The Joy of Living (Step Twelve)

The joy of living is the theme of A.A.’s Twelfth Step, and action is the key word.  Here we turn toward our fellow alcoholics who are still in distress.  Here we experience the kind of giving that asks no rewards.  Here we begin to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety.  When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication, it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price tag on it.

It is a very special and unique kind of giving that I see happen in AA.  In my time and place, we don’t, as Bill W sometimes described it, get a call, get in the car, and travel great distances to help another alcoholic.  That must have been amazing and exciting and rewarding in a way I can only imagine.  I’ve gone through a few modern day extreme situations, though.  I find it amazing, the way we all truly, truly, want each other to succeed, and the time and effort we’ll put in to people year after year  It’s just different than anywhere else.

I haven’t previously considered it in the way I’m reading it now, that by practicing the steps in all of my life and becoming a better person, in that way I also help the people in my life be emotionally healthy, whether they are alcoholics or not.  I do influence and affect people, for good and for bad, whether I want to or not.  The better I do with the steps, the better I’ll do by them.

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Serenity

Serenity is one of “the” aims, isn’t it?  All the work I do in AA is leading toward more serenity, greater serenity, more serene serenity.

I have a raging sinus infection and I can’t be serene with it.  I’m thinking of a friend who is struggling with a relationship and there isn’t any serenity there.  I do have a faith that works under all sorts of conditions, at least under those I’ve encountered so far, and I have faith that I will recover and so will she, until one day we don’t.  And I’m more serene, through all this, than I was a few years ago, or many years ago.

I’ve decided to Google collage it and see what serenity is.

Serenity Is Forever

This perversely makes me think maybe I’ll have serenity when I’m dead.

Serenity is coming out tomorrow

I always knew serenity is gay!

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm”

Blah blah blah.  Serenity is not a sinus infection.

Serenity is grateful

That one I must agree with.

Serenity is tense and smoothly put together.

No.

Serenity is free with Peaceful Mornings at the Parlour

I’ll take the “Serenity is free” piece, and disagree with it.  Serenity is struggle!  Ah, what is wrong with me becomes clearer still!

June 21, 2010 (this day)

No one related to me, by blood or by marriage, is safe from alcohol.  I believe it.

I returned in the wee hours of the morning from a family wedding.  Carole the kids and I headed out Friday morning, back to near where I grew up.  My parents were the oldest and second-oldest among their siblings.  I have aunts, uncles and cousins of varying ages, and some of my aunts and uncles are not much older than I am.

We had a good time traveling Friday and Friday night we explored an almost-empty mall.  Saturday, the wedding was beautiful and went really well.  Sunday we visited relatives at a cook out.  And Sunday evening we started home, arriving around 2 in the morning this morning.

This wedding had more alcohol than I’ve ever seen at a wedding.  Everything was beautiful and costly, and even the delicious entrees (so I’m told) had alcohol in each and every one.  I don’t think I’ve seen that before.  There was an open bar, wine that was constantly refilled at the tables, champagne and, I’m told, cordials.

(For the record, Carole and I had NO alcohol at our wedding.  Nor did we have complications caused by alcohol).

There were several family members I worried about, people who have frequently, in the past, had too much to drink and acted out in one way or another.  Again, these people are related to me by both blood and marriage, and their ages and generations vary.  I remember once when a drunken wedding guest decided to steal all of the restaurant’s glasses.  I have pictures of a dance-floor strip tease.  I have pictures of children, children, passed out drunk at weddings.  I have to say that no wedding (that I can remember) coincided with my own drinking career, and I do not think anyone has drunken wedding stories about me.  But you never know.  There are a few years I can’t recall.

So two stories from this wedding.  One of my male relatives bullied me about dancing that is still upsetting me.  Understanding I have lead a very peaceful life in that respect – I have not been abused or beaten or tortured or bullied.  He physically pulled my chair out from under the table and threatened to carry me.  I know people live with so incredibly much worse every day, but I am not used to being treated that way.  I really panicked, in my thoughts, about how to make him stop and what I would do if he physically forced me.

The other major thing that happened was that an out-of-town relative who usually doesn’t drink, and who I actually thought might have escaped the curse, got so drunk that he sat at the table completely out, head on the table, picking it up to puke.  This relative sees us only once every few years.  The next day, at the cook out, he was too sick to get out of bed and missed seeing and talking to us at all.  I heard him remark to himself, “I missed the party.”  I’m still slightly shocked over that one as well.

We came home to the news that a friend in the program is drinking and struggling again.

In all this I realize, and I’m so very grateful, that Carole and I don’t (today) have to worry about each other, that we may or may not be sober, or how drunk we were when we had that (any) conversation.

