Step One (some closing thoughts)

On vacation, I faced a buffet of many fancy and slightly different foods than what I know and am used to.  Most of the labels, if there were any, were in French, which I studied for nine years in school but do not speak.  I take a hard line on alcohol and I like it that way.  I won’t knowingly ingest anything that contains alcohol, has been cooked with alcohol, tastes like sounds like or has ever been near alcohol.  I see no reason to do so.  I don’t want just the “taste.”  I never wanted just the taste, and the way smelling cigarette smoke makes me want to smoke, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that just the “taste” of whatever remains after the alcohol has “cooked off” will make me want to drink it.  To feel the effects, of course.  That is what I wanted from my first drink until my last.  I see absolutely no reason so risk my sobriety or my serenity for such nebulous benefits.  I have complete and total power over alcohol, as long as it remains outside of my body.


Anyway at this buffet, I steered clear of anything that was at all iffy, of which there really wasn’t anything, no problem.  But dessert.  When I went to try a dessert (or three or four), Carole was indisposed.  I looked at them and read them as best as I could and really didn’t see anything suspect.  And I absolutely could have asked the restaurant staff if anything contained alcohol.  I even discussed with Carole whether just asking, or saying I was “allergic” would make the explanations be more thorough but I do so hate to interact with strangers, and to draw attention to myself, and in the end I decided to go for it and see what happened.


There is actually a climax to this long story and it is that when I took into my mouth some white puddingish stuff that had a brown liquid at the bottom of the tiny glass cup, I had a physical reaction to what I perceived could, possibly, be alcohol.  I felt a fear reaction that went from my mouth down my throat and into my stomach.  It was visceral.


I sat kind of paralyzed and when Carole returned, we decided the liquid was, alas, something mapley, not alcoholic at all, not even the “cooked off” kind.


I just marveled and still do that I could change from someone who needed to drink second only to breathing, even though it brought me steadily and quickly toward my destruction, to someone who remembers that fact so deeply that I react physically and mentally to what I think might even just possibly be alcohol.  That is a miracle indeed.

July 23, 2014 (this day)

SAM_2867I got to go to two AA meetings while I was away, and I experienced two slightly different formats than anything I had been to before.  The first had someone tell her story, then the people at the meeting asked questions of this person.  They asked actual, specific questions like, “How are things with your ex now?”  The second meeting had on its agenda just one speaker telling her story.  Where I live now, that story would probably take about 45 minutes with meeting stuff taking up the rest of the time.  At this meeting, the announcements went on for about 20 minutes, even though the secretary promised he’d be brief this time, not like last time.  They then had a 10 minute coffee break.  Then the speaker told her story, and that was it.


I don’t know what to make of the 10 minute coffee break.  It seems excessive to me.  What I guess is going on is that since this meeting is in a community center up a few flights, they take such a long break so that people can smoke.  It seemed like a huge waste of time to me, and I got 30 minutes of a meeting that took an hour.


But aside from that I’m amazed and grateful as always to find meetings to far from home.  I’m truly fortunate that where I live has so many meetings – that everywhere I’ve lived has so many meetings.


I also found out that my uncle who died recently from drinking without knowing about my successful sobriety had the root cellar of this house completely filled with empty beer cans.  There was a time when I had a closet floor full of empty wine jugs.  At times like this I’m still filled with remorse that I waited too long to reach out to him.  It probably would have changed nothing but it might have changed everything.

July 22, 2014 (a question)

Why do folks post Hazelden’s thought for the day on their blogs?  As great as Hazelden’s thought for the day is, I could subscribe to it myself if I wanted to read it.  Searching for the tag “alcoholics anonymous” fills up the results with these reposts, with nothing original added.  I don’t get it.


Is it a choice, for an alcoholic, to drink, or to refrain from drinking?


I believe that it is.  When my mind is free from alcohol or other mind-changing, mood-alerting drugs, picking one up is a choice.  I chose it many many times when I struggled to stop drinking.  That was many years ago.  I have to say that now, the choice doesn’t enter my mind, hardly ever.  It says in one of the books that we’ll recoil from alcohol like we would from poison, and this is true for me.  I would no sooner drink alcohol than antifreeze.  I know that to drink it would be to die, and maybe take some innocent bystanders with me.


