So it is That We First See Humility (Step Seven continued)

So it is that we first see humility as a necessity.  But this is the barest beginning.  To get completely away from our aversion to the idea of being humble, to gain a vision of humility as the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit, to be willing to work for humility as something to be desired for itself, takes most of us a long, long time.  A whole lifetime geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse all at once.  Rebellion dogs our every step at first.

Again, the words and the concept of at first. I see the self centeredness in two different ways.  The one is being mostly concerned with myself.  What I have, what I want, how I feel, how I look, where I am, etc.  The other is when I’m often concerned about others, and enjoy helping others, but do it in a people pleasing kind of way, and when I consistently think I’m less than most others.  So the one is where I think I’m the most important person in my world, and the other is where I think I’m the least important.  Neither puts my on track to be just one in a fellowship.

I should also say that I have seen people come into the program who are thirsting to learn humility and serve others, they just didn’t know how to do it without the program and the steps as a plan of action.  Rebellion may dog them, but it’s a different kind of rebellion to my eye.

And I understand and know it to be true that humble people are taken advantage of, and they do suffer.  But of course self centered people are also taken advantage of and they also suffer.

So at first it’s necessary to have some degree of humility in order to get sober.  A person has to admit they are licked, and can’t do it, and need help.

I’m trying, but I’m not 100% sure I can apply this to those vexing problems that present themselves in late sobriety.  And I’m talking about problems in the world that I, after many sober years, wrestle with in a serious and disheartening way.  If I could clearly see that vision of humility as the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit (though now we see through a mirror in an enigma), perhaps these worldly difficulties wouldn’t vex me so.

And I’m not at all saying that I’ve gotten no where through the years.  Every year sober I know I’ve improved and gained greater serenity and understanding.  I’ve heard it and I’ve tried to remember it that when a challenge presents itself, it is God (or something) saying, “Time to grow.”  Sometimes I can see my own progress and sometimes I can’t.  Now I see a new challenge and a new level, and because I see it, I can’t ignore it and go on as before.  It’s made me very uncomfortable that I’m not accepting of situations in my life.  I know that I’ve gained comfortability through the program in the past, so here I am now.

Now, at this moment, I believe that there’s some key to my understanding that lies within the concept of humility.

May 1, 1984, the Day my Life Began (my story continued)

I don’t remember so much of what went on. I was in my fourth year of college and my sixth year of AA. I had, at one time, achieved 18 months of sobriety, never more than that. I had been hospitalized and drunk and humiliated more than once in front of my mother, my best friend, and countless members of AA.

I was a drunk dialer. This was before cordless phones and before caller ID. I had had my own phone in my bedroom from about the time I was 16. I would often get drunk and call people. Lots of people. And be incoherent or sad. One AA friend once remarked sadly about me when I was drunk yet again, “It doesn’t even make you happy.” Such was the insanity of alcohol and me.

On the night in question, which I think was April 30, 1984, for the first time, I drunk dialed my grandmother. After talking to her in a hysterical manner for I have no idea how long, I set out for her house in the middle of the night. She lived about 30 minutes away down one of the major highways of the world. I remember, like that other time, coming to and swerving, blacking out, then finding myself further down the road.

My grandmother lived in the city, and her neighborhood had gone down hill a bit. She lived alone, and she had bars on her windows and an alarm on her house. Once someone had tried to break in while she was home. When I got there, by total chance that I didn’t get arrested or have an accident, I rang her bell, and she didn’t come to the door, probably afraid to.

I drove up a few blocks to a pay phone. She lived in the city and there were actually pay phones on street corners. I called her and told her it was me at her door, and to open it. As I went back to my car, a teenager asked me if I had any money. It is again, only by luck that I escaped these situations unharmed. I certainly took ridiculous chances with my safety.

My grandmother let me in, and I began a drunken rampage of the emotional sort. I cried and boo hooed and cried some more about how terrible my life was, all the way from before I was born until now and way into the future, maybe even after I was dead. I kept her up most of the night in this manner.

In the morning, the part of the morning where the sun comes up, my uncle arrived. He had taken over my grandfather’s business and kept it located in my grandmother’s house so that he visited her twice a day, before work and after. I swore them both to secrecy about my performance, and I got back on that highway to head for home.

