Tools of the AA Program

The metaphor of “tools” is an excellent one.  I had so many problems I could not solve.  I couldn’t live without alcohol, I couldn’t handle or be successful at any aspect of life.  The program taught me coping strategies and gave me things I could use to manage my living – all aspects of it, mundane and dramatic.  Tools I use include:

  • The Steps.  Tool number one.  The Steps teach me a whole way of living that works, in that I can succeed at what I want and need to succeed at.  I get better and I get happier as I increase my ability to use the Steps.
  • Slogans.  Those quick-shot truisms that boil it all right down to the bottom line of what I need to do and what I need to remember.
  • The fellowship.  As an introvert, I’d really rather not talk and visit and call and tell my secrets.
  • The literature.  Well beyond just the “AA approved” books, but including those, there is too much there for me to get through in a life time.  It keeps me intellectually stimulated and then some.

These tools continually point me back to the point that when I’m disturbed, there’s something wrong with ME.  There may well be something wrong with the world.  There often is.  And I can do a little something about that, but mostly what I can change is me.  The tools of the program are tools I use to work on myself.  Just that concept is worth so much to me, as someone who continues to strive to be better.

Can We Bring The Same Spirit (Step Twelve continued)

Can we bring the same spirit of love and tolerance into our sometimes deranged family lives that we bring to our A.A. group?

No!

Funny how issues clump together.  I was just talking to Carole about this a few hours ago.

My family life now is not deranged.  At least I hope it’s not terribly deranged.  My wife and I met in sobriety.  My children are 25 and 22, sobriety babies both.  The nightmares I imagine would have happened to any and all of us, had I not stopped drinking, are endless.  I’m pretty sure we just wouldn’t be.

But my family of origin is another story.  I haven’t, nor do I want to, try to change or heal or help those relationships much.  I surely don’t want to work the Twelve Steps on them except in ways that benefit me, by, for example, letting go and letting God, living and letting live.

In my day-to-day family life, I want to be more than loving and tolerant.  In my bigger family life, not so much.  And I have no doubt that this points to character defects, big and unhealthy, within me.

December 29, 2010 (this day)

I do NOT take criticism well.  Especially, I think, though I’m sure people who know me might see it differently, unjust criticism.  Wow it set my heart to pumping this morning, and since it was unjust (according to me), I fell back on, “What would YOU have done?”

“Well?  What WOULD you have done?”

It was my last day at work until Monday.  We have a party to go to New Year’s Eve – a program, sober party.  New Year’s Day we’re hoping our son will come over, then we have our meeting, then we’re having the party.

This afternoon at work, when we were talking about New Year’s plans, and I said about the party we’re having, someone commented, “Then do you make the people stay at your house?”

“Why would I do that?” I asked.

“Because,” the questioner answered, “At my house, if you have more than two beers, you’re not going anywhere.  I don’t let anyone leave.”

I explained that my party won’t involve alcohol, and everyone is not just permitted to leave, they are encouraged to do so.

And I’ll have a better time, and less regrets, and no overnight captives.

Tolerance

From the dictionary:

