This Blog – March 28, 2010

I noticed, looking at my archives, that I’m writing about half as often as I did at this time last year.  I never set out with a goal of how often to write, and I’ve balanced it usually with the other things I do.  What I do is have a full-time job (with generous time off), sleep, read books, crochet, read message boards, watch TV and DVDs, walk, brush, train and obsess over my dog, clean the house, cook (not often), shop (hardly at all), email, talk on the phone, go to meetings, other miscellaneous recreation, commute, read blogs, read and watch news, bathe and do person hygiene stuff, work on my fear of flying, exercise a tiny bit, talk to people in person.  That’s all I can think of.

I’ve meant to focus my thoughts here, in this blog, on the oldtimer experience.  I often can’t resist the “when I first stopped drinking” mode that permeates so many AA meetings.  But I try.  With other people, other books, other blogs, I appreciate oldtimers more than I can say.  Even when those oldtimers are concentrated on “when I first stopped drinking,” their very presence cheers and inspires me.

In person, when I hear someone mention, for example, “Carmelita, who has 20 years of sobriety,” I cringe inside.  I feel I do not live up to the amount of sober time I have.  I feel someone would never refer to me in that way.

I mention AA, I link to AA, I quote AA, this is about my AA experience.  I sincerely hope that no one thinks I am in any way endorsed by or related to AA beyond being a member.  I am not.  I owe my life to AA and I would never harm it.  I hope that  my experiences and thoughts reflect positively on AA.  My experiences in AA are extremely limited, and I only write about my experiences.  AA is world-wide and I am not.  I have not studied AA, I just go to meetings and read information.  AA gave me my life and so it is the most important thing in my life.  That said, I believe that people who write in criticism of AA should be allowed to do that as well as I can write its praises.  I will not reveal my real name or my full face because I follow the traditions of AA.  I will reveal my politics because I do not speak for AA.

Some search terms that lead people here:

aa meetings topics : This is my most popular page.  I have fun collecting topics and welcome suggestions.

aa character defects list :  I do keep a list, and some of it is inspired or comes from AA literature, other parts of it do not.  I mean it to be helpful only.  I know many people struggle with understanding and listing character defects.

do alcoholics regret : Yes, I think they do.  My understanding of the AA program is that not regretting the past is an ideal I am to strive for.  I don’t think we ever get there.

terence this is stupid stuff analysis : Lots of people get here this way, and it makes me cringe a little.  This is a poem that had lots of meaning for me when I studied it in school.  It involves alcohol and drunkenness, and so I related and still do.  I pity the poor English student who comes here seeking enlightenment.  I should probably add a disclaimer to that page.  I hope no one has suffered a bad grade due to my influence.

aa meetings how to chair a meeting : Things like this are so varied from place to place.  I’ve lived lots of places but really, not that many, and all in the US.  I wonder why people seek information like this on the internet rather than asking someone in their group.

running into someone you know at an aa : Well, it happens, and sometimes it results in a very happy ending.  In my experience, the person usually doesn’t, as most don’t, stick with it, and they fade away.  There are people out there who have seen me at an AA meeting and who are not members themselves any longer.  This has never had a bad impact on my life in any way.  Bottom line is, you’re there for the same reason.  My drunken behavior would be much more noteworthy than my presence at an AA meeting.

embarrassed to attend an aa meeting : See above, and be honest.  Your drunken behavior is much more embarrassing than your attendance at a meeting.

what’s the point of aa meetings : That would be to stay sober, and to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

Of Course, It Is Reasonable (Step Eleven continued)

Of course, it is reasonable and understandable that the question is often asked:  “Why can’t we take a specific and troubling dilemma straight to God, and in prayer secure from Him sure and definite answers to our requests?”

