Let Go and Let God

This past summer I traveled to Akron, Ohio, to revisit the birth place of AA.  It’s in Akron that Bill W met Dr. Bob, and that together they formed the beginning of the program.  A woman of Akron, Henrietta Seiberling, introduced the two, and she remained instrumental in the founding and success of AA.  I don’t know if she came up with the saying, but I learned there that Let Go and Let God was a favorite saying of hers, and that she has it on her tombstone.

I’ve been exposed to the saying ever since I first went to AA, but hearing that it is on her tombstone revealed another layer of it to me.  Like any person, I suppose, I can get caught up in a fear and dread of death.  I guess it can be the ultimate Let Go and Let God situation.  Many people fight it, but none win.  And it does seem that God made us this way, to die and, to a certain extent, to fear and fight it.

There are so many letting go situations.  I have to let go of people, things, places, times, outcomes of situations.  At times it’s very hard for me to see when to let go, dealing with my children jumps to the front of my mind in that case.  Too much letting go of them is negligent, even at their advanced ages, I would think.

It’s hard for me to know what’s right in work situations.  To a certain extent, again, I am called not to let things go.  Remembering the phrase of Let God and Let God, I hope I’m better able to back off when I should without being harmful or negligent.  I’ve actually put the phrase on my bulletin board where I hope it will remind me.

I’m trying to use it as a big phrase, something that resonates beyond the tiny details of whatever situation I’m dealing with.  In general, God will handle or fail to handle our human existence and that of the planet and the universe.  Sometimes, the things I wrestle with will matter in five or ten years, but usually not.  Also, I cannot cannot control other people.  Sometimes I can be a bit of an influence, but that’s it, and it’s mostly by my example that I influence anyway.  What I do is more important than what I say.

January 29, 2009 (this day)

january09-014The snow and ice and cold are still dominating my days.  Yesterday, I stayed home from work because of it.  That’s a new behavior for me.  For most of my working life I would tough it out to make it in.  When the kids were younger, work would actually let me bring them, instead of using a sick day.  I remember driving them home once from work in the blinding snow, thinking I saw something ahead of me on the highway and spinning completely around.  Another time, I started down the street, annoyed at some old person creeping along in front of me.  I passed that car and slid about two blocks down a hill onto a busy street.  Both times I was OK, but I also knew I was nuts to risk myself, my car, and my kids to not use a sick day.

Nowadays, kids and sick days are not a concern, and at times I’m called upon to be the manager if others can’t make it.  Then, again, I’ll do my best to get there.  But for the past two years, if I’m not the manager on call, and they cancel the schools, I’ve stayed home.  I really question the decision not to close for the day.  So today, at work, those who made it in yesterday had a bit of an attitude about those who didn’t, including me.

And I’m really OK with that.  I have been the person who toughed it out for many years, and it really didn’t help anyone in the long run.  When people ask me if they should fight their way in, I usually tell them not to.  But turnover is very high, and most people don’t have anything like my accumulated time off.

In other news, I got an email from an old old AA friend, a kind of sponsor.  She knew me from my first meetings, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.  That’s 30 years now.  In a very odd coincidence, shortly after I moved 400 miles away, her daughter moved also and lives just a few miles away from me.  She had a baby a few days ago, and my friend is visiting.  It will be fun to see her and go to a meeting, if we’re able to.

Walking the dog this afternoon in the freezing slush, I actually had the thought that this helps me appreciate spring so much more.  And it does.

Home? Again? (my story continued)

old-016I’m up to the last eleven years of my story.  I moved myself and my kids and my cats 400 miles in 1998.  Erika would be 13 that year, and Nicholas was 10.

When I was interviewing for my job, they asked me what my five year plan was.  I said then that I really wanted stability, and to get the kids through school in the best way possible.  I told the truth – I’m still at that job.  To say I hate change is to put it mildly.

