Finally, We Begin To See That All People (Step Ten continued)

Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong . . .

These are some more of the most important words in the program for me.  I’m coming to see that Step Ten is full of some of the most important words.

I’ve written about it before, but it’s been a recent lighting of a light bulb within my head that has enabled me to view this in a new way.

Taking something like road rage as an example.  It’s something everyone on the road experiences, fairly often, and I think a good deal of our psychic serenity goes out the door because of this.

Say I could line up all the drivers I will meet on the road on my way to work Monday.  I have no idea how many people that would be.  I drive 23 miles in 30-45 minutes, one two major roadways and some lesser streets.

If I could line up all these people with myself included, and have them ranked from the worst driver to the best, I would not be at either extreme but somewhere in the middle.

When I’m upset that someone hasn’t driven as well as I think she should, as well as I think I do, my anger or annoyance goes out toward that person or action.  But there are others on the road who think the same of me, and they’re right.

All the staff people at my work.  All the AA members in my meeting.  All the worshippers in my church.  All the neighbors in my neighborhood.  There are always, as the poem points out, people who are greater than and less than  me.  Ranking them in my mind as greater or less than me makes me vain, or bitter, or angry, or depressed.  My daughter is a better crocheter than me.  Does that make a difference, as I crochet?  Will the person who wears my creation care that my daughter could have done it better?

At work, there are people who are smarter than me, and kinder than me, and more patient and who show better common sense.  As I interact with a client, does it matter who can do it better?  Or that I do my best?  Does it matter, if I am actually the best at it?  What good does it do to rank and name and judge the people who can’t do it as well as I can?

All people are frequently wrong.  All.

Now what?

Guest Post – The Hole In My Soul (by Carole)

The Hole in my Soul

I have heard it so many times in meetings, and I’ve even said it myself, that many of us alcoholics have a hole in us that we’re trying to fill.   Back when I was drinking, I was trying to fill it with alcohol; and while I may have thought that it was working for a while, I soon realized that I wasn’t filling it, I was just numbing the empty space inside of me ~ the hole in my soul.

I have also said many times, in meetings and elsewhere that I have learned to fill the hole in my soul with the Spirit of my higher power and by working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I would say that this has been mostly true, that I know what to do when I’m feeling spiritually deficient, emotionally empty or upset for some reason.  I pray with regularity and I work the 12 Steps on a daily basis and my life is blessed; however lately I’ve been feeling that hole again.

So now I’m wondering, “how did I get to this place?”  How did I get to a place where I seek comfort and relief from outside of myself and apart from my higher power?  Where have I gone wrong?  I have been sober for over a decade.  I consistently go to two to three meetings a week.  I sponsor several people.  I read AA literature.  Many would say that I “work a good program.”  So how did I get to THIS place?  What is missing?  Why is that hole back and why can’t I seem to fill it today?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, at least not at this moment; but I have come to believe “in a power greater than myself” that will “restore me to sanity.”  I have come to believe that “this too shall pass.”  I have come to believe that I can get to the other side of any bad time, any emotional upheaval; and that I can learn from it.  I just wish it didn’t hurt so damn much.

I know a lot of the sayings and slogans that we use in AA.  One of my favorites is, “move a muscle, change a thought.”  Today I am having difficulty with this.  Today it seems to be enough to put one foot in front of the other.  Today it is enough to show up and go through the motions.  Today it is enough to not drink and go to a meeting.  I don’t want to move, and if I didn’t have sober alcoholics in my life helping me, I would not move… and I would drink again.  I am certain of this today.

So, my plan is to continue to go to meetings, to trust my sober history, to trust my higher power, to trust my AA friends (whom I believe God has placed in my life), and to continue – a day at a time – to put one foot in front of the other.  In a year, I won’t feel this way, and I might not even be able to conjure up the feelings or emotions even if I remember feeling them.  This sucks.  It is what it is.  AA has taught me that if I continue to do the next right thing, I’ll get better.  I’m counting on it, and right now I hurt.

