July 30, 2010 (this day)

The unrelenting heat has broken just a bit.  I’m home from work, waiting for Erika to come over and sign the contract for the movers who will take her stuff, next month, eight hours away for at least three years as she begins graduate school.

Carole is off on vacation for the week.  After Erika leaves, there’s no where I need to be until my meeting Saturday night.  I have work every day, and all the upkeep and work of the house and animals on my own.  Other than that, I am obligated.  I’m actually on the edge of being happy about it.  I’m almost happy about.  There is one small resentment keeping me from being happy about it.  I’m not sure what to do about that.  I don’t yet know how to really work AA around issues of my immediate family.  I mean, mostly I do, but not completely.

Yesterday at work I felt myself getting balled up and I tried a spot check inventory.  My work partner had given me a blank journal before my trip to Hawaii.  Inside she wrote something like “enjoy the journey.”  I didn’t write anything in it on the trip, but I pulled it out for maybe an ongoing spot check inventory.  Just thinking about this stuff makes me progress so slowly.  I hope that by writing it down and thinking about it I may be better, faster.  That’s what it’s all about, right?

Anyway we have some students at work and I got anxious about keeping them busy.  This is really silly, since it was their first day, and just watching was plenty for them to do.  I got anxious about my work partner and I evaluating our staff.  We have to do this.  I can see why this is a good idea, and how it will ultimately help things, but telling people what they do wrong will be very difficult for both of us.  All three of us, I guess, counting the evaluee.

There are two physical areas of my work where I feel unwelcome.  This is because the staff are unwelcoming!  It makes me anxious!!  No, I allow myself to become anxious.  A particular person at work also made me anxious.  That one had to do with money.

I’m not sure why, for me, some days are more anxiety ridden than others.  Nothing really bad happened yesterday.  It was a lot like today and today I didn’t have all that anxiety.

Today I’m anxious about my resentment.  I don’t know if it would be better to discuss it, and risk bad feelings, or to stuff it and try to ignore it.  Just writing that, of course I know what the answer should be.  But is it?  Restraint of tongue and pen and all . . .

In A Very Real Sense He Has Been Transformed (Step Twelve continued)

In a very real sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he had hitherto denied himself.

This made me ponder strength, especially what we mean by strength in experience, strength and hope.  Without looking the word up, to me it means being strong, growing as vigorously as possible, using all my faculties to their fullest potential.

Drinking sapped my strength almost to death.  My body should have been young and healthy and strong, my intellect should have been young and healthy and strong.  I couldn’t use the good things within me to improve or be happy or advance or even just get by.

I couldn’t use sources of strength from the outside world like excellent schools, good neighbors, and good church, a good family.

All these good things, inside and outside of me, were drowned and unavailable to me.

Probably the text means God as the source of strength, and I do believe in a sense that God provides all these good things and the means to use them.  I have trouble with the thought that they are supplied to me in abundance where others don’t have enough.

Anyway, transformation.  I was someone who could not benefit from the good the in the world, and I am now someone who, to a degree, can.

Sharing My Story at Meetings

I just got back from a speaker meeting where the woman who spoke was very entertaining.  I can’t help it, I wish I could be entertaining when I speak.  Again, with AA lingo, where I am, “speaking” is telling your story of “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.”  We tell about our childhood, what made us finally stop drinking, and how sobriety is going.  In the lingo we would also say that “speaking,” or telling your story, is “sharing” your story.  So sharing can be commenting on something or telling your whole story at a meeting.

I’m amazed at the miracle of AA in my life, that by telling my story and hearing that of others I and they can stay sober.  Again, my favorite symbol is “the man on the bed” because it represents to me an image of the birth of AA that flourished and was passed on until I needed it.

My feelings about my story have changed.  When I first came to AA, I didn’t have much of a story.  I had started drinking at 16, and almost immediately fell into the pit of alcoholism.  I made my first meeting before I was 17, and shortly after that I achieved sobriety for 18 months.  During that time I told my story a lot.  Where I got sober, people tell their story at 90 days.  Where I am now, a year is almost a “rule.”  I firmly believe that 90 days is better than a year.  I also believe that any, almost any excuse someone or someone’s sponsor gives for a person not telling their story at all is just wrong, and jeopardizes sobriety.  I especially don’t like to hear that someone isn’t “ready.”  If I had waited to be ready, no one would have heard from me yet.