On our way to the wedding, we visited a place I briefly lived when Nicholas was about two and Erica was about 4.  It’s a very rural area, and I’d find it hard to live somewhere like that today.  But it was closer to home (about three hours away by car) so I was thrilled with that and I really didn’t suffer from the location at that time.  Carole asked me where I went to meetings then.  I traveled to the very big city I had left once a month to attend my old women’s meeting there.  I found and joined a new women’s meeting in the farm country.  I traveled to a nearby tiny city to attend a “bring your kids” meeting in a church nursery, bringing Nicholas with me while Erica was in preschool.  I attended my old old meetings on visits home.  I kept in touch with a few of people I had known at the beginning.  I was then a sober, boring wedding guest just as I was two days ago and today no one is writing about the outrageous thing I did this weekend, or how I scared them or hurt their feelings.

The cook out was in the yard of a house that has been in my family for two generations.  I remember being in that yard with my great-grandmother, and my children, her great great grandchildren, were there two days ago.  I’m sure she couldn’t have imagined us (in many ways), and I don’t know if she herself carried the family curse or if she just passed it down or married it through.  I don’t know what relationship the next generation or any succeeding generations will have with alcohol, but today I am filled with gratitude that I have been able, for today, to break the chain.

Step Twelve

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Before I begin reading the step line by line, I’ll record my general thoughts as they are right now.

The spiritual awakenings are, for me, of two kinds.  Maybe three.  First I realized that my drinking was a problem.  Next (after years of struggle) I realized I could not stop drinking without accepting and practicing the program of Alcoholics Anonymous with pretty near total effort.  Finally, having worked the first step completely and the others very thoroughly, I am a changed person.  The drunk who brought me in will not take me out.  She doesn’t live here anymore.

Carrying the message.  As a confirmed and vetted introvert, I have found the outgoing nature of the program very hard to live with.  When I struggled to stop drinking and when I succeeded at staying stopped, I had to reach out in a way that is against my nature.  But I had to do it.  But I did it.  Now, I will not stop going to meetings.  I hope that my presence at meetings, yes, because of my number of years, is a living and actual testament that it works.  I’ve gone through stages of making myself talk and not making myself talk.  I always tell my story when I’m asked to.  Nowadays, I’ve given myself a break by not forcing myself to share in the formats where people just pipe up and jump in.  Honestly, the thought of doing that gives me the willies.  I would do it if I had to, and some day I may yet have to, but not today.  When there’s an organized round of turns, I almost always say something.  And I try to have that something be at least partially hopeful.  I try to talk at least in part about why I’m still here, why I’m still at that meeting, though most of those who began with me are not.  I try to give my opinion and advice when I’m asked.

Here’s a defect of mine that I’m not sure what to do with.  Someone (through some fault of her own, but mostly due to my fault) has made me feel, at times, like a bad example of sobriety.  Number one reason being that I don’t have a sponsor.  That’s for another post.  But say I’m completely wrong not to have a sponsor.  I’m still not sure I’m such a terrible example or that the new people will flee and drink due to my presence.  On that topic, and others, I’m reluctant to tell the truth about myself and my program, lest I be a bad example.

I go to one or two meetings a week.  After 26 years, I find that sufficient.  I tell anyone and everyone to do 90 in 90.  After that they can surely cut down.  But so many people with 26 years go to one or two meetings a year.  Or none.  I really expect that should I be fortunate enough to retire one day, I will go to more meetings and be more involved in AA.  Sort of as a leisure activity.

But I’m off the topic.  I go to meetings, I talk at those meetings when I’m asked to.  I try to keep what I say positive, because I am positive, and AA is the most important fact of my life.  Writing this is carrying the message.  I could keep a private journal, but I’m sharing.  Truly I hope to add to the public, though anonymous, literature (if I may call it that) regarding very long term sobriety.  Reading those blogs and commenting is carrying the message.

Lord I wish I could practice these principles in all my affairs.  I really hope that I get better and better and better at it.  I’m so glad the verb in the step is tried.  I try.  Not hard enough, and not successfully enough.  But selfishly, I know that the better I get at it, the happier I will be.

As I write this, Carole has gone to a meeting.  She goes to lots of meetings.  As a drinker, I think she went to lots of bars.  And parties.  She’s a very social person.  She finds her society mostly in AA.

A few years ago I felt like I was wishing for a growth spurt.  I went to more meetings and I heard more of the same.  The same important stuff, mostly aimed at the newcomer, mostly having to do with “when I first stopped drinking.”  I felt a lack and I listened to a Grapevine CD about oldtimers and I thought about starting an oldtimer meeting (I still do think about that), and I started writing this record.

I try to apply the principles to my family as much as it can fit.  I try daily to work the principles more into my work life.  I believe that I can never stop learning this stuff, that I can always get better at it as long as life and health endure, and this has been my most important spiritual awakening.


Selfishness

I wrote here about AA being a “selfish” program.  I do not think it is, and I think it’s inaccurate to call it that.

Searching back through other references I’ve made to being selfish, I often feel, at work, that people are being selfish, and that causes me distress.  I see, even as I say it, that I should not be judging them.  Although I should be, as their supervisor and the one charged with enforcing fairness.

