Loosen My Heart (prayer)

Prayers of Invocation
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

fully alive – dawna markova


I can’t write too many details. Over the past few years, a few things have happened that have caused me to wonder about morality, and what is right, and what is wrong. Of course my situation is complicated, and that makes it difficult. It’s not obvious to me what the right thing is. The problem has many facets.

At the root is the question of what to do when someone is not doing his job.  It has always been a challenge for me to because at times I am called to judge.  Supervising and inventory taking have much in common.  Parenting and inventory taking have much in common too.  Friendship and marriage do too.  It’s hard.

I know someone is screwing up.  I want to let him fail and get caught.  It’s because of resentment that I don’t discuss this with the person or with someone else who might be able to do something.  Resentment plus the fact that I have been down this road many times before.  Living and working with screw ups is part of life.

Wow, how’s that for cynical and bitter?

I know that I am to ask myself what I can bring to this situation.  I know that I have brought something to it and others like it for years.  I know it’s important.  I don’t know if it’s worth it.

Honestly, I don’t know if I am of more use to everyone if I speak up or if I stay quiet.  I’ve spoken up for years, and nothing much has changed, although my attitude has changed.

None of this feels right.

The Lost Years (my story continued – 18, 19, 20, 21)

Looking back at my previous posts about this time of my life, I see that I have mashed my time lines already. Once I “slipped” and drank again, after having achieved about 18 months of sobriety, I continued to drink on and off for about three or four more years. Not six, as I wrote previously. The entire length of my drinking was probably around six years, from first drink to (God willing) last. I bet that sometimes when I tell it verbally, I misspeak then as I miswrote here. It seems to me, at times, that I didn’t drink long enough, that someone will say I’m not a “real” alcoholic.

Of course that actually happened to me at times, when I had my first period of sobriety. I was very young, and I hadn’t been drinking very long, and I can understand that some would be skeptical. My feeling about it, though, is that skeptics should keep those thoughts to themselves. There is nothing to be gained from convincing some young, mistaken person that they are actually not alcoholic. There is much harm that can be done by casting doubt in the mind of someone who is trying to recover.

I had started going down hill very quickly when I first started drinking. After 18 months of abstaining, it was actually worse. OK, here’s something I’ve heard and wondered about. It is conventional wisdom that when the alcoholic is not drinking, the “disease” is still progressing. So, it is said, we don’t get to pick up where we left off. No, and we truly don’t get to start over again at the beginning, like most of us would so very much like to do. Rather we start up again where we would have been, had we never stopped and always continued.

I’m pretty sure there’s no science behind this assertion. When I finally got sober again, and looked back on that period at first, I said and I believed that this was true, that I picked up worse than I had ever been before. About 18 months worse. Now I’m not so sure. I can see now that my period of sobriety was very brief, and my drinking career before my period of sobriety was also very brief. Also, it makes sense to me that a relapsing alcoholic is not going to resume drinking as if nothing had happened.

“AA will ruin your drinking.”  That’s also been proven true many many times.  I think that personally I was beyond that, though.  Alcoholism ruined my drinking, and it did so almost at the very beginning.  By the time of this slip, I had no chance of a happy drinking career.

Not that I didn’t try.

Certainly No Alcoholic (Step Seven continued)

Certainly no alcoholic, and surely no member of A.A., wants to deprecate material achievement. Nor do we enter into debate with the many who still so passionately cling to the belief that to satisfy our basic natural desires is the main object of life. But we are sure that no class of people in the world ever made a worse mess of trying to live by this formula than alcoholics. For thousands of years we have been demanding more than our share of security, prestige, and romance. When we seemed to be succeeding, we drank to dream still greater dreams. When we were frustrated, even in part, we drank for oblivion. Never was there enough of what we thought we wanted.

Threads of my personality and my religion come together for me here. Add to that the fact that I was so young when I stopped drinking, so I didn’t get to experience much of the adult world while active. Also, I was just so plain gone. My drinking for things like victory or defeat didn’t have much of a chance to materialize. I so very quickly drank because I drank because I drank.