This is where my mind is today.  When someone in the program drinks time after time after time, after having time sober, without asking for help to make it over that compulsion/obsession/desire, I can only think she made a choice to drink.


When I truly wanted to stop, and I felt the urge to drink, I:  called people, read the books, called a friend unrelated to AA, went to sleep, read any book, PUT IT OFF until it passed, and it always passed, from May 1, 1984 until now.


I’ll pray and be a friend.  I’ll be a resource and an example.  What else?  What else?


AA is for those who want it, not for those who need it.  Today I’m one of the lucky ones who is both.

Monday, July 14, 2014 (this day)

I had to check the calendar to see what day it is!  I’m on vacation.


And so.  My mother and son are pet sitting the dog.  She’s an 11ish year old big black dog, probably golden retriever mixed with muttly mutt.  She is so precious.  She is afraid of thunder.  Last night, my mother was sitting in the bathroom with her during the thunder because that’s where she feels safest.  A few days before we left, she had another episode of unexplained lameness.  All of a sudden she won’t put a varying paw down.  She’s been through two rounds or antibiotics for Lyme’s, for which she had a positive blood test.  But it could be recurrent or chronic Lyme’s, arthritis, both, neither, something different.  A 65-pound dog who can’t get up and down at least the back stairs to pee will be a problem for me and Carole physically.  The problem it will be for my heart . . .


Why am I thinking about this on vacation?  I guess I miss her.  I know I do, and that I worry.  I really try and live each day giving her the best day she can have, and just know that at some point, if I’m very lucky and nothing happens to me first, I’ll have to say goodbye to her.  Hearing my mother in the bathroom with her last night tells me I’m probably doing my best.  And for dog behaviorists I can promise that the dog is equally frightened by the thunder no matter what the person does or doesn’t do, so I say do what makes the person feel best.


Otherwise – I’m somewhere that French is the first language.  Through my misspent drunken youth, I took nine whole years of French but I’ve never been able to understand it when I listen to it.  A quick look at the TV tells me what the past 30 years of not studying it haven’t increased my skill any.  I am so much less adventurous than I was back then, even when I was sober.


And Carole seems to OK going to an all French AA meeting.  And she didn’t study French for nine years in school.  I just try to picture someone who doesn’t speak English trying to attend an English AA meeting, and I really don’t want to try this.  For the spiritual camaraderie, I’m sure it’s wonderful and awesome, and actually I did attend one meeting the only other time I left the US, thirty years ago.  But I was so much less intimidated by things back then, though my French wasn’t any better than now.


So we plan to make and English-speaking meeting this week in a city some distance away.  I would say, in French, “That should be good!”  But the ‘should be’ construction escapes me (if I ever knew it).  C’est bon!


Apologies to my dead French teachers, who I trust were well compensated not in proportion to the French I didn’t learn.  Also I must say the AA website has the Big Book in French.  Tres bien!

Under the Lash of Alcoholism (Step One continued)

Under the lash of alcoholism, we are driven to A.A.,
and there we discover the fatal nature of our situation.
Then, and only then, do we become as open-minded to
conviction and as willing to listen as the dying can be. We
stand ready to do anything which will lift the merciless obsession from us.
That was it for me.
I just got back from hearing the lead of a man who was arrested many times, had no job, was hospitalized many times and suffered seizures if he was without alcohol for any amount of time.  His house was in foreclosure and his relationship was dead.  Four years from the time of his first try at AA he was able to listen.  Although my situation was somewhat different, I believe I was also as close to the end as he was.  I was about to die, or be locked up.  I couldn’t function.
Over the years I had thought about suicide.  Part of the change in my mind that enabled me to achieve was lasting sobriety was admitting that I really didn’t actually want to die.  It seemed very tempting lots of the time.  Living as I was certainly wasn’t an option.  I couldn’t sustain even that miserable existence, though I didn’t want that miserable existence.  I wasn’t able to change it except to keep going down the hill, getting worse, heading for the bottom of that pit.
Now when I talk to people who struggle to maintain sobriety I fear that they haven’t gone far down enough in that pit, and I don’t want them to go any further because I know the odds are against them coming back out.  While they are talking to me, while they’re going to meetings and reading the books  I believe they still have a chance.  When they stop doing those things and begin drinking again I’m afraid their last chance might be over.
So many people die rather than change.  I always want to communicate the message from the other side that the pain and work of sobriety is worth it.  I can also decide to die later.  I will die later, decision or no decision.  This life is so good, I want to put that off for as long as I can.  That’s a miracle.

