Attitude Part 1

It’s probably been 35 years now since my first AA meeting (though I haven’t been sober that long).  And it was right at the beginning that I understood what the AA folks were telling me about my attitude, and how I needed to change it, and what it needed to be.  It’s my favorite example that someone told me back then, “Say ‘Thank God’ instead of ‘God dammit.'”  I was able to apply that in a practical way right after being told when someone cut me off in traffic.  I said, “Thank God I didn’t meet him,” and I meant it.  There is so much gratitude to be found in a near-miss in traffic.

Thinking about it today, I really have spent the past 35 years almost completely devoid of road rage, and if that’s all AA ever gave me, that might be enough.  Through the years I’ve added the thoughts, depending on the situation, that

  • the person could be ill, or upset, maybe having just gotten very bad news
  • I too have once every year or so made a mistake in traffic myself (and it’s really funny how, when I try to apologize, I usually get the finger rather than forgiveness)
  • having raised two kids from when they were pups I also remember that the person behind the wheel in the other car may be learning (and I did, from time to time shout, when some wonderful motorist was being impatient that “We’re learning!” and comment to the other learner that I guess the other driver was born a perfect, experienced driver)

Bottom line is that I haven’t had a car accident, ever, and so all the terrible drivers around me have not caused me to be in an accident and that this, more than their poor driving, is the most important point to dwell on and feed.  Over 35 years of driving I’d say that this attitude has given me several whole days of gratitude and serenity.

In thinking about “attitude” now, I searched for it through the big book and through this blog.  There’s a lot, so I thought I’d write about several times.  For me it’s a basic concept because my attitude was something that had to change so that I could remain sober.  The attitude I had before and while I was drinking isn’t compatible with sobriety.


To be continued.

March 22, 2013 (this day)

IMG_0100I spend a lot of time waiting outside of Starbucks on the way to a meeting.  Most of the meetings I go to, I go with Carole.  Most, but not all, and I’m glad I had such a long sober history before I met her.  It’s easy for me to depend on other people to be the friendly half of whatever couple I’m part of.

One night this week I did go to a meeting without her.  It was a discussion meeting, and the topic was “how do you maintain your spiritual condition?”  That was three days ago and my head is still spinning a bit.  There were the usual answers, but there was one guy changed the tone of the meeting and I’m just glad I’m not a newcomer hearing that stuff.

He let us know that he’s been sober a very long time.  Then he outlined what he does on a daily basis and it is quite a list.  I know this guy, and I know that he has a job.  I think it might actually be a rather involved job, which makes what he said more noteworthy to me.  I don’t know his relationship status.

Every day after he gets up he prays on his knees.  He then reads about 40 pages in the Big Book, two sections of about 20 pages each.  He then reads something religious.  Then he goes to work, and from work he makes either a 10 am or 12 noon meeting, then goes back to work.  At night he makes another meeting for a total of two meetings a day.  Before bed he does a Tenth Step inventory, then prays on his knees again.

Someone commented after he had talked, “You must have been really sick to need to do all that.”  And of course he was really sick.  I understand.  I was really, really sick and I don’t think I would have lived much longer if I had continued to drink.  Deathly, terminally sick I was.

And if someone needs to do all that, I wouldn’t really call it a terrible life.  I mean, I love AA, and I don’t mind going to meetings and reading the books over and over.  If I was going to drink unless I did all that, I would do all that, and still call it a good life.  Many people will say that when they began AA, they needed to do all that, or they would drink.

But I wonder about the example it sets for new people who may be overwhelmed by thinking all that will be required twenty years down the road of happy destiny.  There is so much I want to do every day, and much of it has nothing to do with AA, except that AA has enabled me to do it, and do it happily, and do it well (or better than I would have without AA).  My list of things to do includes writing here, cleaning the house, reading non-AA books (reading Gone Girl right now, which I’m sure has no redeeming value), exercise and walking the dog.  I have work from work that I need to do at home (because I want to), I’m still working on my NaNoWriMo book all year long.  I’m still struggling to learn to knit and crochet and play the guitar.  There are people I want to spend time with.  Today it’s my wife and my daughter and my daughter’s friend – two chemistry scientists who are visiting us because of a concert they traveled here to see.  A really nice life made possible by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Another guy talked at that meeting about doing a similar amount of AA stuff every day, but he is retired.  I picture that I will spend more time on AA-related activities if I’m fortunate enough to retire one day.  I’ll do it because I like it, and I owe it, and I want it to flourish, and I’m grateful, and it’s a joy.  I don’t begrudge all that activity to anyone who needs it, or wants it.  I hesitate to even put this out there, because I would not want to stop anyone from doing anything AA-related, ever.  Just in relaying my experience, though, I will say that for me and me only, AA is the most important piece of a very full life.

