Experience, Strength and Hope (my story till 15)

I know I should get on with it. I will. I want to summarize and try to understand where I’m coming from a bit better.

I was an only child of two young people. I had a supportive extended family. I moved to the suburbs) before I started school. My parents were the first in each of their families to go to college. My father was an alcoholic who died at the young age of 33 from alcohol. If you believe in degrees, I think it’s safe to say he was “severe.”

My mother remarried a few years later, to a man I haven’t spoken to, despite living with him while growing up, for over 30 years. When I was around 12 years old, I started engaging in self-destructive, attention-seeking behavior. Though I had had friends in the past, I didn’t really have any at that time, except for my best friend, Isabel, who I had known since I was 5.

My mother continues to this day to engage in alcoholic behavior. She does drink and she takes pills. In addition to that, I’ve come to see that there are ways in which she is still very critical of me and she expresses these criticisms to my partner and my adult children. I have other relatives who I believe are alcoholic.

I was smart enough. I had two health problems, severe allergies and bum knees, that complicated things, but not too much.

That’s all I can think of at this moment to summarize my life up until I was 16. It’s my personal belief that I was predisposed to be an alcoholic. Whether that’s by heredity or something else, I don’t know. It absolutely doesn’t matter one tiny bit. I am alcoholic. I can’t go back to not being alcoholic.

I’ve heard people at times attribute their alcoholism to this or that factor or experience. It doesn’t matter. Whatever anyone has gone through, there are others who have been through the same and worse, yet they don’t become alcoholic. The wisdom of the ages, my personal experience and the experience of countless others tells us beyond a doubt that we can’t go back to being “normal.” Even if there was a chance I could, I wouldn’t ever risk it. Even if there was no doubt that I could, I wouldn’t want to. That is the miracle of AA.

I’m Unique! (just like everyone else)

I’m shocked to discover this. One of the first blessings of AA was the fact that I wasn’t alone or unique. At 16, believe me, I was different than most of the people in the rooms, but not unique. It is also a blessing and a key to my sobriety that at my very first meeting, when people told me, “I understand,” I believed them. Nothing that’s happened to me is something that hasn’t happened to many people before me. None of my thoughts or defects are mine alone. Alcoholics do understand me and I understand them. Whatever else may divide us (age, gender, economics, culture, language, and on and on) we have this one important thing in common. And usually lots more.

I started this blog because I felt a need to examine and share the longtimer experience. The bulk of AA is dedicated to the newcomer, and that is as it should be. I find being an oldtimer tricky in many ways. One of the most difficult aspects of it is that there just aren’t many people to share with who understand.

I got sober in 1984. So did many other people, and there were hundreds of thousands already sober. Then each year, some drank, some died, some stopped going to meetings, and each year there are less. I often have the most time in the room. If I don’t have the most, I’m second or third. Most days, at most meetings, this doesn’t matter a bit. But sometimes it crosses my mind, and it disturbs me in a way I have trouble sharing. Really, there’s no way to share it without sounding proud, unless I share it with someone in the same boat.

I started writing this blog for that reason, and I love doing it. I would write more if I had more time, and I’d write something for beginners also. This is a natural fit, and I wish I had started sooner.

For my anniversary, Carole gave me a CD from the AA Grapevine Online Catalog called A Lifetime of AA. I started listening to it on my way to work a few days ago, and I was stunned. I had the feeling I had when I first went to AA, of not being alone, of other people understanding, truly understanding. I had to keep stopping the CD because it sent my mind in a million directions, and I wasn’t listening anymore. I still haven’t listened to much of it, I was so taken aback by what I heard.

It is articles from ancient Grapevines written when oldtimers had five years. Five! Or six. Wow, how our perceptions have changed! The stories I’ve listened to name and address the problems of being an oldtimer, and they have different solutions. Most exiting to me is to begin an oldtimer meeting. This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time, but the CD has given me the push to try. I’m copying the CD, and when I get back from vacation I’m going to give it and a note to all the oldtimers I know and some I don’t, asking if they would be interested in such a meeting. At first, we’ll hold it while our other meeting is going on. But if there’s enough interest, who knows?

I’ll come back and enumerate my own perspective on the problems and joys of a lifetime of AA. It’s jazzed me up, but I’m also continuing the sixth step, continuing my story, and I need to get back to further thoughts on sober parenting.

If only my pesky job, kids, wife, house and pets did not demand so much time and attention. Benefits of sobriety.

