In These Ways We Are Set in Conflict (Step Four continued)

But that is not all of the danger.  Every time a person imposes his instincts unreasonably upon others, unhappiness follows.  If the pursuit of wealth tramples upon people who happen to be in the way, then anger, jealousy, and revenge are likely to be aroused.  If sex runs riot, there is a similar uproar.  Demands made upon other people for too much attention, protection, and love can only invite domination or revulsion in the protectors themselves — two emotions quite as unhealthy as the demands which evoked them.  When an individual’s desire for prestige becomes uncontrollable, whether in the sewing circle or at the international conference table, other people suffer and often revolt.  This collision of instincts can produce anything from a cold snub to a blazing revolution.  In these ways we are set in conflict not only with ourselves, but with other people who have instincts, too.

Timely!  As always, any part of the program I set my attention on corresponds with what is happening and with what I need to consider to grow.

I’ve been at my same job for twenty one years, supervising a human services program with a partner whose job is the same as mine.  We have worked for over ten years with someone else who has an important role in the program, let’s call him Maurice.  Maurice  has taken another job in the agency in the same building, and my work partner is retiring in one month, and I will supervise the program alone, along with an assistant yet to be named.

Many many of my character defects are blowing full force with these changes.  Number one is fear, the fear of doing this without my partner, on my own.  I have always taken great comfort in the fact that there are two of us.

There is also fear of conflict with my soon-to-be-ex partner and Maurice as I make changes that I feel are needed.  I’ll make these changes in conjunction with the next boss above us, but he gives us a fairly free hand.

My “words to live by” up until today have been,”Scaring yourself through what-if scenarios has traditionally been called worry.”  I kept that one for two weeks, it fit so well.  Well I turned the card today and now will be considering Bruce Springsteen – You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.”

And all this will mean I have increased contact with all the other supervisors of other programs, and that, I do not want.  I don’t want to impose my will on them, I want to hide from them.

Meanwhile continuing to deal with others who demand too much attention, protection, and love, without dominating or feeling revulsion.

In these ways I am set in conflict.

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May 31, 2019 (this day)

IMG_1463

 

This month I am 35 years sober, 57 years old.  I’ve been at my same place of employment for 21 years, and my work partner of 20 years has told me she’ll retire in July.  I had asked my supervisor what his plans were for me after that happens, and he told me he plans that I should supervise alone.

Could I tell the clients and their loved-ones that I’ve done this for 30 years just to chicken out at the end?

Most likely I’ll try it, and give it a year or six months to see if I can handle it.  It feels terribly frightening to think of doing it without the support of my partnership.  So many discussions I have with people around this issue center one what I want, what I like, what I enjoy.  And I know I need a certain amount of happiness to do a decent job.  But I think AA has taught me to enjoy being useful.  To always be grateful.  To do what God would have me do, not what I want, like, or enjoy.  Didn’t doing what I wanted to do get me to the threshold of 35 years of sobriety?

 

Spirituality in AA

I’ve been thinking and writing about the “spirit” topics of AA since last October.  As a quick synopsis of  my own spiritual experiences, I was raised as a half-hearted liberal Lutheran, and confirmed in that church against my will.  By the time I was 13 I had given up on any idea of God, and when I tried to bail on confirmation my mother told me that my grandfather would be heartbroken, and my pastor told me that I had to write an essay of lies about why I wanted to be confirmed.  I did, and I went through the ceremony, and I promised myself I wouldn’t come back.

That was around the time I started drinking and going to AA, and I was as dismayed as anyone to find God mentioned and prayers said.  I went along for a while doing things like holding hands but not saying the prayers.  As my drinking got worse, I sometimes resorted to drunken desperate prayers to whatever is out there.  I took heart when I heard some of the comforting things in AA, like “do you believe, or are you willing to believe?” and that the organization and groups of AA were a power greater than me sufficient to build a recovery on.

I felt willing to believe, and I still do.  I still do not know about a spiritual supernatural entity that is God, but today when I hold hands I say the words of the prayer.  I don’t know about our “father” or his “heaven,” and I don’t need to know in order to be sober and happy.

That’s my experience, and the Big Book tells us that there are as many experiences in AA as there are people.

I’m still baffled by the concept of spirit.  Alcoholism is, I can see, mental and physical.  I was at times physically a wreck.  I gained weight and got bloated and taxed my liver beyond its ability to cope.  Mentally, I denied reality every time I drank and thought that this time it would be different, this time I would be able to control it.  I also was not able to attend school and do good enough work there while drinking.