From then till now, I think the defining circumstance of my life has been bringing those kids, and especially that girl, through those years.  Without writing details, I’ll say that at times it was very very difficult.  Scary.  Heart breaking and awful.  I know that my experience in AA helped me and them through.  I have no doubt at all.  And we have all made it through to the end of that time when they were dependent.

So I’ve lived here eleven years.  That is more AA experience than I had anywhere else, except for the place where I started.  I have moved, I think, 13 times, and many of those times in sobriety.  I’ve lived AA in a span of 3000 miles across, with some places in between.  That is amazing to me.  I don’t know and I can’t imagine how it could have been otherwise.  I like to think that now, if I had to live without it, I could remain sober.  I’m so glad I don’t have to live without it.

In all the places I’ve lived I’ve found the people of AA to be the best people in the world.

That said, since I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else but “home,” I have to say that some of the AA conventions upset me and I disagree with them.  Now I don’t go to meetings anywhere else any longer, and the AA I grew up on could well have changed for the worse there, too.  I’m also very aware that oldtimers frequently think AA is changing for the worse.  That attitude, in part, spurred me on to begin this blog.  I do disagree with some of the ways they “work it.”  But it works.  For me and so many others.

While the Purpose of Making Restitution (Step Eight continued)

While the purpose of making restitution to others is paramount, it is equally necessary that we extricate from an examination of our personal relations every bit of information about ourselves and our fundamental difficulties that we can.  Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism, no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one.  Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight.  We can go far beyond those things which were superficially wrong with us, to see the those flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the whole pattern of our lives.  Thoroughness, we have found, will pay — and pay handsomely.

It’s funny that I should try at this point to see a “whole pattern” of my life.  I’ve written an extensive history right here.  It’s also interesting for me to think for a minute that my alcoholism could have been caused by my defective relations with other human beings.

In general, I choose not to go down the road of what caused the alcoholism of me or of anyone else.  I think that right here, right now, we don’t know.  Whenever anyone mentions some thing external that caused their alcoholism, I can point to uncountable numbers of people who went through the same or worse and did not become alcoholic.  I believe that once we are alcoholic, we cannot go back, and no amount of understanding the cause will allow us to undo it.  If it wasn’t for x, y or z, I would not have become alcoholic.  So what?  I am, and all that remains is what I will do about it, now and in the future.

I’m not really sure where to go from here.  I’m thinking of taking a list of character defects and trying to apply them to my relationships.  I feel like I should concentrate on the bad relationships, but probably not.  I think I’ll begin this on paper and see where it goes.

Blogging and Bloggers (and I still don’t know what I’m doing)

lemonade-award2Louisey at Letting Go has given me my first blogging award!  Like so many of the blogs I read, I did not understand or anticipate the community that exists among bloggers.  I’ve come to see that there’s quite a community of long time recovery and AA bloggers who read each other’s blogs and comment and give each other awards, meet up and such.

Letting Go was one of the first recovery blogs I began reading, almost a year ago.  This award is to go to bloggers that show great attitude and/or gratitude.  I’m going to try to give some kind of little review here.  Most of the blogs I read are written by people like me.  Mostly in the suburban US with abundant meetings, rehabs, and all the resources we take for granted every single day.  Letting Go is written by someone who lives in South Africa.  The deprivation she describes is beyond my imagination.  Not to be dramatic – she seems to have enough food and adequate housing.  She has a computer and the internet, for goodness sake, though the issues she sometimes has with it sound like what we went through in the early 90s.

But she has no meetings.  Truly, I do not know that I could make it and stay sober with no meetings.  I guess at this point I could, but she’s not quite where I am in years acquired.

She also lives around grinding poverty, the kind that hurts your soul.  The political and family upheaval she’s been through could fill many volumes.  Maybe one day she will fill volumes with them.  The other important point is that she writes like a dream.  I can’t stomach blogs that are poorly written, and most are written well.  But hers shows the high art that writing can be.

