And Can We Bring New Purpose (Step Twelve continued)

And can we bring new purpose and devotion to the religion of our choice?

Good question!

I’ve written a lot throughout the blog about my experience with religion.  Short version, I was born and sort of raised as a half-assed, half-hearted Lutheran.  I was forced to go through with confirmation against my will, and after that I left the church, and pretty much God, for good.  Through many years of suffering not being able to stop drinking within the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I came to accept a higher power and even to return to church.

I want to say I returned in an abbreviated form, but that’s not accurate, since I got married in the church, had my children baptized there, attended there and even taught Sunday school to the little ones.

Around my mid-30s, I thought about leaving the Lutheran church, since I was not fully participating.  I could never get behind sacraments, for example, or creeds, things like that.  I started to look into the Quaker religion, since I think it most closely resembles my thoughts about these things.  But I fell in love and met my wife (in that order) and she was president of a Lutheran congregation, and so I stayed.

Now thirteen years have gone by, and as I come upon this question in my considerations of the Twelve and Twelve, I’m again thinking about the Quakers.

So, in answer to the question posed, I would have to say that yes, definitely, I was able to bring new purpose and new devotion to the religion of my choice.  The fact that I can even choose, or have any capacity to hope or believe, is due to the program.

Now, I know that it is character defects that keep me from exploring the Quakers more fully.  I’ve attended a Quaker meeting three times, I’ve read a book or two.  And that’s it.  I do believe it is ego holding me back.  Twisted, stupid, ridiculous and useless ego.

January 23, 2011 (this day)

Moving beyond acceptance.

Things are troubling me, things too pitiful to mention.  One just sad, one just stupid.

The topic at my meeting last night was “acceptance.”  Oh what I said!  There quickly came the expected comment that we don’t have to “like” what we accept.  Well, OK.  But honestly, I usually have trouble accepting only bad things.  The good things usually meet with my approval right away.

So then to take a “bad” thing and say, “I don’t like it, but I accept it,” is, to me, a lie.  I don’t like it, I don’t accept it.  I don’t accept it as being as it should be, or even as it is.

Now some things are too awful and too terrible to accept.  I’m not talking about those things.  I’m talking about the vast majority of things I have difficulty accepting.  These are not pestilence, death, poverty, disease, war, and the fact that bad things happen to good people.  Some things are truly unacceptable.

No there are people, places, things, circumstances and realities that are much more mundane with which I struggle.  Listening to myself, I must surmise that I should take out some tools of the program and get to work on these things.  I can list my gratitudes around them.  I can look at their good qualities again and again and again.  I can move my mind on to something else and not dwell.

Tradition Three

The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Thank goodness!

This Tradition has a funny text where it tells of a time in 1956 when AA groups were asked to submit a list of their membership requirements.  It says that when the lists were put together, no one could have met the requirements and belonged to AA.  I doubt that, as a 16-year-old girl, I would have been accepted everywhere.

The text goes on to delineate two controversial kinds of members.  The first seems to be a heroin addict.  Folks back then were worried that he’d be dangerous, or, more likely, give them a bad reputation or scare others away from the group.  The second was an atheist.  I have a small grumble with the fact that this story is presented, since the guy gets drunk, then “comes to Jesus.”  Or at least to God.

In the AA I know today, almost everyone has tried or been addicted to a myriad of other drugs.  Usually the only controversy I see is when this person starts to talk about drugs, then excuses him or herself, saying, “I know this is AA, sorry for mentioning drugs.”  Something like that.  I think, at least in my experience, that the AA members who object to someone talking about drugs are very very few and far between.  I don’t think anyone needs to apologize for this anymore.  I don’t think people need to pass a test that proves they were more addicted to alcohol than to some other drug.  Just my opinion.

And many people have trouble, sometimes a lot of trouble, with the spiritual aspect of AA.  Most, in my experience, do believe in some form of higher power and so live a life in AA that is healing, saving and productive.  But many have a spirituality that doesn’t fit the traditional mold, and they are fine as well.

Apart from the text, and just regarding my own experience, I personally again marvel at the loose set of rules that bind us together and give us strength.

Every so often, I hear of someone in AA being dangerous, and harming someone else.  Sometimes these people have been given lighter prison sentences if they go to AA meetings.  AA and the courts is a controversial topic, and I can see both sides of the question.  It’s awful when someone in AA harms someone else, and AA is not a totally safe and wonderful place.

But these things are rare, and I think AA remains the best hope for most people who are alcoholic.  So within the rooms it’s a tradition not to exclude someone for what he or she has done, or for any other reason.  It has to be that way.  Exclusions would build on each other and mount up until 16-year-old girls are not allowed to join, and so left to die.

Can We Meet Our Newly Recognized Responsibilities (Step Twleve continued)

Can we meet our newly recognized responsibilities to the world at large?

