July 31, 2011 (this day)

These are my daughter’s feet in one of the beaches of her childhood.  She recently went to visit her grandparents.

Today is Sunday, and Carole returned a few hours ago from a vacation she took with her niece and sister.  I sat through over 300 pictures (which was not nearly half of them) before she took a bath and went to bed.  I have to honestly say the desert holds no appeal for me.  The pictures look like sun and heat and rock and scarce plants trying desperately to live with no water.  She assures me this is the most beautiful place she has ever seen.  And she’s seen a lot of places.  “The pictures don’t do it justice,” she and her fellow travelers say over and over and over again.  Surely, however, I’ve been with her to Hawaii where there were mountains and canyons and volcanoes and LIFE.  Rain and clouds and shade and ocean and lush life everywhere.

As I try to write this, on a Sunday afternoon, my gray kitten tries again and again and again and again to suck on me.  It’s incredibly tedious.  I feel terrible.  I want to snuggle her and pet her and be close, but she just will not quit trying to nurse.  They are three months old now, nearly four months old, and wonderful wonderful kittens, except for this.  It’s maddening.

And I guess this is as good a place as any to mention that my cats are strictly indoor cats.  I live in a suburb of a medium-sized city.  The animal shelters, unfortunately, have to euthanize healthy animals because there are not enough homes.  When I first adopted a cat who was my own, when I was 19, it never occurred to me to keep her indoors.  Through the years, though, I’ve come to see the wisdom of it, and for ten or more years, all of mine had been indoors.

I do see the other side of it and know that an indoor/outdoor cat would have a much more interesting life.  For this time and place, though, the dangers of cars and cat fights, diseases AND the fact that cats decimate the small animals and birds in the neighborhood has me keeping them in.  Now if cats were a rare and much sought after animal, as they should be, I might rethink owning them at all, if my intention is to keep them inside.  But given that there are many more cats than there are decent homes, I don’t feel bad at all about owning them and keeping them in.  I do try to entertain them safely in my house.

But I wish I had a solution for this Olive cat trying to suck on me constantly.  As I’ve been writing, I’ve thrown her off of me countless times, and now she’s settled in a cat bed on the radiator.  But I’d like to have her near me, it’s just that when she is, she’s sucking on me.

: – (

After We Come Into A.A. (step twelve continued)

After we come into A.A., if we go on growing, our attitudes and actions toward security–emotional security and financial security–commence to change profoundly.  Our demand for emotional security, for our own way, had constantly thrown us into unworkable relations with other people.  Though we were sometimes quite unconscious of this, the result always had been the same.  Either we had tried to play God and dominate those about us, or we had insisted on being overdependent upon them.  Where people had temporarily let us run their lives as though they were still children, we had felt very happy and secure ourselves.  But when they finally resisted or ran away, we were bitterly hurt and disappointed.  We blamed them, being quite unable to see that our unreasonable demands had been the cause.

As to the way it was for me when I was drinking, I can’t really relate with any certainty.  I was, in fact, a child, at least legally when I went to my first meeting at 16.  When I stopped drinking, at 21, I was barely more than a child.  There wasn’t anyone I tried to dominate, and I don’t think I was over dependent either, but my situation is not the norm, since I was so young.

Now, I hope I don’t seek to dominate, although sometimes I am very adamant about being right about certain things.  I supervise, at work, and I don’t like it.  I may know the way things should go, to a large extent, and I may have some limited power to try to make them go that way, but I don’t do as much as I should, and I don’t enjoy doing it.  My deficit is right there.  I don’t like confrontation, and I don’t do as much as I should, as much as the people who depend on me deserve.

In other situations I often don’t like to dominate, except when I do.  I don’t think I know best most of the time, and honestly, another defect, I don’t want to be responsible for having things go wrong.

did something go away ….?

why did you go
little fourpaws?
you forgot to shut
your big eyes.

where did you go?
like little kittens
are all the leaves
which open in the rain.

little kittens who
are called spring,
is what we stroke
maybe asleep?

do you know?or maybe did
something go away
ever so quietly
when we weren't looking.
~ e.e. cummings

Trust God, Clean House, Help Others

This synopsis of the Twelve Steps is, I believe, attributed to Dr. Bob.  The first three steps involve trusting God, four through eleven show me how to get my “house,” my mind, my life, in order and keep it that way, and Step Twelve tells me to help other people do the same.

