The Picture on Top

edited to say I’ve changed the picture, but I’ll leave the story

The picture on the banner is a picture of my windshield. My wife took it randomly a few years ago. I think it’s snow that has frozen to ice and then had more snow fall on top. The ice is cracked, and the windshield is showing through a little bit. I was scrolling through the pictures on my computer to find one to put up there. I never really think of that picture. I don’t know why she took it, and it just got loaded on to the computer with the rest that were on the camera at time. When I saw it, in this context, I knew I wanted to use it. I really like the way the banner cuts it kind of long and narrow.

Anyone who has heard my story has heard one of my more harrowing moments when I drove home from school extremely drunk, in a huge snow storm. I stopped at a gas station, called my sponsor (this was in the 1980s, no cell phones), told her I didn’t know where I was. She asked me what I saw around me, and I described this a little bit. I got quickly tired of that, hung up, went back to my car, and passed out. She sent someone from the program out to find me in the storm, guessing where I was from what I had described. I don’t know, maybe I gave some telling detail, or maybe I didn’t. I know that my car was quickly covered in snow, in an alley, between a gas station and dry cleaner or something, and that I was unconscious. I know that the guy she sent found me, and drove me back through the storm to her house where I kept her and several other AA folks up most of the night trying to escape her house and throw myself in a pond to drown.

Oy.

That is one time that the program and the people in it may quite literally have saved my life. And I have to tell that is not the last time I had a drink. I went to the hospital for the first time (before that, I had not been hospitalized for drinking YET), came out of the hospital and drank again. I also tell it that I remember, years ago, when George McGovern’s daughter Susan fell down drunk in the snow and froze to death. That could have been me.

So I really like that picture, and it seemed to have been taken for this blog. I couldn’t have staged it better. Every time I see it I remember. I think of myself in that car and out of that car and that it was not by my own doing that I made it through.

Why this, why now, why not?

I’m old. And some of my friends are, well, older. It was brought to my attention today that some who read this may not even know what a blog is. So I looked it up. It’s an online diary, typically updated daily, posted in chronological order, often about daily thoughts, sometimes written about a hobby. I’ve read a few blogs over the years. They are being written by people who post on the same message boards as I do. Most of them are daily stuff, and sometimes it surprises me how little and boring the daily stuff can seem, to me. A few are about hobbies like knitting. I’ve started reading a few being written by others in AA. Two of those are being written by newcomers, and one is an anti AA blog. The only other blog I read regularly is being written by a friend about her daily stuff. When I sent her this link, she sent me hers, and it seems that we started at practically the same time. I’ll have to offer to comment on hers if she’ll comment on mine.

I decided to do this because my searching around for the meaning of the oldtimerishness was coming up mostly empty. I spoke with a few oldtimers who have more time than I do, and I was surprised that at times, they are not well and wonderful. I mean beyond the daily badness that happens to us all. Some feel that the oldtimer experience is not a continuation of things getter better and better. I have to say, though, that I’m talking to people who are still sober and who still go to meetings. Most of the people who were at meetings when I began have died, gone off to the home, drank, or stopped going to meetings. This is not and will not be my experience. I’m more grateful and dedicated to AA now than I ever have been. As years go by I see more clearly all I have gained and all I have avoided by never stopping the meetings.

I also never want it to stop getting better. I want to stay involved and growing, but the sign posts aren’t as clear at this point as they were early on. The people are not there. They basically often literally do not exist. When I go to a meeting I am often the one in the room with the most time. If someone has more than me, it’s one or two people at the most. This in no way endangers my sobriety. I could never talk to anyone ever again about this, and I would not drink. But midway through a rough year it occurred to me that there are few people on the path ahead of me who I can ask for help. There are always newcomers galore, and they are more important to my sobriety than oldtimers. I need the newcomers. I’ll get by without the oldtimers.

In years past when I had a rough time, I turned to the steps, and I did a first fourth and fifth, and years later, a second. Now instead of jumping into a third, I thought about the fact that I really stopped after that last fifth step. Although elements of all the steps are woven into my very soul at this point, and I try consciously to practice all of these principles in all my affairs, I thought that before doing a third formal fourth and fifth I would look at six through three. There’s really no one person I can do this with, although I do it with all the AA people I come in contact with to some degree. I thought of writing it down and I do love to write. So here it is.

So much of the sharing at meetings involves “when I was drinking” and “when I first stopped drinking.” As it must. When I was drinking I was almost 22 years old, at the oldest. When I first stopped drinking I was 22 and 23 and 24 and 25. Now I have children that age. It was a life time ago and it has less and less to do with who I am today as every year of sobriety passes.