July 7, 2014 (this day)

IMG_3785Impending vacation!  I don’t like vacation, and I don’t like fun.  This is not a product of sobriety.  I have never liked fun . . .


My mother is dog sitting while we’re gone.  She lives over a thousand miles away from me.  On her way here, she visited my daughter, who lives in between us, over five hundred miles away from me.  I do not like these distances.  I wish everyone (including me) would stay put.  But we haven’t.


Helping, I don’t know how much I’m actually helping my work partner through her first year without her husband.  The year is full of anniversaries, the summer especially so for them.  It’s a busy time of year for me at work, and a hard time to go away.


I do not kid myself.  Anytime is a hard time for me to go away.


I went to an AA picnic at an amusement park on July 4, really because it fell on a Friday and I didn’t have to work the next day.  I had a profoundly peaceful feeling at the actual meeting.  During the sobriety countdown, I was a little perturbed at all the new sobriety.  I hope those people had fun and had it sober.  Fun!  If, of course, fun is what they like.

Character Defects

This is my most important, life-long goal and quest, to rid myself, as much as possible, of my character defects.


Thirty years down the road of sobriety in AA, I hope I have minimized my character defects to an excellently low-level.  Humility prevents me from asserting that I have.  Regardless of how few and tiny my character defects are, I must continue to chip away at them.  I must.  I believe it makes me happier, the smaller they get, and that is the motive behind so much of what I do every day.  But I also believe that it keeps me interested in and engaged in AA in important ways.


I understand that it’s a severely defective character that will continue to engage in alcoholic drinking despite growing consequences and the ultimate chance such a person takes each and every time he picks up a drink – that he won’t be able to stop, that he’ll injure some innocent bystander, that he’ll injure himself in such a way as to make further choices impossible.  I understand mostly because I did it.  Also because I talk to people on a regular basis who do it.  Another blessing of AA.  I can see in them and in my former self the selfishness, childishness, anger, self-pity, and on and on that makes such a drastically bad lifestyle possible.  I had to change or die.


But now, the stakes are not so high, the consequences are not too drastic.  But it has definitely become a way of life.


Recently, my uncle died, and he had been on the alcoholic down slide for many years.  I didn’t try to talk to him about my solution (AA) until it was too late.  I called after he was probably dead, and I picture him there, dead, while my voice reaches out over the answering machine.  Too late.


I fully realize that even if I’d tried to reach out years ago, it probably wouldn’t have worked.  But it might have.  I’ve been thinking about what I do wrong for enough years now to know when it hits me hard.  I’m shy, I’m introverted, I’m quiet.  I don’t like confrontation.  I have a solution to the alcohol problem that I’m so quiet, I keep to myself?


So my oldest friend is having trouble with her daughter, and it took me an entire week to almost call her until I finally did.  Of course I’m glad I did.  Of course that’s the person I want to be.


I know that I have to do the actions that are frightening, uncomfortable, not me (the way I am now) to become the me I can and should be.  Just like the drinking me had to stop doing that.


I read my own list of character defects and try to concentrate on one at a time.  When I recognize that I’m engaging in it, I stop and take mental or actual note of the circumstances and, if it’s appropriate and not too late, I correct the action.  It’s my understanding today that it by acting in the way I know I should act that it will become second nature.  Maybe more.  It’s first nature to me today not to drink, and that is an incredible miracle.  Ask Isabel.  She was there.