Search Terms (just for fun)

Here are some of the terms people put into search engines that brought them to this blog:

sixth step, aa sixth step, resentment 12-steps, step six aa, how do i work the 6th step in aa?, what is the sixth step about? I hope my writings so far have helped someone get a little further along with the sixth step. Clicking that category isolates those posts from the others. After I’ve finished with the step in this way, I intend to research a bit what others have written.

my father and my mother Not that my mother ever would read this, but I think I’ve crossed the line of where I could let her read it. Too hurtful at this point. I feel bad about that, and I felt bad about it, but not quite so bad as I did before she told my wife what a terrible mother I was to my daughter. I hope the person searching that gained something from my experience, but I know there are far far worse parents out there than the two I had and have.

my story about experience This one baffles me a bit. I’m telling my story and it is about my experience. Hope this person wasn’t looking for something sexy.

how many people die a a year The double “a” seems to be a typo. Or, is it asking how many people during an “a” year? What’s an “a” year, and how can I have one?

aa meetings in new york They rock! We’ve started one in our area that uses the New York format.

friends who don’t drink In my opinion, these are the best kinds of friends. It’s interesting to see if you like to spend together once drugs are removed.

90 meetings in 90 days aa Do it, do it, oh please just do it! I’m shocked and bit frightened by the reluctance some people have to do this. There was time to drink every day, wasn’t there? When I started AA I did not view this as optional, and I’m so glad. This establishes you in AA, fills your time at first when all you’ve known in active alcoholism, helps you make sober friends. My cynical brain says someone searched this term to find a way out of doing this. Just go!

I am gay So am I!

paralyzed by sloth So am I!

Nearly Anyone Could Submit a Good List of Such Defects as These (Step Six continued)

Nearly anyone could submit a good list of such defects as these, and few of us would seriously think of giving them up, at least until they cause us excessive misery.

Some people, of course, may conclude that they are indeed ready to have all such defects taken from them. But even these people, if they construct a list of still milder defects, will be obliged to admit that they prefer to hang on to some of them. Therefore, it seems plain that few of us can quickly or easily become ready to aim at spiritual and moral perfection; we want to settle for only as much perfection as will get us by in life, according, of course, to our various and sundry ideas of what will get us by. So the difference between “the men and the boys” is the difference between striving for a self-determined objective and for the perfect objective which is of God.

A list of such defects as these refers to those mentioned previously: procrastination, envy, gluttony, anger and self-righteous anger, lust, greed, feeling superior. I have come to understand that every human person suffers from every human failing at some level. The perfect objective, which is of God, would I guess be a totally loving and giving person, someone who worked at capacity with no wrongful sense of self at all.

Why does pondering this and doing this enable people (like me) to stay sober? I don’t really like the word or concept of shame. I find we are certainly ashamed of our humanness, body and desires. When we’ve done something wrong or selfish we feel ashamed. It’s interesting to me that some senses of the meanings of shame have to do with disgrace. The step has told me that my instincts and desires, when they are harmful and hurtful, oppose the grace of God.

There are things I guess I’m not ready to give up. At this moment, I’m angry. I had a fight with Carole (which will be my wife’s pseudonym for this blog). Details aren’t important, but we’re going through the adjustment again of the kids moving home from school for the summer, or in my daughter’s case till she finds a job and can support herself. This transition is difficult for people all over the world. The way in which we keep tripping up is plain to me so far as Carole’s role is involved. I’ve understood for years that when I feel the anger, I am to examine my part, forgive her her part, thank her if she’s pointed out something genuinely lacking in me, forgive her if she’s not justified, understanding that she is also sick and often wrong, that I am also sick and often wrong.

Why can’t I do it consistently and well? I don’t think it would be fair to say I don’t do it at all. But I don’t do it consistently or well. My self-determined objective is probably to change her as much as I can (which AA has taught me is not at all), and get rid of my anger as quickly as possible in that it ruins my day and big chunks of my life. The perfect objective, which is of God, would be for me to be as nice and gentle and accommodating and enlightening, patient, loyal, true and strong ……….. This doesn’t mesh with my understanding of how to be most useful to everyone involved in this situation, and I’m going to have to revisit this.

Experience, Strength and Hope (my story continued – 12, 13, 14, 15)

I’m going to draw a line between ages 15 and 16. At 16, as you’ll read later, I started some new, grown up, bad behaviors that I didn’t have at 15. Through junior high and the first grades of senior high I was a sick puppy. I tend to think that I was an alcoholic who hadn’t found the drink yet. I was mentally ill, no doubt about that. I’ve heard some say that adolescents are mentally ill by definition. I know I wasn’t alone in going crazy and going bad during those years.

