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.

Pride Heads the Procession (Step Four continued)

To avoid falling into confusion over the names these defects should be called, let’s take a universally recognized list of major human failings — The Seven Deadly Sins of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. It is not by accident that pride heads the procession. For pride, leading to self-justification, and always spurred by conscious or unconscious fears, is the basic breeder of most human difficulties, the chief block to true progress. Pride lures us into making demands upon ourselves or upon others which cannot be met without perverting or misusing our God-given instincts. When the satisfaction of our instincts for sex, security, and society becomes the sole object of our lives, then pride steps in to justify our excesses.

Pride as a character defect interests me, and I (humbly) consider myself to be humble, as opposed to proud. I’m not inclined to think I do anything right, or well, and I’m much more comfortable in my pride in reverse character defect. To me pride has been twisted by backlash against discrimination, and many people seem to say we should be proud of our race or ethnicity, size or other characteristics we may or may not have had anything to do with creating. Then, too, say I do something well like grow a tomato plant. Should I be proud? I’m possibly lucky or skillful but really, so what? Any true accomplishments of mine, I feel like always need to be couched in my privilege. With my resources can’t anyone grow a wonderful tomato plant?

It’s beyond doubt to me that I should absolutely not be proud of my long sobriety. The credit does not go to me, and I feel that is does, I risk losing it.

I was at a meeting recently where we looked up the word “perverse” in relation to something in the Big Book. We found that it means persisting the wrong way. Here is the word again, in the fourth step.

Taking this paragraph, it seems to me that my fear (which I might like to label anxiety, but is fear) that I won’t have enough or be able to handle my existence (my house, my car, my medical bills) is coming from pride. I don’t feel self-justified, the way the text reads to me, though, since I know that I’m secure beyond what any person has any right to want or require, and I know that my fear is wrong, and that it’s perverse to persist in it.

And, believing in the program, I can’t help but hope that all this listing and confession will make it possible for God to remove it.

August 30, 2022 (this day)

They say if you want to know what your character defects are, fall in love. I will add to that, have your mother’s husband need lots of care, be far away.

Here’s a character defect I don’t talk a lot about, because who would I talk to? Being an only child has made me fearful, envious, lonely. No one shared my growing up experience, and no one understands the way this feels now.

Step 9 (made direct amends)

My father died when he was 33 and I was 6, and so my relationship with his family was on and off. I visited and wrote and called through the years. When I was 18, my grandfather, his father, was dying. My aunt called to let me know and still I don’t have clear memories of what when on or what I did or what I said. I know I was in the depths of my drinking, which was constant.

My grandfather died. I got sober. I got engaged, and married, and pregnant. At one of these showers, some of my cousins refused to come because of the way I had acted. Being finally sober and a good AA, I sought out my aunts and I apologized, though not completely sure what I had done, I was completely sure it was bad.

Aunts and cousins forgave me, hurray, for things I had said when completely sober. I don’t know. Some stupid remark that insulted them. I apologized for what I said when drunk, and was forgiven for what I said when sober. AA works, even when I don’t know what I’m doing.

July 31, 2022 (this day)

When I first began to understand the steps, and especially Step 6, I thought I would never, ever be able to “take” it because I would never, ever, speak to my mother’s husband again. I understood that this was symptomatic of a character defect of mine, but I also understood that I would never, ever, ask God to remove it. It was honestly my first thought about the matter.

My father died from alcoholism when he was 33 and I was 6. I’m an only child possibly because he was too sick to have more. My mother remarried when I was 9, and I stopped speaking to her husband when I was 10. He was 45, but that is beside the point.

We could analyze and quibble and I’m sure there’s a very lengthly story there, but just to be accurate here I will say there was no abuse of me, physical or psychological, thought he did psychologically abuse his son who lived with us, and that was hard to grow up around. Mostly he was a loud, obnoxious, vexatious person and one night while I was in the hospital with a dislocated knee, and he was complaining about being there in the middle of the night, I told him he didn’t have to come and he said he was done talking to me. This was 50 years and he’s kept his word.