I hate doing it, but I do it when I’m asked.  Mostly, I hope to help someone, especially people who relapse again and again the way I did.  These days I’m also really glad to “represent” old oldtimers.  But oh it would be so nice to entertain as well!

Of course telling my story reminds me of my more harrowing adventures.  I’ve tried recently to think of different examples from my old favorites.  Last time I told my story, someone commented that she liked one of the anecdotes I had left out in favor of another.

I’ve read that Bill W’s story changed over time.  I’m sure mine has also.  Recently, Carole and the kids and I listened to an NPR report about false memories, how memories are influenced by time and images and different information.  The story used the example of people talking about September 11.  Even such a recent thing was influenced by what they saw and what they heard, and their stories changed over time.  For me and I guess for Bill W, the stories we are telling happened when we were drugged, to boot.

It’s very important for me to remember where I came from, what brought me here, and how the road of sobriety has changed as well.  What a miracle that by telling you, you and I can both stay sober.

July 25, 2010 (this day)

After worrying about the old dog and after recently losing a 10-year-old cat to cancer, the 20-year-old cat greeted us this morning by throwing up, not eating, laying by the water bowl, and finally making some weird sound that sounded like he needed to blow his nose.  Gun shy from feeling like I didn’t take our other cat to the vet soon enough, off we went on this Sunday morning to the emergency clinic.

I am profoundly grateful for the services available to me, and also grateful that I have the resources to pay for these things.  But the animal hospital truly amazed me.  I know there so many people who will live and die and never experience medical care anything like what some of us Americans give to our critters.

Our history with the emergency clinic is not a happy one.  We took my first cat there, ten years ago, when she was dying but also seizing and the seizures just wouldn’t stop.  We took our pug there when she ate a bottle of Ibuprofen.  She pulled through.  But we also took her there after she was attacked, and that time she didn’t make it.  I know she was most likely dead before we even picked her up, but we took her there even without much hope.  On a happier note, Xandra had to stay there when we first adopted her and she was dying from pneumonia.  She spent a weekend there on IV antibiotics and she did pull through.

All of this is at a very high cost.  When we took the 20-year-old this morning, they took him from us and put him in an oxygenated cage.  When the doctor came to see us, he said that was he recommended was an x-ray, blood work, and a weekend on oxygen.  $1200.  Because of the cat’s age, I asked him to do the x-ray and go from there.  Then we went home to wait.

And as I took out mushroom to slice for mushroom stroganoff (which was awful), I sadly realized that the cat wasn’t attacking the mushrooms.  I tried to get used to the idea that he won’t be here much longer.  I thought about what to do if there was a decision to be made.

When they called, they said they didn’t find anything wrong with him.  They suggest blood thinners in case his strange breathing was caused by a blood clot.  Oh I just don’t think so.  Carole brought him home and he seems to be his old, old self.  This afternoon I stepped on a giant fur ball and I think that has more to do with it than anything.

He Has Been Set on a Path (Step Twelve continued)

He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered.

I went to a different kind of meeting last Sunday, a Big Book study that I go to sometimes.  It’s a different crowd and the format of the meeting is different from the other meetings around here.  I’m mentioning it here because one of the women, when reading from the book, changed the masculine pronouns for our “man” – “he” – and God to genderless words.  They do that at my church, and I appreciate it very much.  I remember attending a different church after probably several years of just going to mine, and the masculine pronouns for “God” and “man” hit my senses in a very jarring way.  I hoped then, and still do, that when my kids hear those masculine pronouns they are likewise jarred, though neither goes to church.  Or AA, for that matter.

So “she” – ME! – I have been set on a path that tells me I’m going somewhere.  I don’t go for the destination in the “hereafter,” though I hope and think it would be excellently nice and good beyond anything and everything if the hereafter destination exists.  My life I going somewhere, though, if even just to improve myself and my happiness and my usefulness on the road of happy destiny.

I still spend too much time trying to endure and master life.  Today I am sweltering, mostly in my bedroom as Carole has taken Erika to look for a place for Erika to live while she goes to school for the next three years, eight hours by car away from me.

I absolutely approach this separation as something to be endured and mastered.  My mind works the AA program in many automatic ways to help me go more toward serenity than pain and fear.

I think of the mothers, those I know and those I don’t, who have situations so much more trying than this.  I’m humbled and really shamed by thinking of how good I have it in comparison to most.  The gratitude about this situation is so huge and so strong and so obvious it exists almost like the very air I breathe.