After I turned 12 or 13, and went to the doctor for a yearly physical, I had gained substantial weight and not really grown. I wasn’t over weight at all, not till I was probably 40. But my body type was pretty set at short and small boned. I had first needed a bra at nine years old, the first one in my fourth grade class. That was not nice. As a result I really thought I had an overly big chest for many, many years. I really don’t, though on someone as short as I am, an average amount goes a long way.

My knee issues were pretty much resolved. I had big scars and lumpy knees, but they stayed in place and I was only really restricted from a few activities like skiing and kneeling. My allergies had moderated. I was still an only child, though more of my peers were fatherless by that time. I had fallen behind in school to the point that I was on the slow track for math and science by ninth grade. I redeemed myself and got back with the regular kids for those subjects, and the smart kids for English. I had no friends. I wasn’t despised or picked on, I just didn’t have friends. I had no one to sit with at lunch. When I sat with someone, they would let me sit there and talk to me. But that was it. They weren’t my friends.

One friend I do need to mention is Isabel (not her real name). I met her when we moved to the house in the suburbs when I was five. She was four, and she lived down the block. Back then, in the late 1960s, kids that young actually played out on the streets (we had no sidewalks). She was my friend then, and she’s my friend now, now that I’m almost 46 and she’s almost 45. We live a few hundred miles apart and we don’t see each other often. We have, through the years, because she stayed in our hometown and so did my mother, so I’d see her once a year or more often as I visited. She and my mother have moved, though, and I don’t know when or how I will see her next.

But back then, she was my friend. She actually covered my babysitting job so that I could go to my very first AA meeting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

During the years in question, I cut myself. I cut my forearms and my face. At that time I had not heard of anyone doing this. I hid my razor under my jewelry box, and one day my mother dusted my furniture, found the razor and took it. Didn’t say a word. When I cut my wrist (not nearly deeply enough to really hurt myself), I said the TV wires had cut me. Her husband commented that those wires can cut like a razor. So she had told him. Still she said nothing to me.

I wrote a story for English in which a girl tries to kill herself. I was scheduled to see the school psychologist. When he asked me to draw a person, I drew a cartoon figure. I wouldn’t talk, I didn’t cooperate. Ditto with the school guidance counselor.

I thank God I found alcohol. The recovery from that has saved me in so many ways.

Mothers, Children, Sobriety and lack thereof

It’s Mother’s Day, and my mother and daughter are here.  My daughter graduated from college yesterday, which is why my mother is here.  My daughter hasn’t looked for nor found a job yet, which is why she is here.  We’re going to Disney as a graduation present for my daughter at the end of the month.  She’s worked at one or more jobs since she was about 15, sometimes against my will, so I’m not terribly worried about her not looking for work yet.  She also had the option of going straight to grad school, which she decided not to do.  I’ll guess we’ll see.  This isn’t much of a problem except for the blasted American dilemma of health insurance.  As of June 1, she’ll be on Cobra.  I’m grateful it’s an option and one we can afford for now.  I’m anxious that there’s nothing more permanent or doable for the long term in place.  And my son will hopefully be in the same boat two years from now, so the Cobra funds may be needed then.  Yuck.

Anyway, after graduation my wife and I were able to make it to our home group AA meeting.  The topic was anger, and at first I thought I’m really not very angry, rather I’m on a bit of a pink cloud from the graduation.  As I thought about it though, I realized that I had had two flare ups of anger over the past two days.  One involved my wife, and one my wife and mother.  They were quick, insignificant flare ups, and they were brought on by the stress of the situation – trying to balance the wants and needs of all the people involved in the graduation.  Lots of the group looked to me to ultimately make decisions about where we went and when and how.  I was already stressed by leaving my dog (long story) and my utter hatred of spontaneity.  Things went better when I told them to tell me where to be when, and to do their best to take care of the dog.  My daughter ultimately decided what to do after the ceremony (there’s a concept, having the graduate decide) and I was able to go along and be pleasant and try to push my dog anxiety away.

So at the meeting I was able to say that although these anger issues were there that day, they weren’t serious.  They didn’t threaten the relationships and all the relationships are pretty good.

At the diner after the meeting, to which my wife and son went with some people from the meeting, my wife told us how my mother had put me down during their car ride home from the ceremony.  This isn’t surprising or new.  I’m an only child.  I’m not the most stellar specimen you’ve ever seen.  I make plenty of mistakes, I’m average or below average in most ways.  My mother has always put me down.  Often, to others, she’ll talk me up.  But not to me or the people close to me.  She’s always liked my friends better than she’s liked me.  She likes my wife better than she likes me.  She likes my kids better.

What she told my wife about my faults was fundamental and cutting.  She criticized the way I have mothered my daughter, and she blamed my daughter’s mental health issues on me.

