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.

IF ONLY

I just had to come back, as I sit and hear (but not listen to) Obama talk about his victory in North Carolina.  We have been supporting Hillary Clinton in a big way.  Lots of time and money has gone into this, and I don’t know how I’d feel about Obama had he not been against her.  I’m a Democrat, never a question about that.  As all this unfolds and I know I’ve witnessed a historical event I could not have imagined (it is telling that Firefox’s spell check recognizes her name but not his), my thoughts and my heart go back to if only. If only she had not run against him, if only she could have a turn first, if only (insert random wonky detail from the primaries) had not taken place.

Instincts and desires which oppose the grace of God.  Time to grow (yet again).

Consider, too, our talents for procrastination (step six continued)

Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables.

Oh this is me this is me this is me this is me! I have tortured myself with procrastination!

I see two sides to this. I know people who seem obsessive about getting things done that must be done, and they do it at the earliest possible second, obsessively. They can seem a bit frantic to me. Just now, trying to imagine what that is like, I’m wondering if there’s a time each day when they have done all they can do – paid bills, done their work (whatever kind of homework that may entail), cleaned what was to be clean.

And writing that, I realize that the people I know fairly well who fall into this category are truly not usually on time or ahead with everything. As I was just writing, my wife asked me if I had heard back from my cousin via email. He emailed me several days ago with a political position that was disturbing to us, and I had said to her that I was going to try to gently lead him in the way (we think) he should go. So she just asked me if I’ve heard back from but actually, I haven’t replied to his email in order for me to hear back. If I replied to all my email the day I got it, or the next day, how would that work?

But well I got derailed pretty well with that! I put off what I don’t want to face. I hate the mail, I hate paying bills, I hate shopping, and I will put all of these off until past the last possible minute. In the house we lived in prior to this one, I had the dining room table FILLED with papers from the mail. Now to be fair, I was often taking care of the paper of three people – myself and my two kids. But I would put off touching the stuff until a few times a year we needed the table, then I’d see that I hadn’t needed this or that paper in all that time. I should say I’m not ever late paying bills, I wouldn’t do that. But I’m actually years late in contacting my prepaid legal lawyer to see what’s become of my inheritance, and years late taking my piddly retirement accounts (three!) from my previous job and combining with my current one.

I have made progress. I haven’t destroyed the dining room table in this house with mountains of paper. And …… that may be about it!

I believe it comes up later in the step (and when I wrote this line, I saw with alarm that I am approaching the end of the step, having solved nothing), but of course I could work more diligently on this defect and others like it if I had motivation. I have made some progress in the program with things like this, but not enough.

Disturbing Memories of Awful Kiddie Parties (from my story)

There must be something to this stuff, because I don’t want to write it and I don’t want to remember.  I picture who the people are who know me and read this and I imagine what they will think.  It’s all terribly silly.  It’s nothing I wouldn’t say at a meeting or to a close friend.

The first one is not as awful as the second.  My birthday party in I think third grade was a barbecue in the backyard.  Before my father died, he had grilled famous ribs for my birthday and other times.  My birthday falls around Memorial Day.  Maybe they were trying to keep a little of that atmosphere, but when he was alive, my parties involved relatives who wanted to get together and gab.  Third graders who spent all day with each other were not so keen to do that.

I have pictures of this party and I’m wearing outrageously floral, unfortunate pants.  Some of the girls are wearing ponchos, which were fashionable at that time.  My mother’s side of my family did attend.  My father’s did not.  The trauma for me involves the fact that beyond eating, there were no planned activities.  For a bunch of eight year olds.

Now I’ve raised my own children beyond the age of kiddie parties and believe me I understand that are a truly awful duty of parenting.  If I had my life to live over again, we would have had a no party policy, as I know some others had.  In my experience with these things, there are bound to be awful moments, if not an awful whole thing.  But why my mother didn’t plan any activities is beyond me.  I guess she probably didn’t think it through, and realize that eight year olds just don’t like food and each other enough to spend a few hours with food, each other, and nothing else.