I have often selfishly and in a frightened way obsessed about not having enough ……. whatever. I remember an interesting discussion I had with my mother and her sister after their parents, my grandparents, had died. My mother and sister said that their parents always gave them the impression that the wolf was at the door. There was heavy emphasis on being frugal and saving and not wasting anything, because …… well there’s the question. Why?

My grandparents were born in 1905 and 1908, in Germany and Scotland. In the US, they met and got married during the depression. My grandmother was in nursing school, and she did graduate and become a nurse. My grandfather was a cabinet maker and carpenter and he was able to do things like build houses and furniture and do plumbing. To my knowledge, my grandmother did not work as nurse. They quickly had children, and she cared for them and ran a portion of my grandfather’s business. Until he retired, and even after, they had a phone in the kitchen that was for the business, and my grandmother answered it and took messages and sent him out on calls.

We (me, my mother and my aunt) have no doubt that they lived through hard times, and I do remember my grandmother telling me about some difficulties during the rationing of World War II. Not that they were desperately lacking, but I guess some people around them needed some necessities, like coal, that if shared, my grandmother may not have had enough for her family.

When we look back at pictures of them, we see nice cars, furniture, jewelry. It just doesn’t look like it was all that tough. The about to starve mentality, though, was certainly there. They had it, and they passed it down, and my mother gave it to me.

There are ways this has worked to my advantage. I’m very careful with money, and I have no debt besides a mortgage. I am very grateful for this, and I try to pass this on to my kids. But I think the fear of starving is out of place for my situation. It intensified for me when I had a baby. I read a book that explained that the young family you see on TV in the homeless shelter is the exception, that’s why they are on TV. All their family support systems have broken down. I’ve tried in a big way for the past 20 plus years to remind myself that my mother and my in laws would not let me or my children be homeless. We’ve come to the time when I can even actually depend on my children, if I need to. We’ve come here safely.

I’ve always had a knowledge that I have too much material wealth, that I’m not sharing well in a Christian sense.  The way that I still, at this point, demand more has to do with my selfish insecurity.  Fear of economic insecurity is huge for me, much bigger than it should be given my situation and my length of sobriety.  And again, I hoard things, in a sense, and I don’t give enough away.  I don’t have enough to feel secure in the material sense.  In the words of the quote above, never is there enough.

AA First and the “Selfish” Program

I shudder, shudder, shudder when I hear someone say AA is a selfish program.  Back to the dictionary and the meaning of words. Selfish, the way it’s commonly used, means taking care of oneself only and without regard for others or to the detriment of others.  The word selfish is used many times in the Big Book to mean just that, and it is presented as a bad thing.  Not a good thing.

It’s in As Bill Sees It and certainly elsewhere that Bill W said AA is a selfish program.  He said that it’s selfish in the same way that a person cannot enlighten someone else while the person himself is not enlightened.  You can’t make someone believe in something you don’t believe in (or rarely).  You can’t give away what you haven’t got.

If an alcoholic is not sober, she is a danger and detriment to herself and everyone else.  This alcoholic must first set about achieving sobriety.  When a new person comes into the rooms and is told what a commitment AA needs to be in the beginning, sometimes the person protests.  People feel they cannot neglect or leave their children or parents or jobs or what have you in order to go to meetings or to rehab.  The point is, this person may actually lose all those things and much more if she doesn’t attain sobriety.  In that way, sobriety has to come first.

Rarely, but unfortunately sometimes, I hear a newcomer say that his family or friends are actually against his attendance in AA.  There are lots of reasons for that.  The family or friends may not want to stop drinking, may  be dependent on that person and fear a change, or may have a bad opinion of AA.   In those cases, the newcomer has to defy the people who don’t want him in AA and attend, and hopefully most of them will come around to realize that is best.

Usually, though, I hear the “selfish” program phrase thrown around when someone is considering giving less than is appropriate to some other area of life.  We are not encouraged to neglect our families, careers, or other responsibilities in order to devote time to AA or our other spiritual quests.  It is plainly written again and again that we are to rejoin society and serve and contribute, not crawl away into an AA insulated cave where we selfishly look after our own needs and fulfillment.

