Step 1

Unmanageable!

A lifetime or practicing powerlessness has prepared me, as much as anything could, for this moment.

My work will begin bringing people back into the building beginning July 8.  Our situation will be similar to a nursing home or preschool.  There may be some people we can’t bring safely back while the virus is in play.  We’ll have to see.  I feel more frightened of the virus now, like I did when we were shutting down.  I doubt my ability to go show up Monday through Friday, 8-330, even though I did it for 22 years and up until 3 months ago.  A line in the literature about being alarmed at the prospect of actual work comes to my mind.

I’ve attended the meeting in the parking lot a few times.  We hear of meetings in person inside but haven’t been to any.  We hear people do not wear masks or social distance.  This was my experience as things were shutting down.  We continue to keep the zoom meeting going and I love that.  I hope some stay permanently for many reasons.

I’m grateful for the concepts of powerlessness and unmanageability.  I just read Jack London’s book John Barleycorn, written in the 1920s about how he is not an alcoholic.  Alcohol wrecked his life and his body and killed him at 40.  The book is one long denial.

That’s an extreme example, and I learned early on that all that objecting too much pointed to one thing.  People who are not alcoholic don’t go around saying they are not alcoholic.

As I move forward in this unique and fraught time I keep those concepts in mind and it really helps me distinguish where to spend my mental energy.

At our meeting the other night we were talking about some negative topic.  Everyone talked about how we are frightened and angry and worried and sad.  Someone commented “we are not coping well, are we?”  And someone else pointed out “we’re not drinking.”  Admitting I have no power over that gives me the ultimate power to abstain.  I’m not fighting alcohol or anything else.  Except my own character defects.

May 9, 2020 (this day)

Photo on 5-9-20 at 10.34 AM

My desk chair I took from work to work at home and my work buddy for the past – six weeks?  I went into my workplace yesterday.  It was frightening and cheering both.  Through a government program the people I work with are being put back on the payroll even though we have no clients to serve yet.  It’s the present task to find things for them to do while keeping them safe, which means keeping them at home.

My wife has a zoom room and we’ve been meeting there nightly inviting any and everyone but not publishing it, so there are usually six or seven of us.  We usually spend one hour talking about some aspect of AA in relation to this present circumstance.

I’ll admit that zoom AA is something I will miss very much.  I attend in my pajamas, having had taken a bath before the meeting, after work.  Getting dressed and crossing the street for that weekly meeting now seems like a terrible chore.  Also, because our group is so small, I talk a lot, which I really don’t like to do in person, but on zoom the silence feels worse to me.

For the record, I still don’t know anyone who has gotten the virus.  It’s my experience, being in this strange bubble, and I’m grateful.  I fear the virus, and I see fear as a defect I should work to eliminate.  Not take crazy chances, but act responsibly and well and not out of fear.  Going to work was a much better experience than thinking about going to work.

I’ve been working at home on my father’s desk from around 1960.  He died when he was 33, in 1968, from alcoholism.  I’m sitting at the desk writing this now.  Had he lived, he’s be approaching 90.  I feel (though of course I can’t know – alcoholism made sure I can’t know) that he wouldn’t have imagined me here at his desk doing this in this day and this age.  He missed so much.

Sobriety–first, last, all the time (Step Four continued)

If, however, our natural disposition is inclined to self righteousness or grandiosity, or reaction will be just the opposite.  We will be offended to A.A.’s suggested inventory.  No doubt we shall point with pride to the good lives we thought we led before the bottle cut us down.  We shall claim that our serious character defects, if we think we have any at all, have been caused chiefly by  excessive drinking.  This being so, we think it logically follows that sobriety–first, last, and all the time–is the only thing we need to work for.  We believe that our one-time good characters will be revived the moment we quit alcohol.  If we were pretty nice people all along, except for our drinking, what need is there for a moral inventory now that we are sober?

I don’t identify too closely with this paragraph.  I don’t want to skip it, but I don’t have much to say about it.