The “no, never” attitude I had about a higher power was, I think, evidence of being spiritually sick.  My spirit, my emotions, were depressed and intolerable to me.  I couldn’t stand life when I was sober.  I needed something beyond myself to take the edge off.  My solution, alcohol, ended up depressing me further, and throwing me into the pit I was trying to avoid and escape.

I don’t know if my spirit is healthy these days, but I do know that it looks for the light.  I try to find sensible, kind, loving ways out of difficulties that I encounter in my life and in the world.  The spiritual prescription of AA, deciding to live right, help others, abandon myself and my self-seeking, selfish will give me, day by day, a nice way to live.  The tools I’ve learned to use “take the edge off” that don’t use drugs and don’t endanger me or anyone else are mostly second nature, though I still work to sharpen them and to find new ones.  I can even, sometimes, once in while, see a lesson and welcome adversity as a way to a better life, and usually, my spirit is willing.

April 14, 2019 (this day)

My children are on their way to South Africa.  Yesterday would have been my father’s birthday.  He would have been 85 or 86.  I’m not sure.  He died when he was 33, from alcoholism.  He didn’t know me and he didn’t know them and he sure didn’t go to South Africa.

I don’t like to travel and I actually fear it.  I like being in interesting places, but getting to and from frightens me beyond what it should.  I have traveled and I’ll continue to, but I won’t like it.  Not until I’m entirely ready to give up that fear.  So thinking of my kids so far away is hard for me to accept.  That’s the best way I can explain this particular anxiety.  I feel like I can’t bear it, and yet, I do.

Good AA that I am I do not need it to be explained to me.  I’m grateful beyond explanation that I have these children, that they are sobriety babies, that they have the means and the desire and the ability to take such a trip, that they love each other enough to do it.  These are things that are truly, truly, way beyond my expectations or imaginings.

And yet….

I work with adults who have multiple, severe disabilities.  Two of them died in the past week and a half, two who had been with us for almost 20 years.  The parents of individuals like this inspire me endlessly.  Some of these parents devote their entire lives to their children, only to lose them, and I can’t imagine the pain.

Minute by minute, I’ll get through my kids’ trip.  Soon it will be a memory (like my daughter’s solo trip to Greece a few years ago).  My kids will not tell the story years from now, “Then we went to South Africa, and our mother was so freaked out, she drank.”  Of course they won’t.

No Peace (Step Four continued)

Nor is the quest for security always expressed in terms of money.  How frequently we see a frightened human being determined to depend completely upon a stronger person for guidance and protection.  This weak one, failing to meet life’s responsibilities with his own resources, never grows up.  Disillusionment and helplessness are his lot.  In time all his protectors either flee or die, and he is once more left alone and afraid.

We have also seen men and women who go power-mad, who devote themselves to attempting to rule their fellows.  These people often throw in the winds every chance for legitimate security and a happy family life.  Whenever a human being becomes a battleground for the instincts, there can be no peace.

Again, I hope I am someone who has escaped these extremes, but at a lower level all these character defects are alive in me.  I am frequently frightened, and I love to depend on someone else when that person will let me!  I did, however (and with lots and lots of help) live on my own with two young children.  I kept them alive and fairly well, and I held down a job I did reasonably well at.

And while I like to think of myself as this passive, peaceful, easy-going person, I know that I am very strong-willed and quite opinionated.  So while in general I may fit the label “quiet,” that by no means translates to “no attempt to rule their fellows.”  I attempt it frequently, and I have no plans to stop!

To elaborate, I don’t really want to rule my fellows, but I want to influence them heavily in terms of, for example, gun control, election reform, the right to choose, health care for everyone, and clean water.  To name a few.  My desire to influence these things has, I hope, taken on more meaning and more actual work, in a healthy way, these past 2.5 years.  I’ll also get triggered at work when people do things like use their phones when they shouldn’t or suggest that we wear ID badges.

So the battle of the instincts goes on.  However, these days, and for a long time now, drugging myself does not appear as a viable nor an ideal solution.

March 16, 2019 (this day)

the man on the bed

Since I last wrote about the big wind that took part of a tree down, and the second big wind that crashed the roofers’ ladder onto my new car, we have had a third big wind, and this one exposed and stoked and played and fed my #1 character defect, my fear.