It’s a pet peeve and a prejudice of mine that I see lots of “therapy” and pop psychology as being too introspective  and  selfish to do good for anyone besides the therapist or book author.  And I’m NOT commenting on all therapy and all books.  I know that people have real needs and realize real benefits every day.   Still, for many of us, I do believe that the AA program well worked gives us a good balance of introspection and encouragement to take care of our own – our own being this place and all the people here with us at this time.

My Slip (my story continued)

I was in college, I think it was mid way through my first year. But I’m not 100% sure. I did stop going to meetings. I sort of remember losing frequent touch with my sponsor, Elli. I have no memory of my second sponsor, Ann, from that time.

I had moved out of my mother’s house and in with the guy. Yes, he left his wife and kids, albeit shortly. The only good thing that happened from that time was I acquired cat. She was the first pet that was “mine,” and she stayed with me through all that was to come over the next 18 years. It shows where my heart was. I was heavily into nesting. He was not.

This actually brings up one point about how very fortunate I have been. I knew then that what I wanted most out of life was to be a mom. I wanted lots of children, and I wanted to stay home and raise them. I knew I had to go to college, though. Not going was really not an option for me from the fortunate way I had been raised. My parents were both first in their families to go to college, and it was understood from before I was born that I was going, also.

So here’s another truism from AA that my experience proved to me to be true.

If you put something before your sobriety, you will either drink and lose it, or lose it and drink.

And I will, I must, come back and write about the whole aspect of the “selfish” program that drives me nuts.

So, I lost it, and I drank.

I do remember this part clearly. He left me, and I sat in my car, and I thought about killing myself. The pain was that bad. I felt that I just couldn’t stand the pain of being left by him. I thought about it. I knew lots of the risks of drinking, and I knew it could end with my death or my disability. I thought that if I didn’t drink, I would just have to die.

So I drove from where I was to a few towns over to a liquor store I knew. I believe that since I had been sober, my 18th birthday had passed, and I’m pretty sure this was the first time I ever bought alcohol legally. I think I probably stuck to the Rye my dear mother had started me on, but details of fuzzy to me after that.

Now I know. My foundation in AA, really in life, was shaky and insecure. I had lost touch with the people and so it would have been very difficult for me to reach out to someone at the point. They had all also told me this would happen to me if I continued on with that guy. But really, I didn’t want to be spared at that time. I needed to end that pain quickly and I knew only one way.

That started five more years of drinking for me. As time went on, I got much, much worse. It is by luck that I am here to write about it at the age of 46.


Before I write about my own personal experience of drinking after a period of sobriety, I thought I would write about my thoughts about this in general.

The word slip has about 50 meanings. No exaggeration. The meaning when it’s applied to an alcoholic means taking a drink after a period and intention of sobriety. I have heard it discussed, long ago, that some people mean a slip in this context to mean drinking by accident. Having someone drug you, picking up the wrong glass, being told there’s no alcohol in something containing it. I have not heard of this actually happening in my experience. I mean, with all the stories I’ve heard and all the people I’ve talked to I have not known this to actually happen to someone.

The way it’s used now is describing a purposeful drink. There are truisms that are well known around the program of how this happens to people. One definite connection is that when people stop going to meetings, they often slip. My question is what came first, the slip or the cut back of meetings? Did the person drink because he or she stopped going to meetings, or did they stop going to meetings because they were going to drink?

Some of what I’ve learned about the challenges of oldtimers has to do with people getting plain bored of the repetition of what occurs at AA meetings. At times I’ve looked around at the oldtimers at a meeting and wondered if we just have more of a capacity to tolerate repetition than the people who faded away. Of course I’m still there, so I can’t really know what happened in the heart of someone who isn’t. I imagine people also just wonder, after a long sobriety, if they really were alcoholic or were mistaken. They may also fall under the spell of denial, even after years, and think they can handle it.

So it often happens that a person stops going to meetings, then drinks. Other times they don’t stop going to meetings, and they drink. I’ve seen it happen as a result of pain medication. I’ve seen it happen as a result of some huge life set back. When I think about it, it doesn’t surprise me that an alcoholic might seek escape once again through the power of the bottle. I guess we should be more surprised when it doesn’t happen.