Amidst the unusual circumstances she writes about, she manages to communicate in writing the solid (as far as I can judge and see) AA that she practices.  That is no small thing for any of us, but with her limited resources it truly amazes me.  She adds to my hope and faith in the program.  I won’t go wrong by trying to describe it any more than that.  I urge anyone reading this, for whatever reason, to go over there, and experience it for yourself.

Now part of the award is that I’m supposed to pass it on to at least TEN other bloggers, and I can’t.  First, many of the blogs I read have already received it.  I subscribe to over 25 recovery blogs, but so many of them post only occasionally.  And honestly, some of them aren’t very good (to me).  The blogs that I think are really good are listed in my blogroll, and that is my way of recommending them.  However, if you read only one from here, make it Letting Go.

Keep It Simple

january09-025I think people who know me will agree, the dog situation is an excellent example of how I can complicate things that needn’t be complicated.  Probably the dog and the job are two things I complicate most.

“AA is a simple program for complicated people.”  It’s a saying and oh so true.  Drinking, complications abounded regarding, well, everything.  Drinking itself was a very complicated matter involving the supply, the company, the obligations and the lies.  I’ve noticed that for some people who struggle to maintain sobriety, sobriety can be very complicated.  There are so often family, job, health, relationship, and every other kind of trouble a person can have.

I know I wrote above that I complicate my own situations.  When I struggle to see this, and to understand how I’m adding to my own misery, I bring to mind the wisdom to know the difference. Over the past (more than two?) years it’s become painfully apparent to me that there is only so much I can at work.  Quite a lot I can do, really, but a much bigger lot of things I can’t change.  After all this time I should know what to struggle with and what to let go.

The dog situation is born of lack of experience, bad experience, and twisted emotions.  I watch (and study) The Dog Whisperer, and most of the time he cuts right to the chase where the person is simply not telling the dog what’s OK and what isn’t.  Simple.  But you see, I don’t know where this dog came from, but I can tell it was a bad, bad place.  She’s understandably neurotic, and so am I, coming from a bad, bad place myself.  Then factors of our daily lives, our sizes in relation to each other, the age of each of us, and more – all combine to complicate beyond my comprehension, this situation of a dog and a woman trying to make it together in suburbia.

And even as I write all that out, and even as I live it, I have within me the answer and I understand that I need to Keep It Simple. Dog, woman.  Follower, leader.

When I first encountered AA, I was told almost immediately that my “yeah, but” was not going to get me far.  I also say that everything after “but” is bull.  It’s the yeah, the yes that I say to things I know to be true, that I need to go with and nurture.  Keeping it simple and going to the heart of the situation should be a quicker was to resolution.  For me and for the dog.

January 20, 2009 (This Day)

convention08-545I’m at home watching, been watching all day.  It was eight years ago today that Carole and I sat watching George Bush be sworn in.  We watched, and cried, and decided that next time, we needed to do more than cry.  The last two elections (so-called) have not been good to us.  This is bitter – sweet sweet SWEET.

I’m 46 years old, and I was born when John Kennedy was president.  I was 18 months old when he died.  The first president I remember is Nixon.  The first election I was old enough to vote in, Ronald Reagan won for the first time.  My kids were both born during Reagan years.

Whatever comes of this, it is surely an awesome time.  I think that during my life time, it’s become officially not OK to discriminate against anyone.  Not that it doesn’t happen.  It happens all the time, most of the time.  But officially, it is not OK.  In the United States of America, right now.

Today, I’m really hopeful.  I really hope we will officially be about cleaning the environment, promoting peace, improving education and health care.  It feels very much like Pollyanna, but for today I’m just going to enjoy it.

Another New Beginning (My Story continued)

weddingcropPlease excuse my questionable editing abilities!  This is one of my favorite pictures of us from the ceremony Carole and I had in our church in 2005.

The next part of my story has to do with meeting her.  I met her online in 1996, at the very beginning of meeting people online.  We met at a gay AA meeting on AOL.  I guess I was coming up on 12 years sober, and she was coming up on one year.  Yes, one year!  She was a new newcomer.