I will not forget those experiences and I know I cannot. That’s part of still going to meetings after all these years. Still at times, I wish I heard more sobriety talked about. My own story has less and less to do with the drunken teenager I was as now I’ve spent more than half my entire life sober, in AA.

Step Six Continued

I’m tempted to dawdle over words like honesty and willingness and not move on. But guess what? Procrastination is a big defect of mine! So onward.

Of course, the often disputed question of whether God can – and will, under certain conditions – remove defects of character will be answered with a prompt affirmative by almost any AA member.

This is referring to that killing defect, the compulsion to drink despite awful, awful results. It is absolutely and almost completely removed from my character. Really the only time I think of drinking is when it is in my face, usually around my family. Sometimes then I think about it for a minute, but really it doesn’t appeal. I remember the bad stuff very well, thank goodness, and I’ve had the experience many times of trying to do it differently. That character defect was huge, and it was killing me. I really couldn’t function and yet I couldn’t stop.

To him, this proposition will be no theory at all; it will be just about the largest fact in his life.

That it is. I believe that if not for that, I would literally have no life. And I don’t go through life battling it. It is gone.

He will usually offer his proof in a statement like this: “Sure, I was beaten, absolutely licked. My own willpower just wouldn’t work on alcohol.

This is true for me. I tried to stop many times, and I went back many times. Even though I was physically ill and had no good prospect for the future, I couldn’t stop. Even though every time it got worse, I kept trying again, hoping it would get better or just get possible. I have none of this today, so I can agree with the book 100% on this. It’s gone, although my willpower couldn’t make it go.

Still on that Sixth Step

The sixth step came up as a topic again the other night. It seems to me that it does get a lot of examination. I’m still thinking that, in reworking the steps, I will start at six, go on down through twelve, and come back to one, two, three, etc. When I quoted it in a previous post I misquoted were entirely ready and wrote became entirely ready. I don’t know if the difference is important. Probably not. It’s likely one of those things a person like me can fool around with in order to avoid doing the step. I have nothing new to say, so I’ll take it a piece at a time and see if I can get through.

This is the step that separates the men from the boys.

Uh huh. Well, I do like to say that I am the “man” in my relationship. But just like in church, I have to get past the sexist language if I am to learn anything. I guess this is implying that it takes maturity and experience, since boys can and do have attributes like courage. I do believe I have decent amounts of maturity and experience.

So declares a well-loved clergyman who happens to be one of AA’s greatest friends. He goes on to explain that any person capable of enough willingness and honesty to try repeatedly Step Six on all his faults – without any reservations whatever – has indeed come a long way spiritually, and is therefore entitled to be called a man who is sincerely trying to grow in the image and likeness of his own Creator.

So try repeatedly and without any reservations. Try repeatedly I can certainly attest to. There are long periods of time when character defects do not dominate my thoughts, though, so I’m not always dwelling on what’s wrong with me. I believe I can claim no reservations also, in a way, since I believe and know it to be true that these things are possible. I can and will progress with this as long as I’m alive and able. In that way, I have no reservations, even as I actively engage my character defects knowingly and often.

Happy Anniversary!

Tonight was the best kind of night. Our group celebrated the first anniversary of a group member. This guy joined the group right at the start. We were his first meeting, and he lives nearby. Being neighbors of his, we sometimes heard sounds from across the street that had let us know that alcohol might possibly be a problem for our neighbor. Still, we were surprised last year when he walked in.

It’s been amazing to watch him change over the year. He doesn’t always do what he’s told, and at times he can be quite obstinate about doing as he is told. I think that can be dangerous and disastrous. It is not ideal. Stil, he keeps coming back. It is very interesting to see several of the very newcomers who are drawn to him and who he helps, though he hasn’t formally done the steps and doesn’t follow all the suggestions.

A year of sobriety and meetings has brought him a peace that you can see. He’s talking more, and he’s sometimes facing issues of his life, if only to say that he won’t face them. And he helps others daily.