1.  a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.  4.  the act or capacity of enduring; endurance.
Both of these definitions are important to me, for different reasons.  I know that in the literature it tells me that although I can’t love everyone, I can take a kindly and tolerant view of everyone.  I understand this to be the ideal I will strive for.  And I understand it for both definitions.  I can be (or try to be) fair, objective, and permissive, and I can endure people who I find to be difficult.  I am much better on the endurance angle.  Being fair, objective, and permissive is difficult for me, especially when people are intolerant.  I can tolerate anything but intolerance!
Phillip C. commented a few posts back that not everyone will appreciate him as a gay man.  I then find it extremely difficult or impossible to appreciate or accept them, with their intolerant attitude.  This is a huge character defect of mine.  I want to (and in some ways I do) write people off who will not “accept” homosexuality.  I can’t be civil to people who seek to continue to deny me the right to marry, and so I don’t be anything with them.  Tolerant, I am not.
I do, however, tolerate lots of other things, and I think I usually do pretty well.  I’m not the road rage type and I tolerate the bad driving of all those other folks on the road.  I work with people who can be extremely slow, or take a long time to understand something, or they can be very selfish, or sometimes even sneaky, and I do fairly well with most of it most of the time.
I don’t know about my endurance, but I do know that it’s come to my attention over the past few months that I should try to do better with enduring, and so tolerating, lots of things that make me uncomfortable or event things that hurt.  The kids are out of touch for too long, and I don’t know if they’re OK.  Worse, I may have good reason to fear they are not OK, but I have to make it through the not knowing.  My mother or my dog or my cat declines in old age and bad health.  The roads are icy and snowy and freezing cold for yet another day.  My own body takes another step down the other side of that hill.
I understand on some level that all of these outward conditions are things I have to adjust to.  That my serenity or happiness cannot be dependent on any of them.  That on some cosmic level, all is well, all “IS.”
Tolerance is worth striving for.

Can We Love the Whole Pattern of Living (Step Twelve continued)

Can we love the whole pattern of living as eagerly as we do the small segment of it we discover when we try to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety?

Skipping ahead, I know that this question and the long list of questions that follows it are answered further down with a “yes.”  I’d like to consider them individually, though, and think about how they apply to my day-to-day life.

Right now I cannot love the whole pattern of living as eagerly as I love AA.  But I have come a very long way toward doing so, and, as with most concepts in AA, I love the ideal that this sets for me.  I love that AA gives me a clear-cut plan like this.

I struggle, as an example, with loving the people and the pattern of living that I experience at work.  I can easily see, often, how they are wrong, and I am right.  Even as I see it, though, I know, because of my years in AA, that they may have the exact same vision of right and wrong, with me living on the wrong side, and that both of us have equally valid points.

I find it so much easier to reach out to people in AA, with good reason.  The very fact of our being there together means that we have a past in common, a terrible past.  We have a wonderful present, together, and true hope for a brighter future.  But that wrenching past means we both have messed up terribly.  We’ve been humiliated, so we can have some humility.

I’d like to think it’s the same for the people in my life who are not in AA, and surely it is true for some of them, but, I think, not many.

Still, just like at church, I can consider the way I live the program outside of the rooms to be the real test of whether or not I have “gotten” it.  Easy to live right within AA.  Not so easy outside of the room.

December 24, 2010 (this day)

I don’t feel like pulling out the step book and seeing what’s next that I need to think about regarding the 12th Step.  So I’m not going to!

I took this picture today at the dog park.  That’s Carole, carrying a bag of poop, and Xandra, being the little leader that she is.  We took her there, then to the pet food store, then to the supermarket to get a snack for the meeting we will lead tomorrow.  We’re going to do it by candle light, and that should be special.

I’m writing this now on the living room floor.  Erika is here, back from school with her two cats.  Nicholas is here, and he’s spending the night.  Carole asked him to so that she doesn’t have to wait to open presents tomorrow morning.  Carole and I are headed for church soon.  Sadly, the kids won’t go any longer.  Maybe one day they’ll come back.

Erika’s been trying to help me learn to make a ripple in crocheting.  She is learning how to quilt, and she’s sitting here doing it.  I got a wonderful box of presents from one of my “invisible” friends – aka internet friends.  We’ve had a little little little bit of snow, just enough to be oh so pretty and cause no problems.  After church, these three have said they would play one of their childhood games with me.  And we bought real Tin Roof Sundae ice cream – not the low cal stuff.

