There Are Many Opportunities (Step Twelve continued)

There are many opportunities even for those who feel unable to speak at meetings or who are so situated that we cannot do much face-to-face Twelfth Step work.  We can be the ones who take on the unspectacular but important tasks that make good Twelfth Step work possible, perhaps arranging for the coffee and cake after the meetings, where so many skeptical, suspicious newcomers have found confidence and comfort in the laughter and talk.  This is Twelfth Step work in the very best sense of the word.  “Freely ye have received; freely give . . . ” is the core of this part of Step Twelve.

Cake?!  The meetings I’ve attended only have cake for anniversaries.

A couple of things.  Unable to speak at meetings?  When I started in AA, I was told not to say “no” if I could possibly say yes.  I know many people still believe in that.  I believe it saved my butt.  I am introverted.  I don’t like to be the center of attention.  I don’t like to talk about myself.  This is one of the reasons individual therapy didn’t work for me.  Left to my own preference, I would never talk at an AA meeting.  Still, my heart pounds, and I hate it.

I was told that was tough, that I had to give it away to keep it, that I am not so special that I can say no when others have to say yes, that other people spoke at meetings so that I could listen, and I needed to do the same.  If I had waited until I was “ready” to speak at an AA meeting, I would not yet have spoken.

Mostly, I think, the people I come into contact with still believe this, but some don’t.  Some people say “no,” they will not speak at a meeting, because ……….

  • they’re not ready
  • they don’t want to
  • they haven’t done a 5th step
  • just no

I hope they stay sober.  I think I might not have stayed sober if those had been my thoughts.  I do not know what Bill W had in mind when writing this part of the 12th step.

The coffee, the snacks, the washing of ash trays (back in the day), the putting up and taking down chairs, shoveling snow, arranging literature, collecting the money – all that is wonderful 12th step work.  I’m grateful to the people who do it, and, again, I think I shouldn’t say no if I can possibly do the task.

“Freely ye have received; freely give . . . ” is the essence of it.  The people who spoke at the meetings I went to, the people who answered the phone and offered their number or gave me a ride, they didn’t say no, the gave it to me without asking for anything in return.  How ungrateful would I be not to give it back?  I don’t want an AA where only people who are “ready” speak.  I know who those people are, and I’m tired of hearing them.

Think, Think, Think

This “slogan” has different meanings.  Think the drink through, to the end, to the jail/vomit/humiliation/danger/sickness/rehab/death.  “First thought – wrong” in which I needed to learn that my first reactions were almost always not appropriate or accurate or healthy.  AND I need to say that I don’t know why some people put the sign up side down, but I love it, and I do it, even when it’s not my meeting, if I can get away with it.

Today, I’m trying (still) to change some of my harmful thinking patterns.  As more is revealed to me, I see, for example, that I often ascribe to other people intentions that aren’t theirs.  So, for example, if someone asks me, “Why did you do that?”  I may hear a reproach when what was really there was a question, a request for information.

I often may think something is or should be obvious, so a question can rub me the wrong way, either sounding like a reproach to me or …… like someone hasn’t thought about it, is just talking to make noise.

I really can have those thoughts about people.

So, without incriminating details, I very recently had a period of a few hours when I was desperately, appropriately worried about a loved one.  I did not know if this person was all right, and had good reason to fear that she wasn’t.

I’d like to get better at adjusting my thought patterns during such an episode, and thankfully I don’t get many chances to practice.  When the chips are down and the anxiety is on, these are some of the things I think

  • Wait to worry.  I know I may get bad news.  It isn’t here yet.  There will be plenty of time to mourn, be terrified, react and adjust to the bad news later, when it is actually here.
  • I don’t trust God to make everything all right.  Everything is not always all right, and if there is a God, this is God’s will.  This is the only way it makes any sense at all to me.
  • I don’t feel comfortable bargaining with God.  I feel there are millions of people in the world in worse shape than I am, in more need than I am.  I don’t feel, even when I’m very scared for a loved one, that I can ask God to make it come out the way I want it to be.
  • Given that, when I do learn of the favorable outcome, for the moment, I thank God.  It makes no sense to me, and it is me doing it.