So the memory there is more the memory of the feeling that everyone was dying of boredom.  My mother’s sister, my aunt, did pull it out of the awful by quickly devising a scavenger hunt.  The kids then ran around the neighborhood looking for ……. stuff.  Imagine doing that today?  Not likely.

The other awful party memory involves my birthday in fifth or sixth grade, or I may have combined them in my memory.  This was the time of the sleep over, and it was also a time when I had friends.  Two awful things.  Maybe three.  One was playing some kind of stripping game, in sleeping bags, of course, and threatening to (I hope we didn’t actually do it) deprive one of the girls of her sleeping bag.  I hope she’s over the trauma, since clearly I am not.  The other was a girl that we (it was my party, I should take total responsibility) invited just to pick on.  How awful.  Memories like this fill me with fear for people in general.  I’m a pacifist, as peace loving as I can be, but I participated in this.  I remember taking her glasses.  I know we did other stuff as well.

The third disturbing memory of the two parties during fifth and sixth grade may actually tie into my loss of those friends, though probably not.  The first year my mother’s husband totally lost his cool about the noise all night.  The next year, either my mother had told him to cool it, or he spent the night elsewhere, but he didn’t complain and I yelled at my friends all night to be quiet.

I’ll try to make some sense of this later, in terms of drinking, sobriety, and oldtimerishness.  Now I’m going to go somewhere to cry!

Sober Parenting (the early years, summary)

So children were what I wanted most out of life. After six years of drinking and failing in AA, I began a sobriety that would stick. I met a man who was nice enough. I got married to him, and I had two children with him. I made these decisions in sobriety, knowing and understanding as much as I could at the age of 21. In many ways, and in most ways, I did this as a young but responsible person. I chose the man and he chose me, no one was tricked or pressured into anything. I knew and he knew that our actions might result in children. The children were wanted and planned for. I took my responsibilities seriously and did not drink or take any drugs at all while I was pregnant. I quit smoking at that time too. I read, talked to people, and gave great thought to the issues of pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, babyhood, toddlerhood, preschoolerhood. I approached those children as the most important job of my life, as I feel all children should be approached.

These decisions were made possible by sobriety and the AA program. When I was drinking, I did take one half assed chance of getting pregnant in bad circumstances. Had I not stopped drinking, and had by some miracle lived, I can’t imagine what kind of life I would have given any children I had. Every horrifying image I can conjur springs to mind if I try to find what that might have looked like.

I had a friend in AA who had a baby a year before I did. She married a nice guy in AA, and many times I had felt jealousy over the way her life was turning out. The nice guy she married had family, property and roots in our home town. They went on to have four children, and to live where I would have wanted to live. One day after I had moved back to our home town (and was renting a very expensive, very small house there), I was taking my kids to day care because I was working on my master’s and had to be at school early. I felt very bad about this situation. It was not what I wanted for my kids or myself. There came the husband of the situation I had described. I asked mutual friends about him and his wife, their four kids and my dream house and dream life.

The dream house was falling down. It was trashy and neglected. Their marriage was over but they were still together because she was incapable of caring for herself or the children. She had gone back to drinking and taking drugs, and had actually been arrested and been in jail for something drug related. She wasn’t working, but the four kids were in day care anyway because she couldn’t care for them. She and he had stopped going to meetings.

One of the keys to my long sobriety has been paying attention to these alternate routes that lead to nowhere. My life had not turned out the way I had wanted or expected. I got some of what I wanted, but really, not much (not much in number of things, that is – the actual things, the children, could not be quantified). From here I can see that never stopping meetings, never stopping AA, made it possible for me to get through in one piece, and to maybe actually have my children benefit from my alcoholism rather than suffer because of it.