In my defense, I absolutely refused to meet with her in person until she had one year sober.  A funny story from that time – my friend was very interested in me getting hooked up with somebody.  After Carole had one year, and when we were planning to meet, I expressed doubts about her newness.  My friend said something like, “How much time does someone have to have to date you?”  Well, more than that.  But I ventured forth bravely.

Honestly, we had (I’ll speak for her) fallen in love already, through writing and on the phone.  Online back then we didn’t have digital cameras, forget about the means to upload pictures.  And phone calls cost 25 cents a minute.  I imagine it’s easier to meet someone for the first time these days.  We exchanged photographs through the mail.  I made her stand next to someone who is the same (short short) height as me so she could feel the reality of my shortness.  The distance between us was about 400 miles, usually eight hours by car.  Her family, in an odd coincidence, lived quite a bit closer to me than she did.  It was on a visit to them that she finally stopped by my house to say hello.

I always felt that Carole was someone who would “make it” in the program.  I’m sure part of that was wishful thinking on my part.  I know how erratic alcoholics can be, and that the success rate for recovery is very low, and I was about to put all of my eggs in her basket, so to speak, banking on her sobriety.  I’ve given this some more thought lately and I guess that through the years and by experience we may come to have feelings about who will make it and who won’t, at least in the short run.  We still laugh about it that when I talked program with her, and suggested some tried and true philosophy, she always said she would “ask my sponsor.”  Her sponsor always agreed with me.  It wasn’t rocket science.

I do believe that at our first visit, we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.  My kids were my top priority, though, so I said I would not consider doing that for another year, during which we’d see if we still wanted it.  That long distance year was not easy but we made it.  Circumstances seemed to suggest that it would be best for me to move to where she was, even though the kids were growing up in my home town.  It was (still is) one of the most expensive places to live in the country, and honestly I couldn’t afford it anymore.  So even though I had never wanted to move away from it to begin with, and even though I had made my way back after so many moves and life changes, I left again, I guess for the last time.  I can’t see a way I could ever get back there again.

I also told Carole at that time that AA was an integral part of my life, and would always be, and that since she was presenting herself as an alcoholic in recovery, it needed to be integral to hers, too.  I guess I can see now that things don’t always work out that way, and that people change and grow.  But I’m very grateful that, almost 12 years into it, AA sobriety is still at the center.

Very Deep, Sometimes Quite Forgotten (Step Eight continued)

Very deep, sometimes quite forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts persist below the level of consciousness.  At the time of these occurrences, they may have actually given our emotions violent twists which have since discolored our personalities and altered our lives for the worse.

I need to confess right away that I hate this stuff, and that I often don’t even believe in it.  I also understand that this may be a true and glaring weakness of mine, and that my disdain has more than a little to do with pride.  Since I first started to think about psychology, psychological illnesses and problems, and to some extent until now, I think that most of our misery is home grown, self induced, sniveling stupid and wrong.

OK?

I have used every tenant of AA and of Christianity that I can to prove my point, and I have also used it all to quickly and painlessly turn the subject away from “poor me” and what I may have had to live through.  I am (and I venture to say that you are) one of the most blessed and privileged of all people in the entire history of people, and of all the people who are living on this earth today.  My blessings are many and my problems are few.  I have never lacked any material thing and emotionally and (yes) psychologically I’ve been pretty well taken care of also.

So dear readers who have followed by journey this far, and dear people who know me in real life and know my history and may even know my mother, you all know that my father died from alcoholism when I was just a wee thing, six years old.  You know that my mother married someone I haven’t spoken to since I was 9, that she has abused a substance or two in her life, that she was pretty neglectful as far as setting standards or boundaries and so at 16 I was a victim of abuse in the form of the lecherous neighbor.  You know that I struggled long to get sober, and that I was a fairly saturated drunk.  That I moved all over the country against my wishes, that childbirth was traumatic for me, that I was left to fend for myself (with a good education and lots of family support) and my two little ones.