These truly terrifying times are few and far between in my life, and I’m very grateful for that.  They are so awful when they come that I do want to think about it, and get better at it, and think, think, think, in a better and healthier way.

If Our Turn Comes To Speak at a Meeting (Step Twelve continued)

If our turn comes to speak at a meeting, we again try to carry A.A.’s message.  Whether our audience is one or many, it is still Twelfth Step work.

I’ve been trying, in this blog, to explain (to myself) and record some of my difficulties as an oldtimer.  I started it, in a way, because I find so much of the people, meetings, literature, etc, around me to be geared to newcomers.  If they are the most important people in a meeting, I guess I am among the least important.

Poor me!

But to continue my sob story, my problems with being an oldtimer pale in comparison to being an introvert.  This is not a good personality type for success in AA.  But luckily, I got desperate enough before I actually died to talk to the people, use the phone, sponsor people, speak at meetings.  I did what I had to do, though it was often very difficult and it often made me anxious and unhappy.

Having the experience of watching Carole grow up in AA, I know it is a far different experience for an extrovert.

So what follows are true confessions.

I STILL hate to say anything at an AA meeting.  I hate having a room full of people look at me and listen to me.  I have spent years in AA “passing” at my turn because I hate to speak up so.

And I feel badly about it.  It’s part of what I was writing about previously in the 12th step.  I need to represent!  Whether or not my very presence helps anyone at all (besides me), I should have something worthwhile to say about almost everything that comes up at this point.

Terminal Uniqueness

This isn’t really why, at the age of 16 (and 17 and 18 and 19 and 20) I was unable to get sober in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Looking back I honestly think I had a mostly good attitude about being the youngest person in the room, sometimes by quite a few years.

And there were a few older men around at that time (I hoped they’ve since moved on or changed their minds) who actually tried to dissuade me from attending.  “I spilled more than you drank,” was a phrase I heard from time to time, and I didn’t know then what an appropriate response would have been, and I don’t know now.  I think those few, certain people did not enjoy having a teenage girl at their meetings.  Possibly they believed I didn’t belong.

A very rough “oldtimer” of six years, Pete D, gave me a different phrase I still hold to my heart.  He had a terribly hard story of being in war, being homeless, being an orphan  – very different from my upper middle class suburban drunkenness.  One day I asked him how he had lived so long, doing what he did, and he said, “I didn’t drink the way you do.”

That’s my story.  At 16 and 17 and 18 and 19 and 20 I was so incapacitated by alcohol that I would not have lived to my 50s or probably even my 30s.  I drank much more, much more often than these tough guys did at my age and because of it, I was very unlikely to reach their age if I kept on.  I don’t know if there are degrees of alcoholism (mild, moderate, severe?) and it’s only important for me to think about if the devil on my shoulder tells me still, today, that back then I was surely too young.

Through the years I’ve seen people be too unique to “get it.”  Often they feel their life circumstances prohibit them.  Their kids are too young, their jobs are too important, their wives are too mean.  Some, too, leave us, because they “didn’t drink like THAT” (like what? They are in an AA meeting now) only to return later and usually leave again.

For me, it was imperative that I identify, not compare, my feelings, not my circumstances, to the people in the room.  There just weren’t other teenagers around much in that place at that time.

I once reached out to my psychology teacher in high school, telling him about some drunken something I had survived, and he told me I would probably be an alcoholic in a few years.

Permission!  I didn’t take it.  Even then, I knew that the people in AA knew more than he did about it, that I had already arrived.

Someone told me early on that “no one goes to an AA meeting by accident,” when I expressed that maybe I was “too” different to actually belong.  The cynic in me balked and wondered and still does, a tiny little bit.  No one?  Ever?  Truly?  You mean, some nice church lady isn’t looking for the Daughters of Esther meeting, and she wanders in, lured by donuts, and ends up in an AA meeting, though she only drinks a little sherry once a month?

Well, I was no church lady.  What led me there was no mistake, it was my drinking problem, and this is so for all the people I have ever met at a meeting.  They all belong.  Except for the extremely occasional student nurse or beleaguered family member, there to give support.

