I hate vacation. That’s an attitude I will be working on changing, every day for at least the next ten or so days. I’m taking the computer and I really hope that I can do all my usual online things. No let me amend that. I hope I don’t want to do my usual online things. But if I do want to, I hope I’m able to. Anyway just in case someone wonders where I’ve gone. I’ll be repeatedly riding through It’s a Small World, lines permitting.
Also when I was 16, I got back in touch with my father’s family. I had not seen them for years. I don’t believe there was a feud or anything like that between them and my mother, I think it’s just something that everyone let slide. My father was the oldest of five, and his two younger sisters had seven kids between them, with me born somewhere in the middle. That gang of cousins and family and belonging was potent to me.
I visited them and stayed with them, and looking back, I think I was over emotional and clingy. I loved being with them. A funny memory that just came back to me involves a time my mother got drunk there and I refused to go home with her. I called my sugar daddy across the street, and he came to get me.
I asked one of my aunts about my father, and if he had been an alcoholic. His official cause of death, or the cause of death they told to me, was pneumonia. I think fatal pneumonia hides a multitude of sins. She said that he was an alcoholic, and I know it stressed her to admit that to me. She also told me that as a child, he had been hospitalized with spinal meningitis. She said that all the other children on the ward died, and that the disease may have weakened his system, so that he couldn’t drink. She also said that his job as a boxer may have weakened him, since I guess he would have suffered blows to the liver.
Around that time, I went on a sort of anti-alcohol campaign. At my 16th birthday party, I actually poured out the drinks of some of the relatives who would tolerate it.
So, I started drinking. I had an actual goal, which was to be slightly drunk all the time. I’m fortunate in that the time frame during which this worked and was pleasurable was very small. I was too young to buy alcohol. I had gotten a hair cut that required using a “mister” to frizz up my hair (this was the 1970s). The frizzing didn’t last long, and the empty Fantastic bottle sat on my dresser. I filled it from my mother’s endless supply of sangria or white wine. She always had a gigantic bottle under the sink or on the basement stairs. When I babysat, I took some of their hard liquor to add to my bottle. So I drank a hideous mix of whatever I could get. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t there for the taste.
This came following my short lived anti-alcohol campaign. I had not been educated about alcohol or alcoholism by anyone, and I had just a little knowledge I had acquired on my own. I’m such an alcoholic, I did a classic thing without knowing about it. I set rules for myself and guidelines that I could not cross. I mentally listed what would make me alcoholic, and at which point I would know I had a problem. And like I said, I was 16, and didn’t know much about it.
Again, I can’t really remember in what order things happened. I will need to look at the 18 months of sobriety and what that entailed, but it’s hard for me to know what lead to it. One thing I’m fairly certain of, I drove my car with my best friend, Isabel, in it while I was under the influence. That was a biggie for me. I was such a child, I was driving her to the pet shop to get hamsters. I was such an alcoholic, I wasn’t able to keep my promise to myself for even a short time.
If we would gain any real advantage in the use of this Step on problems other than alcohol, we shall need to make a brand new venture into open-mindedness. We shall need to raise our eyes toward perfection, and be ready to walk in that direction. It will seldom matter how haltingly we walk. The only question will be “Are we ready?”
I hope I’m taking a new venture into open-mindedness. I was actually just contemplating the time it takes me to do this, this being working on my program at a new level. The work I’m doing involves writing here, which I really enjoy. Always a good thing when you enjoy your work. I’ve been going to more meetings. More for me is usually two, sometimes three a week. I’ve made an effort to speak up at the meetings. I would say that most of time, in the past, I’ve passed my turn. I made copies of the CD of oldtimer stories and I’ve given one to two people, asking them if they would be interested in starting and oldtimer’s meeting.
Why do the work? It is often boring, time consuming and hard. I absolutely don’t want my life to be centered on something negative and have lots of my time dedicated to hard work. Maybe oldtimers often feel this way. When people are new, they have to work hard at it in order to get it. Now that it’s been gotten, it has become more a natural part of my life rather than something to work hard at.
It’s the real advantage cited in the step that I’m after. I know that any work I put into AA has always been worth it. Still, at the bottom of it, I am that person who needs to work it or die. And even if I could not work it and live, I desire more of the benefits of program, and I have to work to get the results.
A new idea that’s come into my newly opened mind is to consider my difficulties in the light of desires and instincts with oppose the grace of God. For a long time I’ve understood the concept of having the ideal and aiming for the ideal. I’ve also understood the 12 Steps to be a road map to the ideal. I’ve been thinking about this and writing about this for a few months, but I have yet to really apply it in the moment when I’m distressed. So it’s all in retrospect, and there’s not even a lot of that.
Am I ready? I believe that I am, mostly.
This is my favorite AA symbol. “The Man on the Bed,” “AA #3” also known as Bill Dotson. To my understanding, once Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob had shared their stories and outlined the program of recovery, they knew they had to “pass it on” as the only way to keep it. It’s that element of AA that enabled me to recover. It’s not like reading a book or going to a therapist or doctor for treatment. The resource of the real people who share my space, listen to me talk, comment on my life, ask me for advice, makes it work for me.