Without getting into it too much, through the years of my daughter’s struggles I have taken her to doctors and therapists a-plenty.  I have always asked them to please let me know if there was anything I could do better, do differently, stop doing or start doing.  I am not mother of the year.  I have never been. But …….. I really feel I’ve done a much better job than my mother.  She has always criticized me.  In all these years I have not answered her with a recitation of her own sins and lacks.  I haven’t yet.

So often I hear people say that their parents did the best they could with what they knew or had at the time.  I don’t believe it.  I wanted my children and made them number one in my life.  Still I could have done better.  And so often real parents were bad, or wrong, or careless or dangerous.  I don’t know why pop psychology says we must love and forgive.  Resentment against my parents occupies hardly any of my mental energy, but it’s there, and I don’t see how getting over it or denying it would help any.

At the diner, my son said he knows he had never been physically hurt by me, and I’m very grateful that that is his picture.  And not to derail this, the accusations are not that I was ever physically punishing or cruel.  Even the example that my mother has at times shown my children, her grandchildren, has been very bad, and I haven’t said anything.

The AA program only goes so far in helping us parent, I think.  But the legacy of behavior I have shown my children and given my children is so far superior to what I was given.  Because of AA.  My son said moderation would be the best example to give your children regarding alcohol, better than abstinence.  I told him that I cannot show moderation, and my example may actually change his life one day.

As I had this conversation with him and heard what my mother had to say about me, and considered what she has shown me through the years, I am filled with gratitude for the program, for my children, for the power to break away from that diseased and sick example.  My son, at 20, and my daughter, at 22, are so much healthier than I was at their ages.  I was actually getting sober at 22, having spent six years in a drunken hell.  I didn’t graduate on time, due to drinking.  I stopped drinking then and I started having them then and I feel that their health and happiness have been made possible by AA.

God is Doing for Us (Promises)

I’ve been keeping a bit of a rhythm here alternating Step Six with my story and other things that aren’t step six or my story.  It’s time for one of those “other things” posts.  I thought of expounding on one of the search terms that brought people here.  I went to a meeting last night, and I thought I would write on that topic, whatever it was that came up.

There were two, sort of.  There was “God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves,” and “anger.”

“We will see that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves,” is one of the Promises listed in the Big Book as following a painstaking effort on all the steps through nine, making amends.  PAINS TAKING is a word that deserves lots of consideration.  Taking pains.  At any rate I will resist the temptation to list all the promises, since I’m trying to write an oldtimer blog here.  If you’re new or unsure, check out the full list of promises and the entire Big Book.

“We will see that God is doing for us what we could do for ourselves” is one of the more ephemeral promises.  Some of the others are more concrete.   This is widely open to interpretation.  I have not looked at other  studies of these things, and I want to get my own thoughts out before I do investigate what others have thought.  I think it will be interesting to see what’s out there, though, once I’m done.  It’s my opinion that we who are successfully sober in AA have sobriety as a touchstone for all other miracles, promises, successes and generally good things.  It is a miracle.  It is a success.  I can’t disbelieve anything as widely accepted as a promise made by this program since I have seen THE overriding success and change.

Getting me sober was certainly something God did for me that I could not do for myself.  That had a domino effect in that it set in motion a chain of positive things that continues to this day.  Twenty four hours from now, I expect to be at the graduation ceremony of my daughter from college.  My wife and partner will be there, as will my son and my mother.  All these things stemmed from that first miracle of my sobriety.  I could not attain, care for and manage these things for myself.  God has done it.

My abstinence from alcohol has been complete and total for over 24 years now.  In that way I have done the first step perfectly, at least for this time.  The others, it tells us, are less clear and complete.  We can only have relative progress and success.  The other things that God has done for me that I couldn’t do for myself are less than perfect.  I haven’t been and can’t be the perfect mother, even though I am a sober one.

I like the saying from the bible that tells us God won’t test us beyond our ability to bear it.  First, I think that’s false.  Many people get tested every day and fail, or die.  But the verse goes on to say that with the testing, God will also provide the way out, so that we may endure it.  Sometimes it makes sense to me that people who fail to attain and maintain sobriety within AA are just not open enough to God’s help as that is expressed through the people and the books.  God has provided the way out, but some people won’t or can’t take it.

But sober people within the program who are trying to work and seeking out help through books, meetings and through other people, maybe they can continue to improve in their ability to allow God to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

When I’m disturbed and uneasy, I think I look fairly quickly to the program to find the way out.  I’m wondering what the elements are of the situation that I miss, or don’t practice diligently enough, or just reject outright.  Those are the things that keep me sick.