This can be done, but it has hazards.  We have seen A.A.’s ask with much earnestness and faith for God’s explicit guidance on matters ranging all the way from a shattering domestic or financial crisis to correcting a minor personal fault, like tardiness.  Quite often, however, the thoughts that seem to come from God are not answers at all.  They prove to be well-intentioned unconscious rationalizations.  The A.A., or indeed any man, who tries to run his life rigidly by this kind of prayer, by this self-serving demand of God for replies, is a particularly disconcerting individual.  To any questioning or criticism of his actions he instantly proffers his reliance upon prayer for guidance in all matters great or small.  He may have forgotten the possibility that his own wishful thinking and the human tendency to rationalize have distorted his so-called guidance. With the best of intentions, he tends to force his own will into all sorts of situations and problems with the comfortable assurance that he is acting under God’s specific direction.  Under such an illusion, he can of course create great havoc without in the least intending it.

Thankfully I have not met many people in AA who are like this.  Or if I have, they have hidden it from me sufficiently not to bother me much.  It reminds me of a certain kind of political or religious conservatism that I cannot tolerate.  It’s what I think of first when I know that I have to increase my tolerance in general.

I don’t know if any human being actually gets specific answers to specific questions right from God.  I don’t, and I don’t know what that would look like.  I’m more inclined to think that if people who I consider to be “good” people, and especially the people of AA, are pretty unanimous in telling me something specific, they are probably right.  That’s what I would call God working through people.

Even so, I can imagine at times that groups of people, AA or not, are so influenced by times or events or circumstances that they can, as a group, be wrong.

To my understanding, I will not get definite answers to specific requests.  It’s that complicated, and that simple.

Self Acceptance

I don’t like this topic or much that has to do with my “self.”

I just got out of the shower, and I put on a bigger bra than I ever thought I would wear.  As a child, I was quick to “develop.”  It’s no fun being the first to need a bra, and maybe because of that, I always thought of myself as “big.”  Of course now I know that rare indeed was the girl who escaped feeling bad about her breasts for one reason or another.  And after a time I came to understand that I was pretty much a variation of “average,” and I was lucky to be so.  Many people live with extremes, and I am not one of them.

Just about the time that I understood I was pretty much average, things started to go south, as they will do in women of a certain age.  Along with that there came sobriety, childbearing and now menopause.  I’m still average, and I still understand that, but average isn’t so pretty as it used to be a decade or two ago.

AA always asks me to do more and to be better.  I even have an ideal in place, and that it to be humble.  I see people every day who have severe and profound disabilities, who are decidedly not average.  I am often ashamed of myself.

Accepting my limitations regarding alcohol has been the biggest blessing of my life.  I’m not average in that regard, and I thank goodness that I am not.  I’m not even an average alcoholic, because those are mostly drunk, dying and dead.  So I understand how the obvious disadvantage becomes the advantage.

That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

With this thorn in my foot, I leap higher than anyone whose feet are sound. – Kierkegaard

Spread the Message

A wonderfully awesome follow-up to my post about Phyllis.

The speaker at my meeting tonight, Eleanore, had, at one time, 17 years of sobriety and had gone out.  Much failure, loss and carnage had not brought her back in.  One day sitting in some establishment (I don’t think it was a bar, but it might have been) Eleanore ran into Phyllis, who she had known both in the bars and in AA.  Phyllis told Eleanore that Eleanore looked “like hell,” and that Eleanore should go to a meeting.

Eleanore did, and tonight lead the meeting with over a year of new sobriety.

I don’t know what would have happened if Phyllis had not met Eleanore and had not told her to go to a meeting.  My experience tells me there would have been more, worse, failure loss and carnage.

March 18, 2010 (this day)

As I write, my daughter is driving or has just arrived in a town 6-7 hours from here by car.  She’s looking into graduate schools.  That is the closest one to me, the others are that distance by plane, not car.

She is 24.  When I was that age, I had not driven such a distance by myself, but I had moved thousands of miles from my mother and had to visit by plane.  I also had two years of sobriety, and a one-year-old child, Erika herself.

One way or another, one distance or another, she’s moving far away from me for at least a few years, if not forever.  My son will quickly do the same.  He’s graduating in May and has probably decided not to continue straight through his master’s.  I know he does not want to stay in the area where I live.  They also both promise, at their tender ages, that they have no plans of ever reproducing.

Today at work I visited a school where a young lady who will be coming to my program is mainstreamed.  She just a little younger than my son.  I think she may be the first client I am gaining who is actually younger than my son.