I remember the day as very sunny and bright. I was living with my mother again after having moved out to be with the guy, then back in when he went back to his wife. I was 21 years old, and I would be 22 before the month of May was over. I was in my fourth year of college, and my grades were dismal. I had failed classes and dropped classes and so I wasn’t graduating on time. But, that May, I had just two classes to go until I earned a degree, such as it was.

I believe that I pondered these things as I reached the top of the stairs at my mother’s house on my way to my bedroom. The sun was very bright, and I think the room was even painted yellow. I thought about my future. I wanted, more than anything, to have kids and to be a stay at home mom. This seemed unlikely, given my current condition. I didn’t think I could work and hold down a job and support myself. I didn’t think my mother would go on indefinitely supporting me, especially not if I was drinking. I even thought about jail or a mental institution, and honestly, it scared me that in those places, I would not be in charge of my own drugs. I had no faith that the powers that be would give me enough drugs to make living bearable.

I thought about suicide from time to time, and I was afraid of death. Knowing that I will die one day made me usually not want to do it right then. It would come, there is no stopping it. The dilemma I had faced when I drank after my first sobriety, that of drinking or dying, wasn’t viable anymore. It hadn’t been then. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t hold it together enough to function when I was drinking. I couldn’t stop drinking. I wasn’t capable.

I engaged in a train of thoughts that is so common to many blessed alcoholics. My trap door had, as they say, become a trap. I realized that I was one of the “unfortunates” who cannot get it. Despite six years of AA, I could not stop drinking. I could not see how to stop. I had tried everything and then some. Now I could not see how to continue, either. I had tried every way I had heard about and read about to stay sober. I had tried every way I had heard about and read about and thought up using my own very determined mind to drink. I had made it far – through high school and now college. But my future was blank. I think the fact that I had now humiliated myself in front of my grandmother added to the bottom, the hopelessness, the deflation. The end.

This is one of the most important things I have to share with alcoholics who still suffer. My descent was rapid, comparatively, I was not yet 22. I really think I passed through all the stages, though, just very quickly. I don’t know if alcoholism is inherited, and if there are “degrees” of alcoholism. For myself, I believe that if there are, I have “severe” alcoholism. Remember that my father died from it when he was just 33. That’s young. Apparently he was very bad also.

The paradox, the bottom, the miracle. It was by feeling in my soul that I was hopeless and could not stop drinking no matter what that enabled me to finally stop. The light that I saw was not of the Bill W variety, and the realization did not come upon me suddenly. What I saw was the bright, regular sunlight and the impossibility of my situation. I was not rocketed into the fourth dimension. I think maybe what happened is I finally put the key in the lock.

I saw that my situation was impossible. I couldn’t stop drinking, and I couldn’t continue. I made a conscious decision right then to stop drinking just for a short time. I felt I could do that. I had done it many many times before. I knew I couldn’t stop for long, and I wasn’t even going to try. I was going to stop drinking for a short time, and during that brief period of sobriety I would figure out how to continue on with the rest of my life. I thought I might find a psychiatric drug that would make living bearable for me without alcohol. Or maybe I would end up institutionalized. I didn’t know, but I knew that I couldn’t work things out while drinking. So I would stop for just a short while, until I figured out how to live while drinking in some way I hadn’t tried yet. Or something.

I like to say that I still haven’t figured it out, 24 years later, and so I haven’t yet begun my life of successful drinking or perhaps successful drugging. When I hear the AA expression, “Don’t quit before the miracle,” this personal miracle of mine comes to mind: I no longer want to figure it out. I would not take any type of solution that would render me able to drink without consequences, or that would take away my alcoholism. I think that maybe this is part of that “fourth dimension.”

Restless, Irritable and Disappointed

So there’s lots of things bothering me right this minute. Some are little, some are medium sized, all are luxury problems.

I’ve written before that we are big Hillary fans, and have actually been involved in the campaign. I don’t mind stating this, by the way, though some AA bloggers may disagree. AA is not involved in any politics, nor does it have any opinions on outside matters. I, however, am not AA, nor do I speak in any way for AA. Also, hopefully people who don’t know who I am, don’t know who I am, if that makes sense. I hope no one would think I speak in any way for AA. I’m merely a member, since I call myself one, and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

So this is how that happened. In 2001, Carole and I sat crying at George Bush’s inauguration on TV. I said something like next time, we need to do more than cry. In 2004, I asked Carole to see what we could do, since I hate to talk to people, and she loves to. She got us involved minimally in that campaign. Actually I was minimally involved, and she did more, since lots of volunteering involves talking to strangers. And I did it just because I feel it should be done. She does also, but she also actually enjoys it.