True Ambition (Step Twelve continued)

True ambition is not what we thought it was.  True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.

I’ve listed ambition as one of my character defects.  It’s a confusing one in that it also has a positive connotation, as when someone takes on something difficult with lots of energy, being “ambitious.”  But as a character defect, I understand that it is the distinction and honor aspects of it that are defective and wrong and, possibly, the wealth and power aspects as well, though those can be put to good use.

I’ve never much striven for distinction, honor, power, or wealth, though I can get awfully nervous if I think my middle-class status is in jeopardy.  I have a desire to live usefully and walk humbly.  I don’t know how deep my desire is.  Surely not deep enough.

Living usefully.  As I’ve written, and people who know me in real life know, I work with adults who have developmental disabilities to the extent that they need major help in all areas of life.  I work in their day program, and I got there because my mother has done this since I was five, and she gave me my first job.  I got my second job when I moved to be with Carole, and I’m still at that job.  It will be 15 years in June, and how that happened I just can’t understand.  But I’ve moved from the day-to-day hands on working folks to managing the folks who work with the folks, and it’s just not clear at any given moment that I’m doing something useful.  Not as clear as it was when, for example, I was giving someone a drink of water who couldn’t get it for himself.  Now that is useful.  Telling someone else how to give the water, or making sure they gave the water, or critiquing their water giving method, now that is just not as much–

I will be honest.  That is not as much fun.  Of course it’s useful.  But while I felt I was good at giving the water, and knowing when and how to do it, I don’t feel I’m as good at telling someone else.  Especially if they are not doing it well.

Anyway, a very useful way to make a living.  I love it, which I don’t think lessens its usefulness.  I think it is better for the people I’m helping if I love it, and I do.  And it’s wonderful for me.  I honestly feel a little guilty about that.  Probably because of my Lutheran upbringing.

So useful at work.  I want to live usefully at home, and that is generally not as much fun.  The aspects of it that I like, I’m good at, and I want to do more.  I think that being a pet of mine is a pretty good deal.  My biggest deficit there, I think, is the anxiety I experience about being good enough, especially to the dog, but also to the cats.  Other aspects of being useful at home I’m not as good at.  I started to write and deleted a few things about that.  I’ve come around to thinking this about it:  my so-called “deep desire” is only as good as the actions that result from it.  Doesn’t that fit every situation?

March 12, 2013 (this day)

IMG_0084I’m trying to write, and the extremely fluffy black cat is twirling around my keyboard purring.  The dog is on high alert, hoping I’ll make a move for the door, which might mean a snack is coming.

Our snow is almost all gone, but after a few days of really nice weather, it’s gotten cold again.  I’m really busy at work, and people from work are emailing even now, but it’s a good kind of busy.  Carole’s on her way home soon after being away.

I wrote before about a woman I work with being on work release.  I told her I’m in the program, and I asked her if she had a Big Book.  She didn’t, so I got her one along with a stack of Grapevines for the place she has to live right now.  She went waving the book down the hallway, full of people, thanking me.

Through the years I’ve told a few people I work with that I’m in the program.  My work partner Irene is the only one there now who knows.  Unless this new gal has spread the word, advertently in inadvertently.  And apparently advertently isn’t a word.

I’m OK with that.  I was trying to explain it to Carole recently.  Because in my drinking history, I often lied about it when I messed up spectacularly, saying my medication was off, someone slipped me something.  Oy.  I did this in order to be able to drink again.  Because if I admitted what was wrong, I couldn’t do it again.  Telling the truth about why I don’t drink or, more often, admitting that I was drunk was an important step in my recovery.

That was a really long time ago, but I hold on to it.  It’s so important, and so precious.  To use a drippy metaphor it’s one of the stones in my foundation.  No matter how strong the foundation is, I’m not pulling any brick out.

