  It makes me so happy that people can search for this and end up here!  I hope I’ve explained it well.  The language of the Big Book and 12 and 12 can be difficult and old-fashioned at times.  To repeat, a “going concern” is a business that is functioning well enough to stay in business.  It takes in enough money to pay the employees and the bills and buy what it needs.  Our bankruptcy as a going human concern is a metaphor, comparing the life of an alcoholic who can no longer function to a business that can no longer function.  This phrase is from Step One in the 12 and 12, and it describes the state of an alcoholic who is forced to finally seek help.

February 23, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0316Sometimes it’s really hard not to congratulate myself that my kids have turned out so well thus far.  I know I played only a part in it.  I know tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.  But lately my mother’s drunken shenanigans have made me wonder how I turned out as well as I did.

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My daughter’s plans go forward for Greece.  My wife’s plans go forward for Alaska.  And my mother, who will also be going to Alaska, has one of her sisters, who will also be going to Alaska, not talking to her.  My mother is going to push the idea of counseling on her sister.  I wonder if her sister will push back with concern over my mother’s drinking.  Someone should take the log out of her own darn eye.

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I’m grateful my kids will never know what this is like.

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I have a fairly set pattern where I go to two meetings a week.  I like to vary the second meeting.  I always go to my “home” group if I’m at “home.”  I also like unnecessary quotes : )  Carole and I often go together but I don’t like the meeting she attends on Thursdays, and I’ve pretty much stayed away.  I’m thinking of going to one after work tomorrow near where I work, which would be very different for me.  Chances are I may not know anyone at all.  How interesting that this would take all this thought, all these years later.  I’ve been going to AA meetings longer than I went to school, more frequently than I’ve gone to church, more religiously than I’ve gone to the dentist.  It’s been worth it.

February 14, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0303A house in my daughter’s present neighborhood.

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I’m chairing my meeting tonight, which means, among other things, that I arrange a speaker.  My speaker got sick and can’t make it, and in asking substitutes I am running up against some of the local AA “rules.”  The “rule” I would like to see enforced is “don’t say no.”  Of course there are no rules, just suggestions.

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My theme for the next few months will be “worry.”  There is my daughter and her upcoming trip, and me and my upcoming trip.  I worry about death and destruction for all of us, and I worry about the things I leave behind, like my pets, job, and house.

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Feeling like not a great example of longtime sobriety but really, without sobriety and AA none of this would have been possible.  My daughter would be in terrible shape if she lived through my drinking at all.  I wouldn’t have the money, time, or companionship to travel, and I certainly wouldn’t have the guts.  My alternate existence, if I had survived and not been institutionalized, would have been hunkered down, probably in my mother’s house, afraid of the world and not engaging it.

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Today I have hope backed by experience that I have an excellent chance of minimizing my fears and living better tomorrow than I am today, which is pretty darn good.

. . . their faith broadened . . . (Step Two continued)

“All of them will tell you that, once across, their faith broadened and deepened.  Relieved of the alcohol obsession, their lives unaccountably transformed, they to came to believe in a Higher Power, and most of them began to talk of God.”

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It’s a wonderful thing that, from seeing the miracle of sober alcoholics around me at meetings, I could begin to count myself among the lucky success stories, just for today.  From drinking to destruction, feeling like I couldn’t live one minute without it, to not drinking at all, and viewing it as poison.  The earlier analogy of making AA the higher power holds true and works out.  Following their directions and advice lead me to a miraculous reprieve.

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Maybe that is “God,” whatever most of us mean by God.  Maybe there is a supernatural being controlling and directing, or maybe only watching.  Or maybe there isn’t.  It’s not critical to my sobriety today, it’s not critical to my peace of mind today to know the answer to that question.  I’m pretty sure I can never know the answer or the nature of God.  Does allowing that the higher power may not be supernatural make me an agnostic still?  I don’t know, and I don’t care.  AA, wherever it came from and wherever it is, saved my life, and gave me an excellent quality of life, and that is the truth, 100%.