Through the years I’ve known many people who have had sobriety babies. I have also known people to have babies in active alcoholism, or to relapse at some point in the early years. There is no question in my mind that sobriety babies are blessed in many ways. Their legacy is one of recovery, and the alternate route these children don’t have to travel is one that no child should have to know.

And how often we work hard (Step Six continued)

And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on — only we call that “retiring.”

Well at times I work hard, usually not too hard, and I do believe I have a better motive than to be secure and slothful later on. I take care of people, in a nutshell, and this suits my personality very well. Currently at my job I’m also writing a lot, which I love to do. My retirement is less than secure. I’ve put some money away every year that I’ve worked, but not much money. My wife has an excellent retirement that I will benefit from should our union become legal before we die. I honestly expect that to happen, but I’m not counting on it.

My mother had switched from working with children to working with adults in the 1980s when many people with mental retardation were leaving institutions.  At first she had a classroom type situation in a day program for people who could not handle supported employment or a workshop environment.  By 1988 she had become the boss of the program, and as the years went on, she became boss of quite a lot, until her retirement last year.  When I moved myself and my kids back to my home town after their father left, my mother gave me my first job, working in the day program.  I continued that for six years at the same job, until I moved myself and my kids to be with my wife.  I got a job doing the same thing here, and I’ve been doing that for almost ten years now.

This work is notoriously underpaid and undervalued.  It’s work that when someone hears this is what you do, they say things like, “I could never do that,” “You must have so much patience,” and, more rarely, “Thank God for people like you.”  The work is difficult, a little dangerous, endlessly challenging.  It is basically government funded, or should I say government unfunded.  Because there is so little money, our facilities can be crappy, we can see tragic situations happen to people we care deeply about, and most of the workers are not the cream of the crop.  A few are, and they are some of the best people in the world.  But mostly workers come and go and don’t do much, or even do some harm, while they are there.

As I write this I know that I am being judgmental.  In the same way that it’s difficult to write or talk about long term sobriety, my son’s high IQ, or the varied and amazing ways in which my duaghter shows her talents, without coming off as proud and special, it’s hard to write about problem workers at my job.  I understand that someone could see me as the problem, just as I see others.  At times I am actually called to judge others as their supervisor.  That is a difficult road to walk and stay true to AA principles.  I have more formal education than most who work with me.  I think I could make more money elsewhere, but I’ve never tried.  Actually, just at the time that I found I could no longer support my kids with the job I had, I met and fell in love with my partner.  We moved in with her one year later, and she has financially enabled me to stay with the work I love and still give kids what I feel they need.

There are so many aspects of work and AA principles that I’m having a hard time separating out the threads.  My work services people, vulnerable people, directly and all day long.  Many of the writings of AA tell us we are to serve God and our fellow human beings, and most of the time there is no question that I am doing that when I’m at work.  I’ve also been able to see the work as a ministry to the staff as well.  Some of them really couldn’t make it elsewhere, but by enabling them to be successful at work, they are supporting themselves and supporting others at the same time.  I came across that concept in a book by Burton Blatt, one of the people who was instrumental in improving and shutting down the institutions.

I’ve been writing this post over the course of three days.  It seems to me there is so much I want to say, so much I want to explore, so much I want to understand about my work, my recovery and my motives and my god.  I had a direct confrontation with my ex and again partner today.  As she has spent time in our program, she has gotten more and more distressed over the way we know things should be, and the way they aren’t.  I told her directly for the first time, but more than once, that we had a leader with the will and vision and courage to make it happen, but that person is gone, while the damaging employees remain.  To me, this is the bottom line, and a clear indication of how it will be.

I think of people who worked in institutions when the institutions were terrible.  The good people, the ones who cared and sought to do what good they could in the situations they were given. I struggle with how much I should say or keep quiet about, when I should intervene and when I should look the other way.  These are not easy questions.  At every step of the way, I have to keep searching myself and my motives, trying to get my ego out of the way and do the right thing – the greatest good for the greatest number that it is in my power to effect.  Instincts and desires which oppose the grace of God.