Hillary for President began back then, almost as a joke. I used it as a joke to horrify some politically conservative people I know (some friends, some not). As time went on and Hillary actually ran, Carole got very involved. My role changed then mostly to supportive spouse, though I did find that planting annoying signs is a good job for me, since it doesn’t involve talking to strangers.

Lots of our time and money went into this. Much more Carole than me, but I was also invested.

The way the situation played out, it seemed to me a long time ago that whoever did not win this nomination could rightfully claim that the process has not been fair. It boggles my mind if I think about how arbitrary and chancey these things are. If only and what if. I heard Hillary herself tell us not to go there, and I’d hate for her legacy to be a McCain presidency.

So we have all that. Now, it seems that the time has arrived for me to have my last medical test in the quest to find out what’s not wrong with me. Forty five frustrating minutes on the phone to make an appointment. The minutes were very frustrating, at times because the people on the phone were sending me back to each other. At times they had no help and told me the wait would be long. They scheduled me (finally) for next Tuesday , but because I said the wrong thing, they said I had to have a pregnancy test at a lab and bring the results with me Tuesday. Of course AA has made me believe in miracles, but a pregnancy for me would be way beyond miraculous.

I spent today running around to get the order then the test then the results. At each turn I feared a failure of something that would make my Tuesday test impossible. That didn’t happen, so I’m still full speed ahead. At the same time, actually after all that, I had symptoms of my problem that made my evening plans impossible. I’m not even going to try to go in to work tomorrow.

My daughter continues to be jobless, I have to write yet another check for Cobra. I fear she will get a job, and I fear that she won’t get a job. My dog problem persists. I haven’t written about that in detail yet, but it boils down to my continued inability to take the dog for a walk any time I want to and in a fearless manner. I’m working on it. Carole will be home in less than two days (she’s been away), and I have to clean the house, but I’m not feeling well.

In the midst of all this, before I went to fetch the order for the test this morning, I went to a meeting. I’d really rather go to the gym, but my physical symptoms are making that impossible. So a meeting it was. The topic was “keep it simple” and the chair person read from Daily Reflections about Bob telling Bill as the last thing he ever said to him to keep it simple and not mess it up. I would like to pick up a “keep it simple” wand and wave it over all those luxury problems I’ve described.

Presidential candidate = excellent.

Hillary’s reputation and standing = good.

Witnessing positive history = yes (wow).

My health = very good.

My access to medical care = excellent.

My daughter’s prospects = excellent.

Likelihood I will one day be a competent dog walker =

For Us, the Process of Gaining a New Perspective (Step Seven Continued)

For us, the process of gaining a new perspective was unbelievably painful. It was only by repeated humiliations that we were forced to learn something about humility. It was only at the end of a long road, marked by successive defeats and humiliations, and the final crushing of our self sufficiency, that we began to feel humility as something more than a condition of groveling despair. Every newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous is told, and soon realizes for himself, that his humble admission of powerlessness over alcohol is his first step toward liberation from its paralyzing grip.

This is such an excellent paragraph to consider directly after writing about literally falling down drunk. After I wrote that last part of my story, in which I attempted to remember all the stray awful and humiliating experiences I had while drinking, I remembered more. I remembered retching and dry heaving, telling my friend I was not throwing up, because I wasn’t. I remembered throwing up on someone’s living room floor, on someone else’s couch. My time drinking was short, to be sure, and all the memories can fill a paragraph or two. But I went down pretty low, and I do not wish to ever touch that bottom again.

That bottom, that deflation, that place where we lucky ones give up, at least for a time. I see it clearly today as the only way I could get away from it.

But that was quite a long time ago. My daughter’s 23rd birthday is nearly here, and I was 23 when I had her, and already sober. It’s been for more than her whole lifetime that I’ve been practicing these principles. So where does that put me today?

It all has a new meaning and, at the same time, it doesn’t. A bit of despair has driven me to this new look at the old steps. I’ve had a rough two years. The roughness has been nothing like those old days when my very body rebelled against me. I do not have problems functioning today, at least not for more than an hour or so at a time. All of my future indicators today are positive. Back then I was practically dead.