I think catchy summaries like this are helpful when, sometimes, the Twelve Steps can seem like lots of complicated words and not-very-precise instructions.  They are precise, and I’m very grateful, but there are a lot of words involved.

When I read some AA history (which I love to do) it seems to me that in early AA, a belief in a higher power was a kind of prerequisite.  On the other hand, I’ve heard Bill W say in recordings of talks he gave that we can pray to a higher power as, if we need to, only an experiment.  Belief was not a prerequisite.

I needed to believe that the collective wisdom of the sober people of AA was a power greater than me.  That made sense and to me, it was obviously true.  I can personally right here, right now, on my back porch on this summer morning, testify to the fact that I was an alcoholic of the hopeless variety.  I was.

Now it has been twenty-six summers since I took my baby daughter to the gazebo pictured here.  I brought her there when she couldn’t walk or talk or protect herself from anything, including her alcoholic mother.  She didn’t need protection from me and I helped bring her to the place where she wants to travel back there and she can navigate it on her own.  This is a “miracle.”

I was talking to someone yesterday who believes in the “meant to be” kind of universe where what is meant to happen, happens, and what isn’t, doesn’t.  My own understanding of “a” or “the” higher power doesn’t work that way, and it doesn’t need to.  My friend and I can have radically different beliefs and we can both stay sober in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Another young woman I know has started on her Ninth Step.  She’s cleaned her house as far as making and sharing her list, considering her defects and asking to have them removed.  I’m so excited for her to experience all of the Ninth Step and to walk away from it having finished it.  Like when they read the “promises,” it is a phase of development and there will be a different phase after it.  The maintenance of the new way of life comes with instructions that, for me, have prevented it from becoming old or boring or finished or dull.  I will never completely understand and know how to do daily inventory and prayer and  meditation.

Helping others.  One of the awesome, unique (I think) aspects of this program of recovery.  I’m sure it serves different functions for different people and the same functions for all of us.  For this introvert, it keeps me out there.  Sometimes (oldtimer confession) I feel like it’s a great service I do, just showing up in my third decade of recovery to say with my presence that it works.  Most of the time I understand that it’s important for me to do that, but it’s truly not all that’s required of me.

Helping others makes sure we all continue to learn as we seek to teach and explain.  The social aspect of this program of recovery is one of the reasons I believe that it succeeds when all else fails.  A paid professional cannot, I don’t think, impart the understanding and experience that I need to enable me to stay sober one day at a time.

Trust God, clean house, help others.

July 22, 2011 (this day)

I’ve got unrest going in several areas, and people pleasing is my character defect du jour.  It resonates, yet a quick look at google didn’t really show me anything that seems to apply.  Maybe I mean it differently.
There are people at work who I have to say no to, who I have to tell that they are doing the wrong thing.  I hate this!  I didn’t seek to supervise, and I don’t enjoy it, but I did it finally because it seemed the only way.  There are vulnerable people who depend on my supervision of those who have power over them.  It needs to be done, and in many cases if I don’t do it, no one will.
Carole is going away with her sister and niece.  I’m looking forward to the time on my own, especially, I hate to say, because the ancient critters are gone and the care and feeding of the healthy youngsters is so much more enjoyable.  Her sister and niece are staying with us before they all fly away.  Everyone is very nice but it’s a lot of people in the house and non stop activity.
I want to get together with two friends while she’s gone.  One is quitting smoking, and being difficult.  The other has cancer.
The weather is hellaciously hot.  I have air conditioners blocking the windows and drowning all the sounds of outside.
My daughter’s cat is ill, and he has a sore that won’t heal.  It’s very rough on her to have him scratch all the time.  I’ve paid her vet bill and talked to her about it and tried to offer what support I can, but it’s hard to see her suffer and to think about the cat.  She and my son are just back from visiting their elderly grandparents, and that sounded mostly grim, though at 96 and 98 I don’t know what else it could be.  Every time they say goodbye it could likely be the last time.  I’m grateful I have kids who were willing to go through the trouble and expense to visit them.
I’m still trying to understand this in terms of people pleasing.  The stuff with my co workers I get.  The ones who are pleasant and reasonable and easy to approach are so much nicer to work with than ……. the rest of them.  I will take this and try to remember to display these qualities my own self.