One Day at a Time

A key to serenity, for sure.

So much of my angst throughout all times of my life is about the future or the past.  There are times when I don’t know what to do with this day, but those are rare.  I have not completely lost that feeling of impending doom so many alcoholics talk about.  And maybe it’s just human.  After all, doom is impending, really, for all of us.  Unlike the animals, we know it, and we fear it, and we dread it.

I can quickly dismiss bad feelings about the past because it’s over.  One of my most meaningful meditations came from The Daily Word.  It said that at times I have not done as well as I should have done, but that getting past “mistakes” is a major step toward serenity.  I may not have made the best choices about what to do, but I am sorry, and I have learned from it.  I release the past and live in the now.

A bigger problem for me is sort of wishing the past had been different, at times.  Part of that has to do with what I did or failed to do, other parts is just wishing in a childish way that things had been different.  Once in a while I can follow a fantasy in my mind that begins with, “If only……..”

My thoughts of the future are often tinged with dread.  I won’t write, “full of dread,” because they’re not.  But tinged with it.  I can worry about my future, the futures of others, the future of the planet or sun or universe.  It all, I am told, will end in destruction.

So then.  I now always quickly realize that my bad feelings about the past or future are not to be indulged in.  It’s become part of my thinking that I seek to let go of those things.  I can spend a longer time with good memories or good feelings about the future, but not too long.

Turning my attention to today makes me take action more and think less.  For me, thinking is good, to a point.  But too much time in my head, good or bad, makes me miss things that are here and now.  There are always books to read and animals to interact with and things to clean, always.  I’m glad I can sit quietly and be peaceful but I’m sure there’s a healthy limit.

I’m very very lucky right now to have nothing seriously wrong with me or my loved ones.  I know that will change soon, it always does.  But I do try to appreciate this fact every day while it’s here.  Each day I know I should do what that day calls for.  There’s work and upkeep of my environment, relationships with animals and people, recovery and relaxation.  One day at a time, my life is good.

May 26 and 27, 2009 – from work under stress (this day)

Bless Thee, O Lord, for the living arc of the sky over me this morning.  Bless Thee, O Lord, for the companionship of night mist far above the skyscraper peaks I saw when I woke once during the night.  Bless Thee, O Lord, for the miracle of light to my eyes and the mystery of it ever changing.  Bless Thee, O Lord, for the laws Thou has ordained holding fast these tall oblongs of stone and steel, holding fast the planet Earth in its course and farther beyond the circle of the Sun.

And from character defects:  alibi – “somewhere else” – an excuse to avoid blame, a person used as my excuse, give an excuse, offer a defense, on or at another place, explanation, reason, justification

excuse – to make apology for, remove blame from, to grant exemption

anger – fight and defend when attacked, expressing, suppressing or calming, for self-preservation when tormented or trapped, reaction to deliberate harm or unfair treatment

irritability, sullenness, churlishness

God help me do what I should do, free from the bondage of myself.
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May 26, 2009 (this day)

Work continues to be a challenge to my serenity.  It’s uncertain, as usual.  I can see that this causes me to fear for my own happiness, that I won’t be happy if things change in such-and-such a way.  I know that logic is faulty and wrong.  Still I give in to disquiet and fear.

After work I went to get my eyes checked for new glasses.  I also got Erika glasses and contacts, and Carole came to help me pick out frames.  I hate thinking about what I look like with a passion.  It’s such an awful experience for me, picking out glasses, that I usually take the first thing suggested and hate them for years.  The store I was in isn’t like that.  The frames are just there and you try them on by yourself and tell them what you want.  I practically let Carole choose, with Erika’s advice and my consent, because I just want the experience to be over.  I hope they turn out OK, though they will look bad to me no matter what.  They were going to be ready tonight, but I didn’t want to wait so I’ll get them tomorrow.