We had a very big wind, and it knocked the power out a few Sunday nights ago.  I well remember long power outages of the past, and I’ve always hated it and always loved electricity!  My neighborhood is old, and the power lines are above ground, and my house is very windy, sitting above a street that runs below and acts as a wind tunnel.  My house also is surrounded by trees that I love very much for many reasons, but of course, those trees will fall, and they do.

Anyway the lights went out around 7 pm on Sunday, and at around 9, in the very black dark, the house shook, and we were able to see that a tree had fallen but we couldn’t really tell how bad it was, or if it had hit the house.  Right away my fear demands we don’t open the door to see, because it’s cold out and we have no heat now, and the power outages are widespread and we don’t know how long we’ll be without heat.  I have two indoor cats who haven’t been out of my house since we brought them home from the shelter.  They’ve never been out and they’ve never been cold.  We checked to see that the tree hadn’t made a hole in the house that the cats could use to get out.

We went to bed but I couldn’t sleep, and around three in the morning I freaked out a bit and told Carole I wanted to get a pet-friendly hotel nearby, just in case there was a rush on hotels.  My son still had power, and he lives just a few miles away, but he lives in the city and parking seemed like it would be a hassle.  Also, not knowing how long it would be, I thought we needed a potentially long term solution.  I did think of bringing the cats to him if need be.  (Turns out his girlfriend’s dogs were there, but that’s another fear post for another time).

We got a hotel, and we left and left the cats in the pitch black around 4 in the morning.  When I we got outside into the absolute dark we ran into a wire down in the our driveway.  The wind was still making it difficult to talk or move or open the door.  We went to the hotel, but again I couldn’t sleep worrying about the cats and the house and the electricity.  Just because one tree was down, that didn’t mean another wouldn’t fall, break a window, scare a cat.

We came back to the house and it was getting colder.  The power outages were spread out widely in my area, and my work was going on though it was cold there (another fear story for another time).  I told them I wasn’t coming.  We saw that the tree had missed the house but had fallen on our fence.  Carole went to work, and my plan was that when she got home, if we still didn’t have power, we would pack up the cats and take them to the hotel.  The wind was lessening but still very strong.

I crawled into bed in my clothes in the chilly house, and the cats joined me.  I couldn’t read or sleep or do anything but worry.  At one in the afternoon, the power came back.

My fear and worry were terrible.  I must point out that at no time during this did I consider drinking.  Didn’t even cross my mind.  Although at one time in my life I couldn’t face a perfect day without chemical influence, it is so not a factor in my life today that I didn’t even think about it in my distress.

I did think about all I’ve learned about life and coping and I’m not happy with how distressed I was.   I did know the whole time that everything really was fine.  I have the resources to deal with anything that happens to my house.  I think I focused on worrying about the cats because that’s what my protector mind does.  If I didn’t have cats, I would have been braver.  I was able to tell myself minute by minute, hour by hour that the cats were fine, and I could and would take care of them.  I worried profusely about being inconvenienced.

I’m sitting here writing this, and the wind is again howling outside.  I want to blame Voldemort (POTUS, he who will not be named).

The Spiritual Malady

Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.

 

I have always felt that resentment was not my “number one” offender.  I think, for me, it’s been fear, and a kind of resentment turned inward.  I see resentment and fear and part of the same thing.  I do experience resentments though, for sure.  Just not quite as often as fear.

This quote, from page 64 of the Big Book, precedes the fourth step inventory.  It’s saying to me that if I can dig out my character defects, I can stay sober and live well.  And from where I sit, with 34 years of sobriety, I can stay sober, and I do live well.  I live at least well enough to stay sober!

The promise that when my spiritual malady is overcome, I will straighten out mentally and physically….well.  Again, it is all true and all well as far as it goes.

Although I’m well enough, I’m not all well, and I do believe that the program and the steps still have promise of better living for me.  I read this passage, and a bit about it, and then I went to a Quaker meeting and sat silent and still for an hour.  I pictured my character defect of fear as a root that does deep within me, that I can dig out and destroy almost entirely.  A piece will always be alive, I know, but it can be a very small, tiny piece, one that doesn’t play an important part in any day of mine.

I am not spiritually, mentally, or physically “straight,” or well.  In fact physically things are tending to trend downward at my age.  But I can still do more to be more straight and well in each of these areas.  I hope the fourth step I’m working on will be a step in that direction.  This passage spells out that the spiritual comes first, before the mental and physical.  I’ll try to keep that consciously in my mind as I go forward, especially when times are tough and I’m having an excess of negative emotion.