And As We Grow Spiritually (Step Twelve continued)

And as we grow spiritually, we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need to undergo drastic revisions.  Our desires for emotional security and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for romance, and for family satisfactions–all these have to be tempered and redirected.  We learned that the satisfaction of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives.  If we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment.  But when we are willing to place spiritual growth first–then and only then do we have a real chance.

I’m not sure what my old attitude toward my instincts was before I got sober.  I do know that a misguided desire for family satisfactions while I was drinking and into early sobriety caused me to do things I should not have done.  I was too young to get married, and too young to have children, but I did those things, solely because I wanted to.

Of course that family turned out to be less than satisfactory, but I do have the kids, so I can’t complain or dwell on “what if.”

Today, I’m not sure that I place spiritual growth first.  I try to, at my job for example, but the fact that my wife is able to insure me makes that so much more possible – my emphasis on spiritual growth rather than securing my security.


My trust in the program is just about complete and 100%.  I admit I do hold out a tiny niggling of doubt that pictures me drunk somewhere, washed out or in the horrific accident I would deserve if I drank again.  But mostly, just about completely, I trust that my end won’t be like that if I continue to work the program.

Trusting the program was integral to my getting sober.  Some kinds of trust came immediately for me.  Right away, lucky for me, I believed the good folks of AA when they told me they understood me and my problem.  Though right up to that point I wouldn’t have believed anyone understood me.  This is part of where paid professionals were bound to fail with me.  They may have recognized me as a type they could identify and even, potentially, help and treat, but they couldn’t relate to me as an alcoholic.  If any of the professionals who tried to help me were alcoholic, they didn’t share it with me, and so, in more than one way, I remained unreachable.

Finally I accepted, believed and trusted the AA program, the books, the experiences around me.

As for individuals, of course I’ve trusted them and I’ve had my trust betrayed.  I’ve married twice within the program.  I’ve asked people in AA to do something they said they would, and they didn’t.  Outside of the program, I’ve trusted friends and family members, people I work with and also strangers.  Most of the people I trust come through well.  Some don’t.  Most of the time when someone trusts me, I come through well, and sometimes I don’t.

I want to be trustworthy.  Wanting that might help me follow through when I feel like bailing.  But mostly it is working the program of AA and interacting with the people of AA that forms my basis of trust.

I know today that everyone, everyone single person, will let me down, probably more than once.  I know that it’s worth trusting the people close to me.  For example, trusting my kids with more the minute they show they can be trusted.  I’m their mother.  Of course they have willfully lied and manipulated me.  Of course I wouldn’t blindly hope they’ve gotten over it and give them the keys to my car or put them in charge of my house.  But as they grow and, hopefully, show themselves to be trustworthy, I will trust them more.

I watch my kittens, now four months old, learn trust.  They allow themselves, even invite us to pick them up and hold their entire bodies in our hands.  They chase the tail of the big black dog not considering that one snap of her jaws would end their lives.  For the rare time when we inadvertently step on a tail or close a paw in the dishwasher, they seem to instantly forgive and forget and trust again immediately.  I guess it would be different if most of their interactions with us were painful, but would it?

Some people who are a permanent part of my life cannot be trusted, probably ever.  I understand that and I move on.  In many, in all cases I wish it was different, but I am not in charge of them, and my best chance for changing them is by being a power of example.

All of this I learned through AA.  Thinking about it that way, I hope I have taught my kids some of that without them going to AA.  I guess only time may tell.  But for all the years that I’ve been trusting the program of AA, I have never been let down, and I don’t think I ever will.