I’m going to try the new Fox show, “Mental,” tonight.  I enjoy very little on TV so it’s great when there’s a show to look forward to.  I finished the first halfway decent thing I ever crocheted, and I need Erika to show me how to finish it.  Tomorrow I’ll got to work and learn if anything has been decided.  I’ll try to remember that, either yes or no, things are temporary and I only get to see a small piece of the puzzle.  I have more than I need and all that I want and I’m grateful.

Now That We’re in AA (Step Ten continued)

february09 018Now that we’re in A.A. and sober, and winning back the esteem of our friends and business associates, we find that we still need to exercise special vigilance.  As an insurance against “big-shot-ism” we can often check ourselves by remembering that we are today sober only by the grace of God and that any success we may be having is far more His success than ours.

I had 25 years sober on May 1, and I was not quite 22 years old when I stopped drinking.  I know hardly anyone from back then, and my first go-round with the steps was quite a long time ago.  At that time, I was graduating from school and I pretty much left most people and places behind, with the exception of a few friends and family.

But, I do remember every day that my very life has been saved and given and given back to me by AA and therefore “God.”  In this case, for me, “God” may be just some sort of semblance of many kinds of goodness in the world.  When I opened myself up to it enough, I was able to stop drinking and start living a mostly good life.

I also remember all the times I’ve done the wrong thing, been caught or been afraid of getting caught.  Then I can look at everyone in my life as someone who is imperfect, just like me.  I can’t weigh their sins against mine.  If I could, I remember that if it was possible to order sins and sinners from best to worst, I’d be in the middle and many, many people would come out as better than I am.  I look too much at the people who I judge to be worse than I am.  There would be plenty of people thinking about me if we are to concentrate on those who are less than we are.

No Pain, No Gain

I find pain to be an excellent, elemental, biological, primal motivator for change.  There is nothing so concrete as pulling the hurting flesh away from the flame.  So quick, so efficient, so puzzling – what goes on before, and after?  Can I learn from it?  Can I not touch that flame again?  Any flame?

In me, there’s a bit of the original active alcoholic who wanted to drink despite all the evidence that it wouldn’t work and I shouldn’t do it.  A million things come to mind.  I have to experience the pain of overweight in order to do something about it and diet.  I have to experience the effects of a government I can’t abide in order to do more than vote and cry.  I have to become dissatisfied with the experience of AA in order to read about it and write about it.

I do get better at it.  I do like to grow for the sake of growing.  It is a pleasurable sensation and one I seek out without experiencing pain.  That would be some small proportion, though.  I  know I don’t often seek out change without something unpleasant as the motivator.

The other side of this is that I do now know and understand that painful situations will result in gains in serenity, eventually.  It’s part of my mind set that they must do so.  “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” “We’ve learned what not to do,” that sort of thing.  Almost everything fits this.  Exceptions exist, though.  Especially in getting older and declining, I see that somethings can make me weaker.  I can’t recover from everything completely, or always get better.  There exist tragedies, also, that I imagine people cannot recover from.  At times, brave people use tragedy to help others, but I can’t imagine those people ever feel recovered or as good or as joyous ever again.

And that’s what it still always comes down to for me.  How happy will I be as a result of this situation?  Where is the pleasure, and how much is there, for me?

The literature says that we as a fellowship have turned tragedy into triumph and that is so true.  I’m blessed to be able to thrive in the helping atmosphere of AA.  It says that pain was the admission price we (lucky ones) paid to enter a new way of living, a new life.  It was more than worth it for me.

May 21, 2009 (this day)

Oh yes I am a bigshot!  How funny that my last post was about that.  I love it that every situation that comes up in life fits somewhere in the 12 steps.  Or everywhere in the 12 steps.  I really do love it that it all gives me a program to work around all of life’s terms.

I’ve had a rough two days at work, because someone I work with has accused me of the doing the wrong thing.  That’s bad enough, but I’m pretty sure he’s also bad-mouthing me to the other people I work with.  It’s not pleasant.  And I can’t find it within myself to try and make peace while I feel he’s going out of his way to say bad things about me and trying to turn people against me.