It’s been a long time since I recognized my responsibilities to the world, and it’s honestly something I think about daily.  I can’t say that my sobriety is new, or the fact that I should be law abiding and productive is new.  My thoughts about this now are of a person who has been sober for more than two decades, who is middle-aged and very privileged.

I see that I was a waste of space and a menace to society when I was drinking.  I squandered resources galore, mostly in the form of the education I drugged myself through.  I see now it was one of the best educations that has ever been experienced by anyone, and it went largely unappreciated by me.

That said, I got sober just two months before I graduated from college, and I got a Master’s degree in sobriety.  That’s all well and wonderful.

I see myself mostly as a taker.  I had children because I wanted them, not because the world needed more people.  I write this on a new MacBook, in a warm house, with a dog by my feet in a cushy dog bed, chewing a marrow bone.  On my way home from work this evening I passed a homeless man who makes his bed under an over pass in a maze of highways.  Even he has many more resources than most of the people in the world.

On the plus side for me:  I drive carefully, I do humble work gratefully, I pay taxes, I raised my children to not cause undue harm, I care for “rescued” critters, I vote and campaign in ways that I hope will help the entire world, I turn off the lights when I leave a room, I advocate at work for email instead of paper mail, I drink tap water, I try to remember the reusable shopping bags, and sometimes I even do.

January 18, 2011 (this day)

Back to work again today after an extended period off.  Carole had her surgery last Thursday and it went well.  I took Thursday and Friday off to be with her, and Monday was Martin Luther King Day.  Today I woke up to a fresh coating of ice and another battle just to get to work in one piece.  I wonder if the stress chemicals we have to endure because of the treacherous weather have any long-term bad effects.  I love the four seasons, and I missed them when I lived without them, but around now I start to think about retiring down south.  Just to get Carole to the hospital on time on Thursday was a battle with the snow.  Even though I always arrive alive, the news is full of those who don’t.  I’d hate to get really hurt or worse because I was trying to get somewhere in the snow and ice.

But anyway.  I wasn’t as good-humored today as I would have liked to be.  I will try harder tonight, and of course tomorrow.  Today’s Daily Word said:

Worry may be a sign that I’m trying to manage what isn’t mine.

I love that!  It’s also a sure sign of a failure of acceptance.  Love that passive voice.  When I worry, I know that I have failed to accept.  The weather is an excellent example.

Tradition Two

For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority–a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.  Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

The text of this tradition goes on to explain how when AA was forming, those who started the very first groups had, by necessity, to lead them.  The founder of any given group and the other first members would then often want to “govern” the groups and control what went on to a large extent.  Of course, their motive was to preserve and protect AA and make sure it went on as it should.

I guess there are places in the world where this still may go on, but it is far removed from anything I have ever experienced.  Throughout my AA life meetings have been plentiful, established, well-attended and often very old.  I’ve also had the good fortune to attend meetings in large metropolitan areas, spread around the United States, some very close to where AA actually began.

Aside from the particulars that belong to another time and place, some of the spirit of this tradition applies loosely to the AA I know today.  I have heard people refer to themselves as “bleeding deacons” when they still try, now, to tell the group how it ought to be run.  But this is rare, in my experience.  The AA I know is such that is someone strongly objects to some procedural something, the group splits, or dies, or they start an alternate group.  And AA life goes on.  It’s not as if these things have the power, in suburban America right now, to deprive East Any Town of AA and so to doom the drunks therein.

The marvel that the tradition describes, that so loose an organization can function and thrive, still lives in my heart, when I think about it.  I am truly amazed, and grateful beyond words, that this tradition along with the others results in such a widespread, long-lasting, healthy organization that was there when I needed it, and will be there today for all those who today will experience their first meeting, and who will go on to recover.

Can We Actually Carry the AA Spirit? (Step Twelve continued)

Can we actually carry the A.A. spirit into our daily work?

Yes, a lot.  No, not enough.

I have been practicing these principles for more than 26 years now, and they are bound to influence and affect me in every single way.  It’s been more than half my life, and I’ve done it successfully at least in that I’ve been able to stay sober, and I hope much more than that.

I often try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I often try not to engage in gossip, and to quash it when I hear it.  I search for the good in people.  I often try to accept the things I can’t change.  I often pray quickly in times of distress or confusion.  I often look for my part in any difficulty.  I often try to let go and let God.

I have a tool box full of tools.  As any problem presents itself, I often pick up and tool and work away at it.  I post a meditation for the week on my bulletin board and try to read it daily.  The Daily Word is on my desktop and I try to read it every morning before I open my email.  This week the acceptance quote was up there.  I get upset, I have a problem, I pick up the tool, I try to accept it.

I try to remember that my good or bad attitude will affect the people around me, and so I try to improve my attitude.  I try to do what’s suggested and what’s asked of me, no knowing where it will lead.  I try to lead by example and use my experience, strength and hope to improve my work situation.  I try to turn my difficulties into assets.