I’m an introvert. Totally. This isn’t the way I would choose to do it, given a choice. Well actually, I would choose to do it this way now. It’s not what I would have chosen at the beginning. This, to me, is the miracle of AA I reference when I say, “Don’t quit before the miracle.”
Last night I got to celebrate my 24th anniversary with my group. I understand that 24 years in not fathomable to some people. That’s OK. It’s still important for me to be there to show that it works. I was able to articulate something with more clarity for myself, at least, as to what has helped me. Through the years, when I’ve had upheaval in life situations and/or my mood and thoughts, I’ve turned to the program. I’ll detail that more further along in “my story,” but what I can see is that when I’ve felt something wrong, I’ve been able to understand and believe that there’s something wrong in me, not in the program.
It’s become clear to me that this is one key to my long time sobriety. I drank and relapsed many times before I got it. I thought that AA wasn’t working for me. That attitude, over the years, varied all the way from me just being too bored with sobriety not to drink all the way to thinking I was one of “those unfortunates” who, born that way, could not get it, and many places in between. When I accepted my alcoholism, accepted that over any period of time it gets worse, accepted that drinking wasn’t an option, I really had no choice but to work the program or kill myself.
I figured and figure I’m going to die eventually anyway, why not give this a go? Twenty four years later I’m considering the problems and opportunities of an oldtimer.
I’ve had the opportunity over the past two years to introduce someone to the program in a formal way, and that friend told her story for the first time at a meeting (she “lead,” or “spoke,” or “qualified” depending on how you say it) last night for me. It’s an awesome experience to see her evolve and slowly pick up all the benefits and rewards of the promises of the Twelve Steps. That’s why I like the symbol of the “man on the bed” best of all the symbols. Really, if Bill and Bob had not shared it with Bill, I don’t know if I’d be or where I’d be but the miracle of the program is that I wouldn’t trade here and now for anything.
Some time after I was 17 and before I was 19, I had 18 months of continuous sobriety through AA. During that period of sobriety, when I spoke about my story, I remembered in what order and at what times different things had happened. After those 18 months, I drank, and I continued to drink for roughly five more years. When I again became sober, the time which has continued until now, I could no longer order things or say what happened when.
So, two important events, both happened when I was 16 years old. I think. I don’t know which happened first. I know the course of these events continued along a corroded thread until I was almost 22. I don’t really know the meaning of the way they occurred together for those years. I don’t even know if there is a meaning.
The easier one to write about is my first drink. Although film evidence suggests I did drink a bit as a toddler, my first noteworthy drink occurred when I was 16. I had very painful periods and massive cramps. This was in the days before Ibuprofen. My periods would debilitate me and I would lay in miserable pain for a day or two. My mother, never one to give sympathy when someone doesn’t feel well, (one time when I thought I would keel over from heat exhaustion she said that would make one less mouth to feed at dinner), would go to work and I’d think I’d probably be dead when she returned.
One day she offered me a nonprescription pain killer. She put rye whiskey in a glass of cola. I drank it. I didn’t like the taste. I have never liked the taste of alcohol, not even a little bit. It always tasted to me like poison, like gasoline or nail polish remover might taste. I drank it down and I laid on my bed, and time passed and I felt sleepy. Then I had a thought that would change my life, that would define my life and would threaten my life. I thought
It hurts just as bad, but I don’t care anymore.
I thought I had found the key to the universe. I liked that feeling so incredibly much, I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be just a little drunk all the time. As the book describes it, I believe that I am a REAL alcoholic. There was no line for me to cross, except the line between ignorance and knowledge. There was no social drinking and no slow build up. There was only before alcohol and after alcohol.
My trip down that hill was swift. I’ll write about it next time I get back to my story. For now I have to list the other thing I started doing when I was 16. I started sleeping with – having sex with – the man across the street. I was 16, he was 32. I loved his wife as a friend. I babysat for his children, two little boys. I had not had sex with anyone before.
I don’t feel like listing details here. I don’t know if I will, or if I should. I think I know what’s important about this experience, at least lots of what’s important about it. Central for me is what it says about my morals at that time. I understand that I was a “child” and he was an adult. I understand that he was overwhelmingly in the wrong. I understand I was a victim.
I FEEL bad and guilty and pitiful. I said yes to him, and to anyone who ever asked. OK only he and one other guy ever asked, but still. That’s maybe more pitiful. I was caught in the attention. I suffered terribly all the six years of that relationship. I swore I would never again be involved in a triangle, in a cheating situation. I believed my only road to happiness was through him, and through him leaving his wife and being with me.
Next time I’ll write how my drinking paralleled this situation in time, almost exactly. It’s important that I understand that though they happened together and ended together, one did not cause the other. Very important.
Many will at once ask, “How can we accept the entire implication of Step Six? Why–that is perfection!” This sounds like a hard question, but practically speaking, it isn’t. Only Step One, where we made 100 percent admission we were powerless over alcohol, can be practiced with absolute perfection. The remaining eleven Steps state perfect ideals. They are goals toward which we look, and the measuring sticks by which we estimate our progress. Seen in this light, Step Six is still difficult, but not at all impossible. The only urgent thing is that we make a beginning, and keep trying.