I’ve restrained my tongue and pen, for sure, I haven’t said anything about him to anyone but my work partner and my supervisor and HR, as it relates.  But restraint is my usual MO.

I find it hard to accept that sometimes, people don’t like me just because I’m their supervisor.  The person who is bad-mouthing me is someone just about everyone else complains about.  Yet is seems to me they’ll take his side in this, just because I’m the boss.  Which I’m not.  And maybe they’re not.

And how does it all affect Hannah – the mythical new client who may spend decades as part of this program?

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Disagreeable or Unexpected Problems (Step Ten continued)

Disagreeable or unexpected problems are not the only ones that call for self-control.  We must be quite as careful when we begin to achieve some measure of importance and material success.  For no people have ever loved personal triumphs more than we have loved them; we drank of success as of a wine which could never fail to make us feel elated.  When temporary good fortune came our way, we indulged ourselves in fantasies of still greater victories over people and circumstances.  Thus blinded by prideful self-confidence, we were apt to play the big shot.  Of course, people turned away from us, bored or hurt.

I really don’t have much of a measure of importance, and I haven’t been materially successful.  Even though I have many more material possessions and resources than most people, it’s more an accident of birth than anything I’ve done.  I work in human services, which pays very poorly.  I do have to supervise people to varying degrees over time.  Still I would not call myself “important.”

My luck in staying sober and not dying (don’t drink and don’t die) have given me some measure of – something, within AA.  I wouldn’t say importance though.

This could be a real blind spot for me.  I’m not feeling the fantasies of victory.  I’m not feeling the prideful self-confidence.  I don’t think I play a bit shot.

I may need someone who knows me in real life to tell me if I’m missing this point.

More Will Be Revealed

I have a date for my court hearing to change my name – next month.  The day after that, I have an appointment to finally get my first false tooth.  It has occurred to me that I had one name for the first third of my life, and different name for the second third, and now another for the final third.  It’s possible that this is actually just the third quarter, rather than the final third, but probably not.  Menopause will cause a person to think this way.

Until I began to think this way, I would mostly believe that for most people, learning goes on and knowledge increases with age.  I do still believe that, but I know now that we decline in some concrete ways as well.  My body declines, and my brain is part of my body.  My eyes and teeth and skin are worse than they were when I was younger.  Not so much with my mind, but a bit.  I think the experience and knowledge I’ve gained make up for a slower mind, but not entirely.  And there will come a tipping point when I’m dealing with diminishing returns, and I lose more than I gain.

As far as sobriety and AA, I feel I am certainly at a point where knowledge and experience benefit me, and the ailments of my body haven’t yet impacted that experience, except that sitting in the chairs hurts my back more than it used to.  Not a big problem.  I can’t see the other people clearly if I don’t wear glasses, but I often prefer it that way.

Part of what has enabled me to become and oldtimer may be in the capacity I have to listen to the same things over and over again.  Mostly, I still learn and grow through these things.  My understanding increases.  Even something like, say, listening to someone talk about gratitude.  That’s a very common thing I hear in meetings time and again, year after year.  Still most things people say increase my understanding, even though I’ve heard it all before.  I have not mastered the art of gratitude, and people who have been practicing it for a much shorter time than me have different perspectives and experiences.  Sometimes I hear the exact same thing I’ve heard many times before, but I hear it in a different way.  When that happens, it makes the (sometimes) dull hours spent at meetings worth it to me.

My understanding of things like humility and serenity have increased greatly over the years.  When I was new, these concepts were valuable and I grasped them enough to improve my life and make me want more.  Now I have a knowledge deep within me that if I keep studying and practicing, they will increase to a still greater degree, and it is very much worth it.

Something in the literature says something like we won’t miss the hours we spend at meetings, reading and talking about the program and concepts.  More than that, I come to miss the hours I don’t spend being engaged.  This all makes for a final third (if I’m lucky, this could actually be it, I know) that holds lots of promise for me.