Today I thank God I’m not terminally unique.  Because I believe, for me, it would have truly been terminal.  And if by some miracle it didn’t actually kill me, it would have been a life of pain and misery.  Many people are dismayed, at first, to realize they belong but it is the single most important, best fact of my life today.  There is no where else I’d rather belong.

November 21, 2010 (this day)

I’m waiting to go out to dinner with my mother and Carole.  My mother is visiting for Thanksgiving, and she got here yesterday.  My son, recent owner of a car, picked her up at the airport while we were at our home group meeting.  What a good boy!

Our meeting has only a few “home group” members but good attendance.  We invite (beg for) “guest” chairs who get a speaker and run the meeting.  We had a guest chair last night, and instead of a speaker, he chose to use a topic bag.  Some people are calling this an “ask it basket” but I don’t know why and I don’t want to perpetuate the phrase by calling it that.  Anyway in the bag are topics.  Each person picks one out at her turn and speaks on it.  The idea is that you can’t plan what you’re going to say, since you don’t know what your topic will be, and so you listen differently, maybe better, to what’s being said, since you aren’t planning what to say.  It makes me nervous, being on the spot, but we also say of course no one has to speak on the topic they pull or speak at all.  Two people who haven’t been at the meeting before when we’ve done this complained.  And I don’t think they should have.  Lord knows they are free to chair.  Just wanted to get that off my chest.

So my mother is here.  We took Xandra to the dog park this morning, I Nanoed while Carole watched millionaires bash each other in the head (aka football), and now we’ll go to dinner.  My mother and I will take my son to lunch tomorrow.  My daughter is driving home Tuesday night (beginning at six, but I won’t think of that) bringing two cats (but I won’t think of that).  I’m working Tuesday, when we have our whole program eat lunch in one room (close to 100 people, not a big room) and Wednesday so that my work partner can have the day off to prepare for Thanksgiving.

Friday, my program at work had our annual Open House, when we sell crafts the clients have made.  We heard toward the end of the day that someone who used to attend the program up until a few weeks ago had died unexpectedly that very day, at another program, right after lunch.  That night, I saw on my cousin’s Facebook page that earlier this month, the first of my first cousins to die had died, unexpectedly, at 46.

Serious stuff, and serious blessings.

Nor Is This The Only Kind (Step Twelve continued)

Nor is this the only kind of Twelfth Step Work.  We sit in A.A. meetings and listen, not only to receive something ourselves, but to give the reassurance and support which our presence can bring.

I really believe in this, that anyone sitting and listening at an AA meeting is giving support to the program and to the others in the room.  Even, I would say, the drunk attendee.  That was me, many times.  A drunk person at an AA meeting is not a good example of someone who is working the program, obviously.  Almost always this is a good example of someone who is NOT working the program, and the demonstration is sometimes dramatic as to how bad things can get.  But I think that bodies in the seats, any bodies, are better than none, and they are important.

And I have a special interest in this as an oldtimer.  I honestly feel that my very presence at an AA meeting is support for the program.  I have been sober for 26 years, and often I have the most “time” in the room.  I would like to say, just by being there, that AA works and it works over literally decades.  So, should some inquiring mind want to know, “How long have the people at that meeting been sober?” if I am one of the people, the answer would be “26 years” or maybe more.  And I know that even if I drink tonight, I should have been dead 26 years ago (or longer), and my sober time and life are still a testament to the success of AA.

Even as I write that my very presence lends support to the program and to the people in the program, I know it is arrogant, conceited, prideful  and self-centered.  And probably a few other not nice things I could add.  I understand that, and I struggle (a little bit) with it.

My real struggle comes in the fact that I don’t advertise my time, and, more importantly, I don’t act like my time.  I’m introverted, and quiet, and I’m sure that many people who attend meetings with me have no idea I have all that time.  I know the next section of the step talks about talking at meetings, and that’s a whole other can of worms for me.  Here I’m saying that lots of people don’t know I have all that time, and lots who do know I have it are not impressed.  Not in the way that lends credence and respect to the program of AA.  And this is because of my actions, or my lack of actions.

To wrap it up, my mind races to the fact that I’m HERE.  Hardly anyone else from the class of 1984 or earlier is HERE.  They are mostly somewhere else.