Violent twists to my emotions?  I just don’t see it.

But because it is in the book and in the step and because I have chosen this path of recovery, I will try to see if there’s anything there.  The first thing that comes to mind is the separation anxiety I had as a child, which was huge.  I was really quite an old child when I was still being afraid that my mommy was not returning.  I think we can all agree that this was to be expected, given the fact that my father died when I was very young.  I have to say though that it hasn’t really followed me into adulthood.  I find myself very able to separate from my mother, my children and my wife for long periods of time, if necessary.  I have a harder time leaving the dog, but that’s another subject, I think.

So now that I’ve spilled all that out, I have to say I can’t find anymore.  It is quite possible that these events have been “quite forgotten,” and that they are still “below the level of consciousness.”  I can’t channel them.  I feel like this post is really a confession, because I just absolutely am not relating to this even a little bit.  I see clearly that I may just be protesting too much.  But that’s all I have right now.

I’ll continue on with the step and see if this gets any clearer.  I also want to record that I know for a fact that people really do suffer from things that happen to them, that they witness, and as a result of the way they are treated.  I can see this from one extreme to the other, where people I know who have mental retardation will take any food they can get their hands on because in the distant past they were actually starved, all the way up to gay people not wanting to come out because of their actual upbringing or because of what they perceive in society, or I don’t even know why.  I’m in no way saying these things aren’t real, I’m saying that IF I suffer from them, I just cannot see it at all.  That, and I do want it to be possible for the occasional person – someone, somewhere – to not have suffered much at all.

Joy and The Joy of Living

january09-026Last night at my meeting, a friend said something funny.  After she said the usual about how AA has helped her begin to straighten out her life and her very spirit, she said that she noticed she usually says all this with a rather flat facial expression.  She said she really loves the program, and so would give it a big smile.  And she did.  And we laughed.

Someone who often goes to the meeting loves to quote the thing about “we are not a glum lot…….in fact, we insist on enjoying life.”  Something like that.  I’m not one to memorize passages or even know which book they are in, let alone on which page.  So true.  The majority of AA people I know, and almost all of those who have been sober for a long time, are generally happy and positive.  Usually because of AA.  But that only makes sense, since I guess that people who can’t find joy there are unlikely to stick around.

A quick list of things that give me joy is easy.  I started with a picture of the dog, since I commonly find it there.  Just to see her enjoy herself and to be closer to that life of doggie perfection is incredibly joyous for me.  This picture is from earlier today, when we took her to the dog park.  She doesn’t really like other dogs, and that’s not the part that makes her happy (at least I don’t think it does).  But the dog park is only place where she can run at full speed for any distance.  Watching her in motion is a wonderful thing.  january09-020

In thinking about joy, I remember a very specific time, when Nicholas was first born.  I remember getting up to collect him in the middle of the night.  That is not usually a joyous thing, but something inside me knew this was my last baby, and the part of me that had wanted babies so very badly was able to appreciate, for a minute, that here he was.  He was mine.  He was here.

There are other things.  That perfect weather that happens from time to time.  A radiant smile one of people I care for gives me sometimes, when she’s just so glad to see me.  The day after the end of a period.  The lower number on the scale.

I try to make joy a habit.  Just last night, as Carole and I and someone from our meeting slipped and slided our way to the meeting after the meeting, I was able to rattle off how happy this weather makes me, even though I don’t really like it.  Where I live, it doesn’t often get too hot or too cold.  It’s often overcast, and I really don’t like unremitting sunshine.

I can worry and complain about my kids.  I can also often pause to consider where they are and what they’re doing.  This is difficult to do without being prideful, but at times, I can just get a shot of joy about Erika (volunteering for the Democrats, as just one example) and Nicholas (prestigious university, and tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, but wow! – and again, just one example).

At times I think we try so hard to turn the newcomer’s face in the direction of the joy of living.  I believe it’s a habit, and one that has to be practiced, and one that not everyone can learn.  january09-028