I’m less successful in my other daily work, the daily work of the rest of my life, taking care of the house and the animals and the relationships.  But it’s mostly the same principles, it is shot through me and I hope to increase the AA spirit within me, and to bring it more to all of my work, until all of my work is done.

January 11, 2011 (this day)

Happy 1/11/11!

It’s Tuesday night, and already the week feels like a marathon.  Carole just returned from visiting family.  She got delayed, and flew through the snow that made my 45 minute commute last over two hours.  I honestly cried, I was so frustrated with how long it was taking and I worried about the animals who were at home, waiting extra long for me.  I also know they were probably napping or just glad for an extended break from me.  But in my heart, I feel them pine.

It’s that time of year when the elements fight us.  It’s bitter cold, and very difficult to get the 15-year-old dog out to pee without freezing him.  Impossible, actually.  Then every morning we have to battle snow on the car, snow on the ground.  I can’t walk the dog in the morning because it’s too cold or too slippery or both.  I try to walk her when I get home, if it’s not too cold, though then it’s still slippery and/or salty.  I think the dog and I are gaining weight in the cold, dark winter.

So I’ve dealt with caring for the animals on my own while Carole was away.  Yesterday, today and tomorrow, I’m also dealing with the regular work stuff (which often includes wondering/worrying how I and the staff and the clients will get to and fro in the snow and cold).  Then Thursday Carole’s having a small surgery, and Friday I’m taking my car to be serviced for the first time since my giant break down disaster.  There’s also lots of sickies around, people coughing and sneezing and snotting and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before it’s my turn.  And I dread sinus infections like I’ve had for the past two years.  And I’ll try not to think about the news.  Between the Republicans promising to try to undo all that’s been done in the last two years, and the awful Arizona shooting, there’s football (which I detest) and oh yes there is a chance of snow.

So, my gratitude list:

  • a job worth going through the snow to get to
  • a car capable of taking me there
  • petsitters to relieve the critters when I’m not home
  • my wife who spends lots of days home with the critters when I’m at work
  • a community of people I love to sneeze and snot on me
  • first class medical care for Carole
  • four seasons and despite all I said, the snow is BEAUTIFUL and I hated living where there was no winter
  • ancient pets – letting go of them is so different from the young and tragic deaths
  • that Carole travels without me and doesn’t give me grief about it
  • an army of civil servants to battle the snow on my behalf
  • elections in two more years and another chance to make a tiny difference
  • honest mechanics to tend to my car
  • the money to pay the honest mechanics
  • a bookcase full of books I want to read

Some days, my only regret is that I didn’t have kids.

Oh . . . . wait . . .

Tradition One

Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

How about the use of the semicolon?  You don’t see that much anymore.  I know I don’t use them for fear of using them incorrectly.  I’m so grateful that Bill W was such a wonderful writer.

I read the long version of Tradition One yesterday in preparation for writing something about it here.  At my meeting last night, Tradition Three was the topic of conversation.  In thinking about both traditions, I am amazed at the organization, or lack of organization, in AA.

The text of Tradition One made me consider a time in the future after AA had hypothetically fallen apart.  In the course of human history, AA is very very very very young.  I’ve always marveled at my luck at being in the time, in this place, where it is available to me.  I know there are many roads to recovery, but I also know that hardly anyone travels any of them for very long.  A recovered alcoholic is a rare and precious thing.

Anyway the text said the alcoholics of the future might hear of our movement and of how it fell apart, and curse us in their caves for letting it happen.  I do love Bill’s writing!  It describes how AA groups were born back then, by one person seeking out other drunks and forming a group, which isn’t the case anymore for the places where I’ve lived and the program that I’ve worked.

The text marvels at how few “rules” there are in AA, and how minimal the structure is, and how bad ideas tend to die on the vine rather than needing to be cut off.  I am so grateful to the people who work and volunteer to keep the organization of AA going for me, and for the future.  I don’t know that I could have recovered back in the days of AA’s beginnings, and I truly doubt I could have recovered any other way except through AA.  I don’t think there were many female teenagers haunting meetings back then.

I would do a lot to protect AA.

And PS – the writing of the Tradition also made me look up Eddie Rickenbacker, and so my education expands.

Can We Have The Same Kind of Confidence (Step Twelve continued)

Can we have the same kind of confidence and faith in these people who have been infected and sometimes crippled by our own illness that we have in our sponsors?

Again, unfortunately, I have to say no.

My situation is a little different from most in that I was very young when I stopped drinking, and I didn’t have really any adult fall out to deal with.

But.  I don’t have the confidence and faith in anyone outside of AA that I have in AA folks.  I know some people who I think work Al-Anon over the years, but I don’t know any of them well.  The only people I know who continually try very hard over years and decades to improve themselves in a systematic way, who I can understand, are in AA.

I imagine others do this through church or therapy or . . . something.  But my main faith and confidence is in the people of AA.  Unfortunately, there are times when I wish I could give someone a drinking problem, so that the person could have a recovery.  It’s the best way of life that I can imagine.