I don’t know if I’ve reached the bottom of the trying experiences of the past two years. I suffered a random, violent tragedy of the kind that can happen to anyone anytime. I experienced a situation in which, for the first time in my life, I felt like a victim of injustice in a big and sad way. Evil triumphed then, or so it still seems that way to me, two years out. As I can intellectually understand that the people I see as evil, others see as good, and we are both right – I do not feel it in my heart or my soul. It was, in a sense, crushing. I have not experienced the groveling despair.

So just writing all that now, I feel really backwards, dark and stupid. I don’t think I’ve made progress with my tragedy or my feeling of injustice. There are innocent and dependent people and animals that could benefit from my experience and growth with all of this. Yet I do not grow.

The Ruins (More Memories from The Lost Years – My Story Continued)

I don’t enjoy most of the writing of my story. I’m trying to be as thorough as possible, because I think that will help me most in using this blog as a tool of sobriety. This is like a super maxi mega “lead,” or telling of my story. Where I live now, leads are usually around 45 minutes long. Where I came from, they were 15 or 20 minutes. At my home group meeting, we use the shorter format, and it’s interesting how people often comment that they’d like to hear the long version of the story of the speaker.

I see the telling of stories as one of the essential aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous. From my limited understanding, at different times during the founding of the fellowship, it was found to be so. Apparently hearing someone tell the story of their active addiction and subsequent sobriety reaches struggling alcoholics like few other methods can. I’ve also found, for myself, that telling my story keeps me engaged in a way nothing else does. The thought that I could possibly say something to turn the key for someone else is amazing, but how many times have I heard someone at a meeting say that is was some little something they heard at a meeting that started their path toward willingness? Lots.

Since I’ve no time limit here but the length of my life and desire to do this, I’m trying to write down as much as I possibly can. This process and this story will end with the present sometime if I continue this way. Most of it is unpleasant to remember and record, like the things that follow. It reminds me of a few lines from a Melissa Etheridge song, “I will crawl through my past, over stones, blood and glass, in the ruins … reaching under the fence as I try to make sense, in the ruins.”

The part of the story I last recounted ended with my first and so far only hospitalization for alcohol abuse. It would be very fine to say that that did it for me, but it did not. I drank after that, I don’t remember how long after that. I don’t remember which things came first or second or third. I don’t remember much from all those years until my last drunk.

I remember the guy I was seeing telling me that he found me passed out, laying across the back seat of his car, my clothes all messed up. I remember drinking at a bar, something I had never done before, just to try a different kind of drinking that might possibly work for me, and just to be around people. That in itself is a drastic sign, since I’m much more of an idolater than a lonely type. I remember walking through the parking lot after the bar, and being so drunk I fell down. I remember two strange men in the parking lot asked me if I was OK, and if I’d had too much to drink. That fall broke the mirror on my mirrored key chain, and I kept that for many years, to remind me. I got in the car and drove after that fall.

I remember one time when my mother was away and a friend from AA visited me. He sat in the living room, and I decided to drink. I didn’t have any alcohol, and I couldn’t go get it with him there. There was an anciet bottle of Molson Golden beer in the refrigerator. It had literally been there for years. I snuck the bottle up to my room, and saw that it needed a bottle opener. I had never used one. I searched the kitchen for one, all the while telling him – I don’t know what I told him. I didn’t find one, and went back up to the bottle.

The counter in my bathroom was made of fiber glass. I whacked the bottle’s neck on it, but it seemed unlikely to work, or like it would shatter the bottle and spill the beer. So I opened the bottle with my teeth.

It wasn’t until I was sober in AA and told people about this that I realized how dangerous that was. I could have ruined my teeth. Someone told me that the toughest guy in the bar would sometimes try that, but usually he was too smart to try it. It is something I have to remember, as proof of my desperation. Here I sit, typing this story, the same person who was so very desperate for that small quantity of beer (I’d buy more later, after my friend left). I don’t need it now, I don’t want it now. I have the power to abstain, as long as I remember that I’m powerless.

Why Are You Here?