From where I am today, at the beginning of the world reopening from the lock down of the virus, most of my character defects are flagrantly on display to me and this is after 36 years of sobriety.

Oh yeah, May 1 I marked 36 years of sobreity!

Ongoing inventory needed here………

 

April 11, 2020 (this day)

My job is online and my meetings are online.  My wife and I have been carrying on a private Zoom meeting every night at 7.  It’s private in that it isn’t published anywhere, but we have asked everyone who comes to spread the word and invite anyone with a desire to stop drinking.  There are usually four, five or six of us.  It makes for some deep conversation, I think, deeper than happens at face to face meetings.  Although I guess in this current situation, face to face meetings would be pretty intense.

I have noticed, and the group has remarked, how these circumstances make for lots of judgements on my part.  We have heard of face to face meetings that are still meeting and we judge them.  Someone works in Target and we judge the people shopping there for non-essentials.  I judge someone who comes to the meeting but doesn’t use their camera and mutes their microphone.  Are they observing?  Having us go on in the background?

But those are the buzzes of lesser character defects and they do not dominate my current AA experience.  The larger character defects of fear, anxiety, worry, gluttony – those give me more trouble and still I have a plan to work on them, a plan I’m familiar with that has enabled me to lessen them to an outstanding degree.

 

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Staying in the Now

In AA we talk about the tools of the program.  These are not physical tools but rather concepts we learn to apply to daily living that enable us to stay sober.  As a recovering alcoholic in AA I was not able to stay sober on my own or through other means.  I needed  the program of AA.  AA helped me stay sober in part by giving me tools and teaching me to use them.

Staying in the now is one of the most powerful tools.  So often (not always, but often) my distress is focused on the past or the future.  Staying in the now usually offers relief from the fear, anxiety, anger, remorse, os situations gone by or situations that haven’t happened yet.

And so.  I’m privileged, as I’ve always been, in our current situation.  I have everything I need today.  I always have.

But also.  I don’t know if I have a job beyond April 30.  I don’t know when I’ll see my (adult) children or (elderly) mother.  I don’t know if any or all of us will get sick and not be able to see each other.  That’s a road that we currently all travel, and again I know that my metaphorical baggage is light and others have much heavier burdens to bear.  I don’t know what will happen to the world.  It seems in real jeopardy right now of a kind that hasn’t presented itself in my experience.

Meetings went online, and because my wife teaches at college she has a Zoom room.  We’ve had a meeting every night for whoever wants to come.  We’ve invited every one we know and we’ve invited them to spread the word but we haven’t publicized it, so there hasn’t been any problem with people crashing it.

The experience of being there with people I actually know is invaluable to me.  I understand that I could by the grace of my computer attend meetings all over the world, but I don’t know what I’d be there beyond being a type of audience.  The people in our meeting are mostly people I actually know and will see once we are allowed to meet again.

So, now.  I have a job that’s gone online, and I’m grateful.  It’s not quite the direct helping of people I’m used to but it may have some value when the program is able to reopen or when individual clients aren’t able to attend in the future.  I have supplies, my loved ones have supplies.  I have phones and computers to connect me to everyone I choose to be connected to.  I don’t know what the future holds but I never really did.  It remains a powerful tool to slow a racing heart and to remind an alcoholic not to drink.  Staying in the now.

March 22, 202 (this day)

This year?  My, how much has changed!

My personal situation is good.  My wife works for the state university system, and they are going online.  It’s actually more work for her until the end of the semester with very little risk.

I work with people who developmental disabilities in a day program.  We closed to clients last Friday, and Wednesday was the last day for staff.  I’m promised work through this Friday but after that I don’t know.  I’ve struggled over Thursday and Friday to get set up with technology at home, but it’s nothing any of us are good at, and we struggled with technology in the office in the best of times.  I could possibly go to work in residential houses.  My clients are so fragile, they will be impacted severely if they get sick.  They need workers and others coming in and out of their lives and in close physical contact.  Many of them struggle at home not understanding the situation.