I’ll write about my own experience next time. It was, like all slips, a fall into error, a becoming lost, a slide away from support, a loss of grip, an involuntary slide, the making of a mistake.

With Great Intelligence (Step Seven continued)

With great intelligence, men of science have been forcing nature to disclose her secrets. The immense resources now being harnessed promise such a quantity of material blessings that many have come to believe that a man-made millennium lies just ahead. Poverty will disappear, and there will be such abundance that everybody can have all the security and personal satisfaction he desires. The theory seems to be that once everybody’s primary instincts are satisfied, there won’t be much left to quarrel about. The world will turn happy and be free to concentrate on culture and character. Solely by their own intelligence and labor, men will have shaped their own destiny.

Without looking ahead in the book, I’m afraid I may comment on what comes next. But so what?  Thirty years of studying this stuff (off and on!) should not be for naught.

First I have to say that I find the sexism AWFUL.  I know, a product of his times, blah blah blah.  How I WISH he had been more enlightened.  My daughter just graduated, becoming and official “woman of science.”  Ah well.

Anyway, the millennium lying just ahead where everyone’s material  needs are taken care  of is painfully not just ahead.  I  wonder if he believed that.  We are  sadly aware that although there may be enough of everything to go around, it will take more than 1000 years for people to evolve to where they actually share.  We also know the people of this world find plenty to quarrel about, for a long time after they have everything they need.

I can go ahead with the premise, though, because as I’ve written many times, my physical needs have always been taken care of in that every single day of my life, I have had all I need materially to survive, and much, much more.  I have had food and clean water, heat and medical care, sufficient for my needs and for those of my family.  So, since basic survival has never been a problem for me, have I been free to concentrate on culture and character?

I think that I have been largely free to do so.  Many many of my  hours on earth have been spent taking care of the primary needs of other people who can’t do this for themselves.  I work with people with severe disabilities and sometimes it’s as elemental as giving water to someone who can’t get it for himself.  I find this fulfilling, but I’m also very privileged to be able to do it.  Many people who live in circumstances that are close to mine are unable to do this because you really can’t support a family doing this here, at this time.

I’ve written as a form of pleasurable “art” for as long as I can remember.  I’ve worked, to some degree, on my character.  Most of that work has been done in AA and, to a lesser degree, in church.  It was there, though, before AA.  It’s something someone born in my time and place would do.  As the steps and my history make clear, though, this character building has almost always come at the price of terrible pain.

It’s interesting to me to think about this a little.  I am free, really, to focus on culture and character.  And I am in pain.  Not terrible or unbearable pain, not yet.  So, can I work on my character building to alleviate it without riding this elevator to the “bottom?”  A thought that has crossed my mind is that maybe after all this time in the program and all the work I’ve done till now, my elevator just doesn’t go as low as it used to.  Maybe I’ve actually raised the bottom on my personal experiences.  Can it be that I have, but I still so vividly recall those low low emotional bottoms that I still think I can be headed there?

I must think about this and one other saying that comes to mind as I contemplate my metaphorical elevator.

The elevator to sobriety is broken.  Please use the STEPS.

What Kind of Example Am I?

Do I set an example?  What kind of example do I set?

I went to a meeting last night, and the young man who lead posed the question, “How does God influence your sobriety?”  It was his first lead, given after he had just over a year sober.  He was someone who, I think, had a God consciousness all along, and the program gave him a focus and a way to get back to his religion and church.

As the discussion proceeded around the room, most people spoke of experiences that made God obvious to them.  Some of the people had very specific examples of times they should not have survived some terrible situation, but did, and they often gave credit to God.  Not everyone there was well and wonderful with a super higher power, but lots were.

I have an ongoing problem with crediting God for the good things in the world.  It only makes sense to me that then, when bad things happen, God needs to be blamed, for causing them or for withholding the escape.  I don’t feel firmly certain about any of this, though, and it’s not something I feel compelled to solve in this lifetime.  I do know, and I said, that’s it important for me to see my escapes from disaster as luck.  I don’t feel chosen or blessed above any other person.  The gifts of this lifetime are not evenly distributed, and often very good people suffer tremendously.