One of the things I’ve been able to appreciate and articulate for years is the fact that I see the Twelve Steps as a plan. A map. Guidelines. They state ideals to me, meaning they tell me what I’m aiming to get closer and closer to all the time. They tell me I won’t ever make it all the way there. That’s not my objective and it’s useless to aim for that. Really, most of the time I make a 100 percent admission that I am powerless over alcohol, especially at this late day in my sobriety. But there have been times through the years when my admission was less than 100 percent. Luckily, thankfully, I’ve been able to hold on and get through those times without picking up.
I luck out in another way. It states that it’s urgent that we make a beginning and keep trying. I did not do this in the past. I didn’t do a complete and formal fourth step until I had five years sober. After that fifth step, I declared myself to be on Step Six until ……… I don’t even know until when. My wife and I took a trip to Akron to see the old AA landmarks, and I asked her to take my picture on the sixth step of Dr. Bob’s house, because that’s where I live, on the sixth step. That had to be approximately ten years after my first fifth step, and several years after my second fifth step. And I didn’t spend all those intervening years trying constantly either. And once again, I have to say this is not a good example to follow. I’m lucky that I lasted long enough to come around to this.
So now I’m wondering about this. Is all this thinking and writing that I’ve been doing on the sixth step enough to call it a go this time? Am I done, for now? Have I made progress?
I’ve gained some new insights over these months of considering the sixth step. I understand that I have every human character defect to some degree, that we all do. I understand that I have to consider mine daily. I understand that when something is disturbing me greatly, my character defects are the reason for my disturbance.
I’m wondering if and how knowing these things and accepting these things and examining these things makes possible a lessening of my defects.
I never quite thought of this in terms of instincts and desires that oppose the grace of God. My instincts and desires are human and fine in their own way. It’s the excess that brings pain, and it usually is demanding more than my fair share of something. One of the meditation books I read had as today’s thought something having to do with this – I have everything I need. And today, I truly do.
I sometimes go to a meeting where they have a laminated list of topic suggestions. There are the usuals like “gratitude” and “let go and let God.” There’s an odd one, “Let’s be friendly with our friends,” that we would sometimes puzzle over. One night someone chose this as the topic. Mostly people talked about well, their friends. Later I saw it on an official AA something, the whole list of topics. And later I read something that explained it meant cooperating with doctors, therapists and the like who are also working to help alcoholics recover. Not what we thought at all.
Today, for several reasons, none of them good, I was called upon to express my opinion about having relationships with people who drink. I stress this is my opinion only.
Of course we have relationships with people who drink, in our families, our workplaces, and in our friendships. Newcomers are advised to give up relationships that revolve around drinking (like those that take place mostly in a bar) for at least a while. Newcomers should also not go to places and events that threaten their sobriety. This is just for a while. After some time, almost everyone has little or no problem being around alcohol and drinkers. The friendships that had alcohol at their base usually don’t survive though. Of course some do.
So in my opinion, being friends with people who drink is fine. Personally I don’t go to bars and would advise other alcoholics not to either. I’m a bit extreme in that I don’t go to “happy hour” with, for example, a group of people from work. I know people who do and it’s fine. I would in no way be in danger of drinking if I did go, and I’m also told that sometimes there are others there who aren’t drinking. Still, I don’t go to bars. My friends who drink really don’t do it around me, though they might, for example, at dinner. I don’t have alcohol in my house ever, and it hasn’t been a problem.
We can be friends with people who we feel have a drinking problem but they don’t see it clearly yet. Again, for me, I wouldn’t accompany such people to a bar or party where drinking is the main activity. Other than that, it wouldn’t bother me much to have them drink around me a bit. Drunks I can live without. And while I’m hesitant and careful to judge who has a drinking problem in my opinion, sometimes I know that they do.
Friends who drink who were once sober fall into two categories. Some decide they are no longer alcoholic, or that they were mistaken when they labeled themselves as such, or that they are an alcoholic who can moderate (now there’s an oxymoron for you). These I would continue to be friends with, keeping an eye out. In my experience it’s very rare that someone labels themselves as alcoholic by mistake.
Then there’s the heartbreaking friend, the one who admits they are an alcoholic but who drinks, either openly or in secret.
A negative aspect of being an oldtimer is that we’ve seen too many of these die.
I don’t know about this one. I want to coldly write these off, and say it’s a consequence of drinking that you lose your AA friends. But I can’t. For one thing, this was me for several years. Also, the relationships often involve real love between friends, love that transcends states of sobriety. I want to understand my experience and use it now to help others. I would not, ever, send someone away from an AA meeting for drinking. I can understand not letting the meeting be disrupted, though that’s hardly ever a problem in the meetings I go to. For me, when I finally had no where else to go, AA was my last refuge. I chose last the place that would save me. But my years of drinking in the program did not cause people to shut me out.
I think we can hang in there with these people, at least for a while. It hurts. And it’s frightening, to see someone self destruct and engage in dangerous behavior. At least we can tell them we’ll be here waiting to welcome them back. At least we can wait for a while.