Now I’m 60 and he’s 95 and he’s failing and in some crazy twist of fate I’m looking at assisted living places for him to live in. Near me. In a city very far from where he’s ever lived and where I’m sure he never wanted to go (see John 21). He also has lots of money, much more than I have, and two adult children who have much more than I have, one of them living near him. Twist of fate.

It’s of course because my mother is still very much in the picture. She didn’t expect him to live this long and had thought she’d be able to move to be near me some time ago.

I can’t imagine how he and I will maintain our not talking through this next little while.

But looking back on my distress about this situation – I was worried it would prevent my sobriety over 40 years ago. I’ve gotten and stayed sober and maintained my silence. I still feel like a fraud over it, because it wouldn’t take a deep dive into AA to know I shouldn’t have gone on like this for all this time. But it did not prevent my sobriety. Maybe it falls into the category of “maybe some day” like the 12 and 12 describes, but those days are dwindling.

Other character defects are being triggered by the situation, including resentment toward his children who aren’t helping and the fact that they will inherit his wealth although not only am I doing this now, but I also had to suffer growing up with him and they did not. The part about him being 45 while I was 10 and of course my mother’s role in all of this.

My AA given objective is to lessen those resentments and meanwhile not to let them know I’m feeling resentful. To be continued.

Let’s Ponder the Need for a List (Step Four continued)

Now let’s ponder the need for a list of the more glaring personality defects all of us have in varying degrees. To those having religious training, such a list would set forth serious violations of moral principles. Some others will think of this list as defects of character. Still others will call it an index of maladjustments. Some will become quite annoyed if there is talk about immorality, let alone sin. But all who are in the least reasonable will agree upon one point: that there is plenty wrong with us alcoholics about which plenty will have to be done if we are to expect sobriety, progress, and any real ability to cope with life.

Two things. First, I was at a meeting this very morning where the topic was resentment, and someone complained about the term “character defect.” She said, “We’re not defective!” And, by the way, I’m glad that “character defects” caught on rather than index of maladjustments.

Second, I belong to small group of close AA friends who frequently, when someone shares a manifestation of a character defect, remark, “That’s OK! You’re only human! We have to be easy on ourselves!”

This paragraph says that anyone who is in the least reasonable will agree that there’s plenty wrong with us, and that plenty will have to done about it.

So, by degrees. The woman who made the first comment about not being defective has two years of sobriety. The women who say we’re only human have considerably more. I always think about, and I started writing because to me, there is no much different in later sobriety than in beginning sobriety. Sure, as an active alcoholic I had plenty wrong with me. I was actually a menace. It was, to my understanding, a major defect that tried to kill me and risked innocent bystanders too. Now, after decades of sobriety, I’ve lived in many ways a “good” life and have helped some people along the way.

I feel like I still need this list, and like it isn’t all taken care of in Step 10. I believe the 12 and 12, and it says that we all have all these defects in varying degrees. I believe that. At this point I believe that I can still have sobriety, make progress, and increase (or at least slow the decline) of my real ability to cope with life. These are things I want. Here’s the way, the map, the directions.

June 15, 2022 (this day)

Today is a day for the infirmities of old age. I turned 60 a few weeks ago. That is a major accomplishment, in my mind, as my father died when he was 33, from alcoholism, and from what I can tell he didn’t drink as badly as I did. My grandmother, his mother, died at 56 after suffering from depression severe enough to get her shock treatments back in the 1960s. My uncle, my mother’s brother, was 60 when he died a few years ago. I left him a message offering to share my experience after he was already dead.

So here I am, undeserved. And I do realize that I’m fairly healthy and extremely privileged. I went to the periodontist to have my teeth cleaned this morning. All my teeth, except for one, are original. I’m going to the physical therapist this afternoon for help with knees which began getting help when I was nine years old. Privileged.

So I’m trying and failing to stop focusing on what is wrong with me. The main symptom that intrudes into my thoughts and my day is dizziness. I’ve had an MRI, an EKG, an XYZ and PDQ it is not diagnosable! I think it may be sinuses.

I need to have my defect of fear removed, and quite a bit of self centeredness. I think I’m good on gratitude, which shows me that since I think I’m good, I also need humility. And more gratitude. Just for today.