It’s amazing to me to think that at the same time I was pregnant with, giving birth to, nursing, potty training, taking to preschool and everything else with Erika, this other mother was doing the same with her daughter, Willow.  A twist of fate gives one mother a child who has lifelong, severe disabilities, and another mother a child who can surpass her mother in so many ways, and be independent, and follow a dream all by herself.  I am so grateful for the example that these parents give me every day.  I hope I can serve their children well.

The other thing that colors my day is that I’m either still sick, or sick again.  I never get sick and now it’s been like this for weeks, and I’m tired of it.  I’m trying to cheer myself by thinking perhaps I’m getting it all out of the way so I can be well for that wonderful, very long distance vacation I’ll be taking in May.  Spring is literally here (although even with temps in the 60s, the snow persists, such was its depth and coldness).  I’m sick but walking the dog again, and sitting outside with her again while she barks at the neighbors.  They don’t like it much but she and I feel better, and hopeful.

And the picture is from my bulletin board at work.  I went on a hunt for recovery words and symbols in my environment, and they abound.  Let go and let God, indeed.

Three Years!

For Mary, who has three years sober, my favorite sobriety anniversary poem:

i thank you God for most this amazing by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

As the Day Goes On (Step Eleven continued)

As the day goes on, we can pause where situations must be met and decisions made, and renew the simple request:  “Thy will, not mine, be done.”  If at these points our emotional disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely keep our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to ourselves, a particular prayer or phrase that has appealed to us in our reading or meditation.  Just saying it over and over will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with anger, fear, frustration, or misunderstanding, and permit us to return to the surest help of all–our search for God’s will, not our own will, in the moment of stress.  At these critical moments, if we remind ourselves that “it is better to comfort than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved,” we will be following the intent of Step Eleven.

It was because I remember being desperate, trying to get sober, and saying the prayers of my childhood, because I had memorized them, not because I believed them, that I set out to memorize new prayers and work with them in a way that will make them part of my being.  I do often turn to a quick prayer.  When I’m angry, it’s likely to be, “Make me a channel of Thy peace.”  When things are tense and longer lasting, I’ll read or write an entire prayer in long hand.

When I need to make a decision, and for some reason it’s difficult or tense, I try hard to buy time to think about it and let it settle so I don’t have to react.  If I don’t have time to buy, I usually try to go with what the other person wants.  I try, if I can, to say yes.

I can see how the well-worn phrases and thoughts turn my attention at least a bit from the turmoil to serenity.

But I have on complaint.  I cannot think about the fancy smancy words of the Third Step prayer without thinking that they are goofy.  Why, oh why, did he write it with wilt and Thy and Thou?

Secrets (You’re only as sick as your secrets)

There’s someone specific on my mind for several reasons.  I’m going to call her Phyllis for this post.  She came to us a few years ago when she was 70 years old.  Circumstances had made her think it was a good time to stop drinking.

She went to lots of meetings and she stopped drinking and using other drugs – pretty much.  She sort of asked someone to be her sponsor, and that didn’t work out.  She kind of tried to work a step or two but that also didn’t work out completely well.  She stopped going to meetings for a time, then came back.  She goes to a few meetings a week now and hardly does any drugs or alcohol.  She doesn’t have a sponsor and she isn’t working steps.  Maybe, she tells us, if she had started out when she was younger.  But at this time, what’s the point?

And what’s the point of AA meetings for someone like this?  She tells us all the time, just about every time she’s at a meeting, that she comes because of the people.  I’ll point out also that no one to my knowledge tells her she can’t come, doesn’t belong, or is making her own quick doom.

Now I haven’t asked Phyllis about this, and I never spent any time at all in bars, and I imagine that drunken disclosures can be quite personal.  If they’re true.  I know the things I said when I was drunk were not always rooted in reality.  But the things Phyllis has disclosed to us over these few years are amazing.  I just bet that she never imagined she would tell strangers the things she has told us.  Most of us aren’t strangers, of course, but at an open meeting, there could be any number of strangers.