July 14, 2011 (this day)

I have to consult a calendar to see what day it is.  That’s the kind of day I’m having.  Carole and I in an east coast beach town, visiting two other AA folks who are here for the week.  This is my second vacation this summer, a true and difficult stretch for me!  We’re only here for two nights – last night and this night.  Tomorrow we’ll be home.

It’s a long drive for a short stay.  The young people we are visiting are the reason, for me anyway, that it’s worth it.  Yesterday after all the driving, we met them and their two young daughters on the beach.  The water is nothing like the water in Hawaii, of course, but I do love to swim and it was great, seeing the kids learn.  Last night we went to an AA meeting with them.  So like “our” meetings, and so different.  And so amazing that for us, wherever we go, there are meetings.  A blessing beyond measure.  As are the young people in AA who we get to spend time with.

But this morning, as I wait for Carole to get back from fishing, the biggest blessing on my mind is the wonderful women who attend to the critters while we have fun!

July 9, 2011 (this day)

The dog and I went to Carole’s work to help her pack up her office before the moving people move her to her new office.  Carole works at the school where Erika went to college (or, Erika went to college at the school where Carole works) and some locations did bring back some memories for me.  Not all good memories, although the fact that Erika is alive and well today makes all those memories OK for what they were.  I did remember waiting outside under a tree when moving Erika in or out one year, waiting with my dog that was eventually attacked and killed while I walked her.  Our present dog is here because of that and I was trying to think about it —

What happened, happened to the little dog.  She was only two years old and way too young.  The dogs that attacked should not have been loose, so even if I can’t blame them for what they did, their owners were negligent.  Though they got out by accident.

Anyway that happened.  Now our present big dog is alive because we had that room in our home.  And I guess none of it really matters in the end.  All of us who live, die.

I worked on a blanket on the car ride.  Someone I work with, someone younger than me, has lung cancer, and it looks pretty bad.

But those of us who are living have today.  For the rest of today I’ll putz around and enjoy the new life of the kittens.  Tonight I’m chairing my meeting then going out for the meeting after the meeting.  Someone I introduced to the program is sharing her story and sometimes that is the ultimate awesomeness.  In a way, the crap I went through enabled me to help her way, way, way on the down the line.


Like Most People (Step Twelve continued)

Like most people, we have found that we can take our big lumps as they come.  But also like others, we often discover a greater challenge in the lesser and more continuous problems of life.  Our answer is still more spiritual development.  Only by this means can we improve our chances for really happy and useful living.

I’ll stop there (as we say at literature meetings).  *****Standard disclaimer*****I have, as of this writing, been sober for 27 years in Alcoholics Anonymous.  I am writing about the oldtimer experience, not the newcomer experience.  No matter how great my challenges today, they do not cause me to be tempted to drink.  I’m not cured.  I’m not safe.  I’m not immune.  I keep coming back.  But alcohol no longer tempts me. *****

Big lumps are awful, but thus far mine haven’t been too big.  The lesser and more continuous problems of life are, to sum up, my character defects.  For over a year I’ve been trying to jot down my triggers, as they occur, to be better able to deal with them without the excess of negative emotion.  To develop, spiritually, more.

A sample of my lesser and more continuous problems:

  • students at my work place – I have to keep them busy and tell them what they’re doing wrong
  • a coworker I don’t like, I don’t want to spend time with, I have to spend time with
  • my wife being bad-tempered in some way
  • Halloween????
  • philosophical differences at work
  • my pets misbehave, get sick, get old, die
  • my kids keep growing and developing, forcing me to always be adjusting to a new phase of their adulthood
  • my work partner and I hire people who other departments “steal”
  • people I dislike get in trouble, have trouble, and a tiny little part of me is glad

So I’m sitting here writing this, developing my spirit, as it were.  One kitten is sprawled in front of the keyboard purring very very loudly.  Another just attacked my sleeve for the third time, and I shoved her off of the desk.  But here I sit, listing my petty complaints, thinking about the 12th Step, and how to do it better tomorrow.