That’s not what I meant this post to be about, though.  What I’m trying to understand is if I actually influence people or serve as some kind of example of long time sobriety.  I’ve been told that when the discussion turns to sponsorship, I can actually be a bad influence on the vulnerable newcomers.  Can I really be?  Can’t I be a good example just by being there?

When I began to feel uncomfortable last night, I looked around and I saw that I had the most sober time in the room.  That happens more and more often, and it’s partly why I began this blog.  After me, I think Carole had the next most, with twelve years.  I thought of our home group members and our friends and often, not always but often, we are with people who are new to sobriety.

So part of the fear is that if I say something stupid, some newcomer will think, “Gee, if that’s what 24 years is like, I might as well drink.”  Or that they will take my example as some excuse for bad behavior.  “She doesn’t have a sponsor, I don’t need to have one.”  And I guess there’s a small possibility it could go that way, but I don’t know.

I ended up briefly touching on that dilemma when I spoke.  I didn’t want to take the chance that I could talk some spiritually fit person out of their understanding of God, which of course I can’t do.  Like, “Gee, that’s nice you think God saved you, but I don’t think so.”  I said and I believe that it’s possible the newcomers who spoke about being blessed and saved by God have it right, while I, in my cynicalness, have it wrong.

I could have possibly been a good example to other oldtimers, that I can wonder and struggle and still be sober and go to meetings.  I could have been a good example to them had any been there.  But they weren’t.

I probably should have just said my piece and been done with it.  I don’t really feel like I give any kind of example of anything, and probably I don’t.

Experience, Strength and Hope (my story continued – my first sobriety continued)

I did a lot right during my first period of sobriety, but I also did some important things wrong. Two come right to mind as things I now think prevented me from staying sober. I mean I could not do these things and remain sober.

The first and most important is the relationship I had with the guy across the street. It began when I was 16, and it went on until I was 22. As I said earlier, I understand now that he was criminally wrong in what he did, and that I was mostly a victim of this. Still, even at 16, I knew better, and as the years went on I knew better and better.

I was “in love,” dependent, and unable to envision a future without him. I was seldom happy and I always held out hope he would leave his wife for me. The people of AA told me and told me and told me that what I was doing was wrong. Not that they harped on it, but it came up very often, since it was one of the most important facts of my life.

I can see now that the life I was living was immoral and wrong. I also see that I was used and abused big time. In the midst of it, I was mostly miserable. Of course it was doomed to fail.

The other area that was lacking for me was work on the steps. I came to understand Step One, but understanding and believing are two different things. Intellectually, I understood even then that when I took a drink, my ability to choose from then on was gone. I understood that my life was very unmanageable. My emotional life was most unmanageable, but other things did happen to me, like I passed out after drinking and crying all night and missed the English Regents Exam (an important, statewide test).

I had this knowledge in my head, but not in my heart. I know this because later, after I started drinking again, I engaged in so many of the tricks alcoholics try to use to control their drinking.

I was also able, at that time, to accept the group as my higher power and believe that by following the good people I could have my sanity restored. It was a small beginning, though, coming from the place I had just been where I had left the church and all those fine religious people. I was increasing my belief in a high power, but I was just beginning.

I don’t think I completely took the Third Step back then, or I wouldn’t have continued with my relationship. It was easy to see that God really wouldn’t approve of this, and that daily I was doing the wrong thing in a big way. I did not, back then, attempt a formal Fourth Step, and I don’t remember anyone suggesting to me that I should. I don’t know if it was the AA culture of that time and place, or if I just wasn’t ready, or if it might have saved me had I given it a go. I don’t know. All the words of the literature about delay being potentially fatal seem a bit different when applied to a 16, 17 or 18 year old, but maybe they aren’t.

I made a good beginning, but it wasn’t enough. At least I knew I was alcoholic and never doubted that, and I was lucky enough to be able to come back before alcohol’s final tragedy.