So here’s an analogy I’ve thought of when I’ve heard him say he won’t follow the suggestions. He says that not drinking and going to meetings is enough, he won’t do steps or get a sponsor, and that he’s only not drinking while his wife is alive. Should she die, he doesn’t know. So to me that’s like someone with a broken leg. The person says he knows there are doctors and hospitals, surgeries and therapies, crutches and wheelchairs to help out. But this person declines all that, and will live with a homemade splint. And if his wife dies, he may take off the splint and have an actively broken leg. The steps and other “suggestions” may be hard to do, like physical therapy or surgery, but the result is well worth it. I have lots of hope that this man will see that. I do see in him, though, more willingness than was there even a few months ago. I wrote on his card that I don’t want him to “quit before the miracle.” I hope he gets it before it gets him. He has touched lots of people in one year, including me. I told the group (because they aren’t used to big anniversary celebrations around here) that we do it in order to show that it works. And it does. My neighbor has had a good year because it works.

Different Kinds of Meetings

Throughout the years, I’ve usually had one women’s meeting as my “home” group. The very first group I joined was not a women’s meeting, but a regular group that met two nights a week with different meetings that changed over time. When I moved so often in sobriety, I always hooked up with the nearest women’s meeting and made that my “must attend” meeting in that place. When I first moved to where I am now, I did go to the same women’s meeting most of the time. After a few years I stopped going there, and I haven’t been that regular at a women’s meeting since.

I still prefer women’s meetings to mixed meetings, but only slightly. I have seen them get to up close and personal, and at times I’ve called them “AA lite” when the personal problems of the members take over and when there is drama between members.

I’ve been to gay meetings and at times I’ve attended one regularly. I really like the aspect of being totally “out” at those, though really it’s not a big deal at any meeting. I find the people in AA to be among the most accepting in the world.

Where I live now, all the groups meet just once a week. Some are specialty meetings like Big Book or beginners meetings, and I can’t see belonging to a group that does just that. Some have one week of big book, one week of discussion, one week of a lead, and so on. Others have several different meetings going on at once. I like big book and step meetings, and at times I’ve attended one of those for weeks in a row. Still my favorite format is lead with discussion. I like to hear the stories of the people I see often.

Wouldn’t Ordinarily Mix

We have a friend who often quotes the book (big book?) that says that the people in AA are people who, under other circumstances, would not usually associate with each other. One of the absolute coolest aspects of AA is the way that people who have not much in common share with each other on such an intimate level. When I was new, I was female, 16, in high school, and I didn’t even have a driver’s license yet. I’m not any of those things anymore except for female. Then, I think the person with the demographic most different from mine was probably an old man. Now it’s probably a young man. But in AA I have known and appreciated such varied people, it’s truly amazing. It has let me know that on the “outside,” in the rest of the world, everybody has a story. I’ve heard so many of them.

I think there’s the comparison in the literature of people in AA to people who have survived a ship wreck. They boarded the ship as upper class passengers, or poor passengers, or officers of the crew or as the guy who cleans the toilets. After the ship hits the iceberg and most people around them die, the survivors belong to each other and care about each other in a totally new way. Really, though, the actual shipwreck survivors probably quickly move on in their lives. Maybe a few stay in touch. In AA, in order to keep surviving, we stay in touch with each other frequently.

I’m sure just this part of the experience has colored my view of people and the world for most of my adult life, and for that, once again, I’m grateful.

Resentment

Somewhere in the literature it says something like “resentment is the number one offender” when it comes to our character defects. Well I’ve always resented that! It seems to me like something written by men for men about men. I have not been a terribly resentful person through my life. I find fear to be the bigger one for me, with depression coming in second. I understand that they are all different tributaries of the same river of dysfuntion. I have mostly been able to forgive the wrongs that have been done to me, and usually when someone lets me down I can remember that they are “also sick and often wrong.”

I chose to write about resentment today because I am resentful regarding a specific situation in my life. This situation is unique in my world, and along with resentment I’ve experienced feeling like a victim of injustice for really the first time in a big way. I don’t know what makes this different or what about me is different at this time that causes or allows me to feel resentment and injustice. It is partly those feelings that have driven me to do all this contemplating about being an oldtimer and how my attitude and outlook have yet to change sufficiently.

The resentment of the day concerns a dear friend I worked with as a partner for six years. A year and a half ago, we got a new boss that my friend couldn’t get along with, and she left. Through much awfulness in which it seems like the dark side really did triumph, new boss had to leave. That was almost exactly a year ago, and my friend will be coming back to be my partner again 363 days after new boss left. I’ve been doing the job alone for a year and a half that I will share again starting Monday. Resetment, injustice and sadness, plus the anniversary, are throwing me down into the emotional pit.

So, what have I learned through the years to help me be happy, joyous and free, and to have a faith that works under any conditions, and to be serene and serve God and my fellow human beings?

This too shall pass. Yes, the bad feelings I am feeling will not dominate my emotional landscape forever more.