Next I reach for things to take my mental energy.  I write on this blog, I read others, I work on my crocheting and the lawn and make a list of people to call.  I mentally note the people I know in real life who have been through this and who can help me with it.

I remember the path I took and the path so far with Erika.

I wanted a daughter more than anything else in life, when I was young, and the dream of that way really my most precious dream for my future.  I could not, could not have imagined such a wondrous being as she is.  Beyond my wildest dreams in spades and in truth.

All made possible by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Without that, had Erika existed, it would have been a dangerous and terrible existence for sure.

Part of my strategy for getting through this day had been to concentrate on other things, now my contemplation of one line of Step 12 has veered itself back to Erika, since that’s where my mind and heart keep going.  All this plus the knowledge that tomorrow it could all go terribly wrong.  It will for lots of mothers and daughters on this earth, and I may be one of them.

Sharing (talking) at Meetings

I wonder if AA coined the term “sharing” for talking.  We “share” our experience, strength and hope with each other.  In other contexts I believe this would be more “telling stories” or “telling you about myself.”

I hate talking at AA meetings or most other places, especially when the attention of a group of people is on me and they are mostly listening to what I’m saying.  I still, after all these years, experience a pounding heart and rising anxiety as my turn approaches.  In meetings where there are no turns, and people either raise their hands to just start speaking, I do not say anything at all.  Truly, the social anxiety of trying to be called on and not being called on, or the moment when two people try to speak at once, prevents me from talking.

Which is OK with me.  I usually feel like anything I have to say has been said before, and said better.  I cringe when I sometimes hear the same people say the same things over and over and over again.  I don’t want people to cringe when they listen to me.

I do almost always say something when the meeting takes turns going around the room, or when people are called on by name or some other way, and it’s my turn.  I do this mostly for me, because I know that if I don’t do that, I won’t hardly ever speak at meetings.  For years, when the meeting or two that I go to uses the just speak out method, or the hand raising method, I don’t talk in meetings at all.

There are a thousand reasons I know I should talk at meetings.  But there are also a thousand people I think should probably not always talk at meetings.  Really.

We are all just really, really, really really lucky that I am not the arbiter of what should and what should not go on at AA meetings.

July 17, 2010 (this day)

In addition to the big black dog who I write about all the time, Carole and I have another dog, and three cats.  Two cats.  Wow, I can’t believe I just wrote that.  We lost a cat a few months ago, at the young age of ten, to cancer.

Of those that remain, Xandra is the youngest, at 7.  Another cat is 9, the brown dog is 15, and another cat is 19 or 20, I’m not quite sure.

The old dog and the old cat are old, and they are declining before our eyes.  Just before I sat down to write this, I had to move a paw of the old cat, who is sleeping on the kitchen counter.  The cat didn’t wake, even when I moved his paw.

This morning, Carole and I took Xandra to the dog park and to get some pet food.  On the way there and back, we listened to some of A New Earth.  Independent of each other, she had gotten the book and I had gotten the CD version for the car.  I had tried to listen to it in the car and I didn’t get very far before I abandoned it.  I found it to be boring, and I have recently made it all the way through Walden.  Carole likewise hadn’t read much before giving it up.

So we skipped ahead to the third CD to see if it got any better, and if it would be worth forging through the beginning.  What we listened to had to do with the ego, roles we play, and happiness.

The happiness portion said something like this:  I have to face the truth.  Sometimes the truth is a very thing, but to reject it or deny it or try to change it just makes me unhappy.  I have to accept that bad thing, then decide whether or not I want to dwell on its badness, or move my mind on to happier places.

Familiar territory for AA folks.

The fact, though, of these aging critters is hard to bear.  The fact that lots of my family photos have become a sort of shrine, because the animals pictured are no longer with us, is hard to make peace with.

I find it easier to accept the death of the old ones.  And I want the old ones to die peacefully, in their sleep, though I have not yet had one go this way.  The fact that my cat had just ten Christmases and will not get another is hard to face.  The fact that my dog had only two years on earth – I don’t know how to face that without experiencing a heart-breaking pain again and again.

Tonight I’ll go to my regular meeting.  I cannot express my gratitude that I have the program to help with all this.  I don’t have to read a book, and forget most of it.  I can read a book and read that book again and again, and talk to people about living the book, and have their assistance to live the book.  Acceptance is the key, and I knew that.