Most times that I’m very distressed I list “selfishness” as one of my active character defects.  The word, I think, means putting oneself ahead of others.  In the program, we are to “take care” of ourselves and be healthy.  We are to turn to thoughts of serving others, not ourselves.  That’s my understanding.

It seems to me, from having been a child and from having raised children, that there is something primitive and instinctual about being selfish.  Survival of the fittest and all that.  It’s truly a discipline to put others first, and even more of a struggle, needing practice, to mean it, and to want it, and to do it as my first thought.  To do it at all.

Sometimes I’ll hear in church that the love of God for us is like a parent loves a child.  There is that total, instinctual thing that will make a parent sacrifice up to death and beyond, to bear unbearable things for the sake of the child.  There is that hope and forgiveness that are so hard to kill completely, that one has for a child, that maybe God has for us?  The way I would give to my child, or think of my child, could I give and think this way of others who are not “my” children?

If I’m spending lots of time thinking about myself, and if it’s not thoughts of gratitude, I’m probably being selfish and, selfishly, I’ll remark that it’s making me unhappy.  Because isn’t my happiness what it’s ultimately about?  Don’t I need to be happiest when I’m helping others?

June 13, 2010 (this day)

Carole and I have both been sick.  She’s had what I guess is a sinus infection for three weeks.  I’ve had it for two.  We each went to the doctor yesterday, and I hope this newest round of antibiotics knocks it out.  I hate being sick for so long.  We’ve both had a sore throat, cough, congestion.

It seems to me the weeks are flying by.  We just got back from Hawaii, so it seems.  There are graduations, weddings, birthdays galore.  It seems that few of our groups members can make it to the meeting.  We will miss the next two weeks.  Next weekend we’re traveling to my cousin’s wedding.  The weekend after that we have a concert to go to.

I live about 400 miles away from most of my family.  Some of them have moved away, but not many.  My father died when I was six.  I lost touch with his side of my family about 10 years ago.  Recently, one of my cousins found me on Facebook.  So I’ve been filled in regarding them.  My mother’s side is the group getting together for the wedding.  Without naming names, I’ll say that there is intense and extensive drama involving all the goings-on.  Alcohol plays a part, as it does in anything my family does.  I’m grateful that I have these people, grateful they still include me, grateful I have a program of recovery and so drinking is not a problem.  Drama is a small problem for me.  Seeing all they are going through, I’m just very glad to be me.

So I’m still sort of waiting to be ‘normal’ again – mainly no sick and not traveling.  It will be some time before those circumstances come together, if they ever do.  So I’ll try to enjoy the mild nature of the sickness, the quick nature of the travel, and the forgiving nature of the dog.

I made a plan to work on my dog anxiety after I flew, so here I am.  I’m not at all sure how to begin.  I may try to look at my feelings about the dog in terms of character defects.  I’ll have to give this one some thought.

Perhaps One of the Greatest Rewards (Step Eleven continued)

Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us.  We no longer live in a completely hostile world.  We are no longer lost and frightened and purposeless.  The moment we catch even a glimpse of God’s will, the moment we begin to see truth, justice, and love as the real and eternal things in life, we are no longer deeply disturbed by all the seeming evidence to the contrary that surrounds us in purely human affairs.  We know that God lovingly watches over us.  We know that when we turn to Him, all will be well with us, here and hereafter.

So ends the Eleventh Step, and once again I’m surprised I’ve come to the end.  Looking back, I began in October 2009.  That is quite a long time!  I did not mean to take this long with these steps.  I could have had a baby by now.  I know Step Twelve is the longest and I can’t imagine how long that will take.

As for the last paragraph, the one quoted, I don’t agree with most of it.  For me, AA is what made me feel I belonged.  That’s where I learned about real and eternal things, and the real goodness of people.  Certainly prayer was a part of that, but the fellowship and society was a bigger part, I think.

Also the bit about “here and hereafter” – to me, this is the hopeful promise that religions give, because no living person really knows, and fear of death is universal and eternal and the most frightening thing people live with.  This even maybe implies a threat.  ” . . . when we turn to Him . . . ” as if not turning to Him might mean things don’t turn out well.  And here, they often don’t.  Hereafter, no one knows.

But anyway!  Over the past nine months I’ve sort of internalized some new prayers.  I have turned to it more often in distress, I know.  I’ve done better with my thoughts first thing in the morning.  I usually remember now to try to figure out how I can be most useful in my day.  That is a hugely positive change for me.

During the nine months, last month, actually, I got to practice prayer and meditation and face a situation which has historically been very frightening for me.  I flew without drugs and mostly without paralyzing fear.  I flew.

So I don’t mean this post and my experience to be negative or down, even though I disagree with the last paragraph in important ways.  I’m sure it’s just that I haven’t evolved to the point where I can accept it totally.  More peace and serenity await me as I continue to practice the step and learn it better.  It is surely a discipline that I’ve dedicated my life to, for about 30 years now.  It’s been well worth it and I joyously look forward to continuing.