Just like me, people are also sick and often wrong. As much as it feels to me like the forces of evil have triumphed, I have to remember that I can’t see the whole picture. It is possible that God has a plan I can’t see. It’s also possible that I am wrong, and they are right, or that, more likely, we are both right and wrong.

There are people worse off than me. Billions of them. This tragedy is not a tragedy. None of the people I feel I have lost are truly lost to me. Actually, I could call them right now and they would answer and talk to me and be with me if I need them to. I’m healthy (as far as I know) and I have everything I need today. Lots more than I need, and it has always been so. One of the analogies I use at work is to remember people who have hideous jobs. I’ve seen meat workers on TV, and when things get tough at work I remind myself and others that it’s still so much better than working on a chicken gutting assembly line. I admire people who work under those and other difficult circumstances, and I have to remember how easy I really do have it.

Time to grow? So often it takes adversity to make me stretch and grow. It takes extreme emotional pain to make me become entirely ready to have God remove my defects. Heck, it takes pain just to get me to pay attention to them for any amount of time. If I do the right thing through this experience, growth is about assured.

Lying in Meetings

Last night we heard a lead that was the most fantastic lead I have ever heard. And I unfortunately don’t mean that it was great. I mean it had to have more to do with fantasy than any I have heard before. I can’t even begin to list the outrageous elements of fame, fortune and tragedy that were contained in this story.

The thing that worries me most about it is the effect it must have on the newcomers to hear such stuff. Here they have found a group of people who strive as much as possible to be honest, then they hear this stuff. It also bothers me that I feel I’ve been taken advantage of in a way, and that I don’t know which elements are fact and which are fiction. All in all, though, personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Most of the people I hear lead I also know personally. I like it that way, and I know that most of what they say is true. I find it hard to admit that stories like last night’s leave me feeling in a muddle. I don’t like it, and I feel somehow stupid about it also. I guess it’s possible that all of it is true, but I can’t wrap my mind around that.

The guy gave names and dates, and CM went off to Google to try and see if any of it was provable. From what I heard her say, she could veryify none of it. Again, checking it out is not something I would do. And I guess that in the days before Google, gossip would have to take the place of a search engine.

We had gone out with a group after the meeting to a dinerish kind of place, and I find it interesting that no one referenced the fantastic story we had just heard.

I haven’t personally, blatantly lied telling my story. Really. The honesty and not having to keep track of my lies was one of the very first benefits I enjoyed in sobriety, and I’ve hung on to it with both hands most of the time. Through the years I must have listened to many many lies, though. There are none I can bring to mind with the important exception of people who said they were not drinking or using when they were. I was guilty of that one all the time, but of course not since I actually stopped.

I don’t know what to say beyond that it is really a shame. I hope that guy gets it, if he lives long enough. Several fatal illnesses were part of his tale. As for how a person could or should tell their story if it truly contains numerous unbelievable elements, maybe they could leave lots of them out and stick to the drinking until people get to know them better and get to know the outrageous details are real. Most outrageous thing I did was open a bottle of beer with my teeth.

Newcomers

We had the experience a few days ago of celebrating the one year anniversary of someone we had the honor of introducing to AA. Along with her and her year, there was her partner, who has four months, and one of CM’s sponsees, who just had two years (though we’ve known her longer and she’s been around longer – hey, I am here to testify that some are thicker than others and it’s never too late). A few days before the anniversary was the first anniversary of another member of our group.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with a few newcomers. The most obvious benefit to doing this is the way it makes me go over the basics, crack the books (and the other night, a discussion about whether it is Honesty, Openness and Willingness or Honesty, Openmindedness andWillingness did send two of the attendees to the Big Book. Result, unresolved). It is so amazingly wonderful to see people recover. Especially when they go from active drinking to abstinence, the metamorphosis confirms for me all that I have been doing and living. It’s awesome to see them make friends and become connected to the network of people who are daily trying to do the right thing. I imagine that different places in life might have the same result. Helping someone get started at work or at church would be similar.

It’s cliche that the newest person in the room is the most important, but when I have the most time in the room it strikes me sometimes that everyone who came before me is gone – moved, died, drank, staying sober some other way. Sometimes, if not for new people, I would literally be all alone at a meeting and not have a meeting and not have a fellowship.

Anyway, what I want to record is how amazing the experience was for me and CM the other night with our newly sober friends. I experience a profound feeling of blessing when I consider these people, and they have actually contributed to making me a happy person just by their being. To give it away to keep it doesn’t explain that completely. Sure I get to keep it, but it comes back multiplied many times over.