So this is where practicing these principles in many of my affairs for many many years has brought me.  My mother sent me the nativity set we had under our tree every year when I was a child.  Those memories are not all good.  Some are quite bad.  I still remember the Christmas Eve sermon, the last one I took my grandmother to, two weeks before she died, when I had six years sober.  The pastor asked about the legacy we’ll leave our kids, and I think he meant something different that what went through my mind.  But their story so far is one of a sober mother.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I walked the dog yesterday morning for the first time in a while.  I have missed doing it, and, as usual, it frightens me.  For most of the year, I do it before I go to work every day that I go to work, which is most days.  It was interesting to have that time again to think, and I tried to think about “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

What came to my mind immediately was some of the very strong opinions I have about a few things.  It almost makes me laugh, to think of the picture I must present, especially in that I am a lesbian, living with a woman, and politically I have extremely liberal.

I don’t drink or take drugs, any, ever.  We all know about that.  I don’t swear.  Hardly ever.  I don’t like to listen to bad language.  I don’t gamble, even to play cards with friends for pennies.  And oh God do I hate football.

Are my hard-line opinions about these things too drastic, or am I being true to myself by adhering to them?

And I don’t know where this saying is in the Big Book or other AA literature, and so I hope people aren’t lead to this post hoping for an answer to that.

December 21, 2010 (this day)

I’ve been wanting to think about and then write about “To Thine Own Self Be True,” as it is used in AA and of course as it is used by me in my program.  But I forget to think about it.  Likewise I come to write here and I remember that I am supposed to be thinking about “practicing these principles in all our affairs.”  And then I go on with my day and my night and I forget to think of these things.

They are, of course, a bit ingrained at this point, and I thank goodness for that.  I don’t have to walk around mindfully having to work the program, stay away from a drink, and generally not go nuts.

At times the pressure is on.  Someone I’m worried about (with reason, unfortunately) isn’t home yet, isn’t answering the phone, is maybe in bad trouble.  Someone I have to spend lots of time with is worried, and worrying, and negative, and expressing it.  There are a thousand triggers an hour to remind me of people and animals who have passed away, sometimes after a full, long life, and sometimes not.  Either way they are not here, and I find it hard to believe I have lived this long without them, and I wonder what it will be like to join them, and when my time will come.  Even the living, breathing, well people and animals who are in my world today must face the day that everything isn’t, finally, all right.

I am so full of gratitude.  When my mother shared with Carole some of my scarier drunken moments, she reminded me that my father died from this at the age of 33.  I do not think I would have made it that long, had I continued drinking.  I am now 26 years past that point of no return, and everyone a year I didn’t deserve and shouldn’t rightfully have had.

The holidays are not like when I was a kid.  As an only child, I spent holidays with my mother’s and father’s families of origin, and when I was born until I was probably more than ten years old, all of their parents and siblings stayed put, and nearby, and the group that shared my early holidays was a very big one, looking back.  I miss the actual people who are gone or who I have left back there, plus I miss the bigness of it.  As an only child I have always wanted a big family.  The father of my children is also an only child, and that doesn’t help at all, and Carole has only one sibling, and that sibling has only one child.  Small.

I know that all I’ve written here seems negative and in a way it is negative, but those aren’t the thoughts that dominate my mind and spirit.  I am very aware of how lucky I am to have the family that I have, and for the way that they all are, right this instant.  I’m extremely blessed in my job and my neighborhood and my meetings and my country and my government.  And I’m very pleased with the way the holidays fall this year.  Tomorrow will be my last day at work for the week, and that will be followed by another  week.  My Saturday meeting will take place on Christmas and on New Year’s Day, which I think will be very special.

And so now I will go forward into my life and try harder not to forget what it is I am to remember:  To Thine Own Self Be True, and to practice these principles in all my affairs.

Now Comes the Biggest Question Yet (Step Twelve continued)

Now comes the biggest question yet.  What about the practice of these principles in all our affairs?

Oy.

I DO love AA folks above all others, in a universal love kind of way.  I NEED these people in order to have anyone else in my life.  In order to have a life at all.  I have seen it work over time, how I can have nothing, yet everything, in common with people who seem so very different from me.  The rooms, especially if I travel just a bit out of my home town, are filled with people with whom I ordinarily would not mix.  I have had an awesome education in this by growing up and spending my entire adult life as an active member of AA.