I realize that those thoughts don’t go seamlessly together.  Woman at work waving a Big Book in the hall, and admitting I was under the influence rather than lying.  I guess I mean that I strive to tell anyone who has a reason to know that I’m in the program, and if hallways of others find out in the process it’s OK by me.

And please stand by to see if it really does turn out OK.

Are Treatment Centers Responsible for their Failures?

A reader asked me something like this:

I know that AA promotes honesty, openness, and, willingness. I would appreciate any logical feedback on something I have read. ” If a doctor killed a family member with a botched surgery, would you still support the doctor?   Would you sue for malpractice? Since alcoholism is a disease, is it time to hold treatment centers responsible for their failures?” Ps keep your resentment if you find this offensive for your daily moral inventory. Thanks

I have edited and changed the words of the question because when I read it I Googled it to see where it comes from, and it comes from an anti-AA website.  I won’t publicize an anti-AA website because AA saved my life.  I understand that it doesn’t work for everyone, but if an anti-AA anything turned off even one person who otherwise might be helped, it could be sentencing that person to death.  Literally.

This question seems like nonsense to me.  A life-saving surgery would be a physical thing, and it would require nothing from the patient beyond payment.  If, after surgery, the patient didn’t follow post-op instructions and died as a result, would you sue the doctor then?

If only curing alcoholism was as easy as curing bad tonsils.  If patients in treatment centers followed the instructions of the treatment centers, surely many would get well.

I imagine some treatment centers are better than others, and I hope the good ones get more support than the bad ones.  But ultimately the fate of an alcoholic is in his or her own hands.  No doctor can surgically remove the disease.  It isn’t found only in the body.  It is also in the mind and spirit.  A book read by early AAs is even called Soul Surgery.

Click to access soulsurgery.pdf

Asking for Help

IMG_0051I was looking for a picture that illustrates my problem with “asking for help,” and I didn’t have to look far to find one.  This is the side of my house, this time last year.  When the leaves open up on the trees to the right, this area is in total shade.  So grass doesn’t grow, and I’d love to grow something, but I don’t ask for help and so it stays like this, year after year.

As a disclaimer, my intention with this blog is to record my experience as an old-timer.  Asking for help is a classic problem that newcomers face, along with, I believe, asking for too much help.  But that’s not why I’m here.  Carole and I had dinner with someone we know who has struggled in the program and she told us, “I don’t want someone to tell me what to do.”  As two people who for today have achieved significant long-term sobriety, Carole and I agreed that when we finally did get sober (me on my 2001st try), we were finally ready and grateful to have someone tell us what to do.  We had to admit that our own way of doing things was going one way, down hill.  That’s part of the newcomer dilemma of asking for and receiving help.

But what is like for me, several decades up the hill from that final first breakthrough?  We were just at a Quaker silent meeting, and I had this topic on my mind as something to meditate on if I needed a topic.  Which I did.

I find that a lot of my spare thoughts go to my work.  I’ve been, at various times in my life, a student, a stay at home mother, a working mother.  I’ve been partnered and single.  I find it appropriate that at my age and stage of life, I should think a lot about work.  I should probably be at my best their as well, since my kids are grown and my education is pretty much complete.

There are new things I’m trying to learn.  I’m sort of trying to learn to play the guitar (without much practice), how to be a better investigator (I do investigations as part of my work).  I ask my daughter to help me learn to knit and crochet.  I sometimes halfheartedly think about being a better manager.  Halfheartedly because my heart has never been in managing people.  I work with adults who have developmental disabilities (mental retardation), and I’ve truly loved working with them and tried to do it better all the time.  But my work partner and I finally asked to manage the program because we lived through a string of terrible managers and things always got worse, never better.  Today in the Quaker meeting I was thinking how sad for the clients and the staff that one of their leaders is half-hearted.  They deserve someone who will give her whole heart to it.

So what does asking for help look like in my life today?  I asked for opinions when I had to fly to Hawaii and considered taking a drug to deal with my fear.  I concretely ask for help when I want to do something like knit, and I have to say that even though I ask, I’m not assured of getting help because my daughter sometimes points me to a book plus she’s left-handed.  I do turn to books and learning when I want to get better at some things like managing or investigating.  I turn away from learning about things that don’t interest me, like the side yard.  And there’s the whole aspect of asking for help in a relationship that I couldn’t blog about and expect to keep the relationship.