I don’t have any secrets.  I have one wacky circumstance wherein my work partner does not know I’m in AA, and I just feel ridiculous after all this time telling her.  I conceal one other fact from her, a friend I have whom I know she disapproves of, but I don’t hide it to the point of lying.  And for some strange reason I feel like I even have to only record those things because if I don’t, my wife will call me on them.

At times I’ve hidden my cigarette smoking from my children and my mother.  Thank goodness that hasn’t been an issue for quite some time.  I might not exactly hide, but not exactly broadcast it, if I cheat on my diet.  Smoking and eating in a disordered way.  Those things are sick, I think.  In those cases I am as sick as my secrets.

The fifth step has us disclose everything, at least once, to at least one person.  The exact nature of our wrongs.  Then then tenth has us admit when we are wrong.  It’s my own mind that is putting together secrets with wrongs.

I’m trying hard and I think all I have these days that I don’t want to disclose are sometimes disturbing dreams or thoughts.  At other times I don’t want to tell someone what I’m doing or what I’ve done because I know the person will disapprove or be angry, but I don’t usually feel I’ve done something wrong.  I haven’t seen it, in the rooms, where people are encouraged to confess all kinds of personal stuff to strangers, I really haven’t.  I have seen them, again and again, actually do so, though.  It seems natural to me to question why I or someone else wants to keep something a secret.  Something very personal, like a trauma or a medication or something, I can understand keeping close, and having few people who know about it.  That isn’t the same to me as a secret.

The level of disclosure I’ve experienced over the years is amazing.  Mary writes about a man who lived a good and productive life all the way through until an early death, a life uninterrupted by alcoholism.  I feel even luckier than that.  My life was interrupted and almost ended by alcoholism, but I have had so very many years of not just sobriety, but living the steps and knowing the wonderful people of the program it makes it more than worth it.  I can’t find words to explain the good fortune.  After all this time I still get to meet and know and pray for and worry about people like Phyllis.

March 7, 2010 (this day)

I need to take more pictures.  Since my computer gave up, all the pictures I have on this new computer are of snow.  The snow was truly awesome.  It’s been above freezing for days now and the snow is still piled high all around.  It’s a good thing that it’s melting slowly since there is the danger of floods.  For the first time in I don’t know how long, some grass started to show in the yard where I had dug paths for the dogs.

Yesterday I took my last antibiotic for my so-called sinus infection.  I had felt so sick for 10 days, due, I think, to the medicines.  It’s now been almost exactly 24 hours since I’ve taken any kind of drug whatsoever.  I’m  not all the way better.  I still can’t face coffee!  But I do believe I’m on the road to being completely fine.  Tomorrow, if the melty stuff hasn’t frozen over, I may try to walk the dog before work.

Carole has taken some students to England and she’s calling it work.  My work partner is in Florida.  They’ll be back Thursday and Friday.  Last Friday, when I was getting ready to leave work, our dog walker texted me that she had stopped by the house to walk the dogs a second time, and not to hurry home.  The message I had been waiting for all my life!  Too bad I am married.

I made it to my meeting last night after probably two weeks away from meetings.  Aside from all the dreadful program possibilities of drinking and slipping and God knows what else, I had missed the ritual of going and the people who I see there.  I’m so glad AA has been part of the rhythm of my life for so long.  Last night there were two older people there who we know and love, and who have a hard time getting to meetings due to conditions of their age.  I hope I’m always able to go.

And tonight my mother called me.  This being Sunday, it’s a favorite day of hers to drunk dial the family.  She was bad.  I am so grateful that my children have not experienced this kind of call coming from me.  One day at a time, for the rest of my life, I plan that they never will.

Humility – Refraining from criticizing others.

Humility – Refraining from criticizing others.

Criticism like a rock in my throat.  Like tears behind my eyes.  I am (so far) refraining from giving voice to these thoughts but the thoughts are there and strong.

This morning something made me think of the New Testament admonition that it is not what goes into our body that corrupts it, but what comes out.  Actually I remember, it was a commercial for fish sandwiches at Mc Donald’s.  The hypocrisy (I see) of Lenten fish eaters.

So I will not let the criticism out.  But truly my mind is corrupted and sinning with these critical thoughts that help no one, hurt me, and, I’m sure, hurt others in the cosmos and closer at hand.