And yet.  I’m having a “debate” of sorts with a “friend” of Carole’s on Facebook.  Someone I “know” from the rooms of AA.  Someone who, at this moment, I would like to hurt.

OK then.  I will now be mindfully looking for opportunities to practice these principles in all my affairs.  I’m sure I do it, maybe a lot.  Maybe not.  Let’s see.

December 13, 2010 (this day and a spot-check inventory)

I am promptly admitting to myself that I have been wrong in letting some character defects be powerful and swollen.  Swollen character defects.  Yuck.

1  A few weeks ago, my car broke down in a big way.  I have an old car with over 86000 miles on it, and the transmission went.  I’ve had two new cars in my life, the rest have been used when I got them, and I’ve never had a car payment.  In theory, I believe in buying slightly used cars, since they depreciate so drastically, and driving them into the ground.  I spent over $2000 getting my car fixed and renting one in the meantime.  Now, driving to work and back (which are the only places I really drive to), I’m constantly certain that something feels wrong and something is wrong with my car.  Driving home today, in high wind, I actually had waves of awful fear, feeling like the car would go out of control at any moment, and break down, then what???  Then I would call AAA, and have it towed, and deal with it.  But still.  I tried telling myself that it was working at that moment, the only moment I know about it, the only moment I need it to work.  I listened to the news and Christmas music and books on CD to get my mind off of the car.  I dread getting back in it tomorrow.  Still I’m not taking it to be checked just yet because it is working, I just spent a lot on it, I need it to get to work and I need to plan a time to take it when I can work from home for the day.  That day is not tomorrow.  So fear, fear of the car breaking down and of paying the money for a new one.  Money I have, but, I think, I should not spend most of what I have saved on a car.  And not just yet.

2  My daughter’s car, she tells me, is making a funny noise.  I also just spent big bucks on her car, right before she got in a bad accident and needed to have the car fixed further.  She’ll be driving her car over 300 miles with two cats in the cold and snow to visit.  While she has the car here, I’ll have it checked for her, and repaired if needed.  But she’s got to make it here with it.  More fear.

3  The agency I work for serves people who have mental illness and mental retardation.  They run a program at Christmas where they give gifts to children of clients who are in need, or clients themselves who are in need.  The first two times they sent out emails asking for sponsors and donations, I ignored them.  The third time, when they said they did not have enough sponsors yet, I wrote a check.  I wrote on the form that I wanted to remain anonymous as a donor.  Yesterday, I followed the link in my email to my company newsletter and saw, on the first page, a list of donors, and my name was not among them.  But neither was “anonymous.”  See, if “anonymous” had been listed, at least some people might wonder if I had given.  This way is just looks like I didn’t.  I asked not to be listed.  I’m glad they didn’t list me.  I still want credit, or at least I don’t want to be looked upon as someone who did not contribute to this.  Hello pride.

4  I have to work tomorrow, and tomorrow night I have to go to a party.  I’m pleased to be invited to and able to attend a party.  But Carole won’t be super available, and our weather is freezing, so the dog won’t get walked as much as I would like, and she won’t get taken to the park, and we’ll be leaving her most of the day and most of the night and I feel guilty and worried.  Add to my list:  anxiety.

5  Finally (and I’m just listing the big ones, not the million little ones) there is the cold and the snow, and the slippery roads and the hazardous walks and rides.  The pretty pretty snow just falls and falls.  But I have places to be and things to do.  Anxiety.

I want, in my mind, to jump ahead to that magical time in the future when the weather isn’t scary and the cars are running well and the dog is well exercised.  Even as, of course I know, that tomorrow has it’s own troubles, and all these are luxury problems, that along with them I am mostly happy minute to minute, that this moment is exquisite, and that this, too, shall pass.