Scrolling through my pictures for a reason to be here, in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, it didn’t take me long to find evidence of a reason.  After pictures of the dog there are pictures of my house getting new windows, then a baseball game I attended , then some political something that Carole attended.  My trip to Akron, my kids at an amusement park .  I could go on and on and list the good things in my life, and those are the reasons I am here.  Really, as much as I know my most important job as a person is to grow and serve, I also know I’m too driven by the pleasure principle to continue on with something year after that isn’t fun, and doesn’t yield results.

Writing my story has been instructive for me.  I’ve always known I was alcoholic, but putting some of those things down and out there reminds me in spades that though I was young and didn’t drink long, I quickly sunk to the bottom of that pit.  It is my belief, based on that the on the experiences of others, that none of this would be possible without AA.

Carole has a friend who shared early sobriety with her.  I met her friend years ago, when I first traveled to visit Carole.  There was a time when, through AA, the friend had many of the rewards.  She had a long relationship, a child, a house, a career, and the respect of her family.  Gone, all gone.  As years go by, I see many different scenarios play out, and I see some people struggle year after year.  I don’t know if this friend will make it back.  It doesn’t seem likely, yet there is that small piece of her that continues to reach out to the program.  For my sobriety, I take all this as evidence that the program works, and that those who go out can’t always make it back.

So all I have and all I want to keep is reason enough for me to attend meetings year after year.  It goes way beyond that, though.  I do feel that I have grown as a person through all these years and the working of the program.  I am happier and more serene, in a general way, as the years go by, and I’d like that to continue.

There’s also the element of the interestingness of AA meetings and people.  I’ve heard so many stories and so many deep thoughts and feelings expressed over the years.  I approach AA people in a generally positive way, and I think that helps me with other people out there in the real world.

There’s also the leisure activity of it.  As much as I feel like I don’t have as much free time as I’d like to have, I do think that with too much free time I’d get in trouble.  Bad trouble.  I see nothing wrong with going to AA meetings just for something to do, as a way to belong to certain group and to be social.  Isn’t this why many people went to the bar?

Basically, I’m here because I continue to be blessed.

This Lack of Anchorage (Step Seven continued)

This lack of anchorage to any permanent values, this blindness to the true purpose of our lives, produced another bad result.  For just so long as we were convinced that we could live exclusively by our own individual strength and intelligence, for just that long was a working faith in a Higher Power impossible.  This was true even when we believed that God existed.  We could actually have earnest religious beliefs which remained barren because we were still trying to play God ourselves.  As long as we placed self reliance first, a genuine reliance upon a Higher Power was out of the question.  That basic ingredient of all humility, a desire to seek and do God’s will, was missing.

I am not completely faithful and totally convinced.  My thoughts about how God acts in our lives and God’s will for us spans the spectrum.  A small piece of me holds out the possibility that we are just very highly evolved animals, and that there is no spiritual realm, no after life.  A small piece.  Mostly I see the miracles that have been wrought in my own life, and I feel these things do not take place in the material world.  But honestly I don’t know.

I’ve decided to act as if there is a Higher Power and a greater good, inasmuch as that is possible.  I remember reading the Eleventh Step St. Francis prayer to someone when I first joined AA.  I asked him what he thought of it, and he said it sounded like the same old liberal Protestant crap.  My religion and my AA are pretty clear about the fact that my purpose in life is to serve God and other people.  If there is no God, it still makes me happiest (in a sense) to serve other people.  This is when I personally feel most fulfilled, especially as it relates to my profession and to being paid to do something, and to supporting myself.  So it’s no huge stretch for me to serve others, it’s what I like to do.  What I’m trying to do is understand how that makes it a character defect of sorts, not just some altruistic wonderfulness on my part.

As for being self reliant, or reliant upon God, I do not understand this concept much at all.  I sort of try to believe that our human existence doesn’t much matter to God.  That’s how I make sense of it when bad things happen to good people, and when good things happen to bad people.  My reliance upon God can’t stretch to things like my daily bread.  I do not believe this is given to me by God.  If it is, why does he withhold it from others?  Every day, people, innocent and wonderful people, are stretched beyond their ability to cope and they die, sometimes awful deaths.  In the rooms we often talk about being spared some alcohol induced tragedy, but why were we saved, and not the next person?

Perhaps I can make sense of this reliance upon God in terms of trying not to worry about my needs and my life.  My needs will be met, or they won’t.  I will live longer, or I won’t.  It’s not for me to control, and maybe God does or maybe God doesn’t.  The next right thing remains the next right thing, regardless.