My meeting didn’t meet last night for the first time since we started it.  Other meetings I believe missed for the first time in 75 years.  I’ve been going nightly to an online chat meeting with several people that I know.  I understand that we are blessed to have so many online options, but for me the value of having people I actually know there is immense.

I imagine that back in the old days of AA people would have been writing letters.  I’m well familiar with the passages that tell us that during WWII soldiers in combat stayed sober, but honestly, I’m skeptical.

No matter.  I don’t have free floating anxiety, I have character defects and a plan to deal with them.

For anyone who is struggling with staying sober, please reach other.  There is abundant help and your sober self is needed here now by all of us.  Truly, it is.

Dryland

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AA-bot that I am, I admittedly see everything through that lens, and for this I am grateful (like a good AA should be).  I’ve read a few sobriety memoirs and I’ve known ….. thousands?…. of people who drank alcoholically and got sober.  I’ve also listened to ….. thousands?…… more “stories” as we tell them in AA.  Stories of drinking and stopping drinking and life after stopping drinking.

The drinking portion of this book is very interesting because the author lived an extraordinary life.  She traveled and lived in other countries the way few people do, and she relates those aspects of her story well enough.  She describes drinking alcoholically and she does that well also.

But then, of stopping there is only a very slight mention.  She stopped.  Of life after stopping there is only slight mention.  She stayed stopped, at least for a while.

The abrupt ending of her story made me turn to Google to see if she’s still stopped.  I cannot tell.  Of course I hope that she is still sober.

So the abrupt sobriety without any details of how that sobriety made it into the future made me think about my own situation.  First of all, I could not just stop.  Or rather, sometimes I could, but those times never lasted for any significant period.  With nothing to this book except a description of alcoholic drinking and a cold turkey unassisted sobriety, I was left to think about what my life might have been like had I been able to do what the author did and stop for good unassisted.

I just would not have pursued the personal growth I’ve had to pursue as part of AA.  I doubt I’d be the kind to find a religion that fits or stick to my own program of recovery.  Most importantly, I wouldn’t want to.

“The drunk who brought you in will take you out.”  We’re told in AA that unless we change we’re in danger of drinking again.  I hope this woman has found a lasting sobriety, but how does she go about changing?  This book doesn’t tell.

I inevitably come back to the thought that I’m grateful I couldn’t recover without AA.  If I had been able to, I would have missed the greatest moments of my life.  And by the way, AA is happy for anyone who stops under and means.

Pride in Reverse (Step 4 continued)

If temperamentally we are on the depressive side, we are apt to be swamped with guilt and self-loathing. We wallow in this messy bog, often getting a misshapen and painful pleasure out of it. As we morbidly pursue this melancholy activity, we may sink to such a point of despair that nothing but oblivion looks possible as a solution. Here, of course, we have lost all perspective, and therefore all genuine humility. For this is pride in reverse. This is not a moral inventory at all; it is the very process by which the depressive has so often been lead to the bottle and extinction.

 

Pride in reverse has been an extremely important pillar of my sobriety.  When I have an excess of negative emotion it is often not anger but rather guilt or self-loathing.  I can recount scenes, especially scenes of me as a mother, that I would give almost anything to take back and undo.  And these happened in sobriety.

I have got to heed the words of this step and know that shaming myself to myself is destructive.  Mothering is good example because I do not get to do it right again next time.  I get to pay better attention to how I now mother my grown children and that for now is best I can do.

We often talk at meetings about regretting the past and wishing to shut the door on it.  These feelings lessen for me with time, but they won’t go away.  It also strikes me as new agey crap to “forgive” myself.  The tools I’ll try to apply here are knowing that wallowing is wrong, that much of the time I spend regretting the past is wasted time, and that I have to put constructive energy into right living and making new things to be guilty and ashamed about.

January 1, 2020 (this day)

Happy New Year!  I did not drink any alcohol in 2019.  I was almost killed by my compulsion to drink alcohol in 1984 (1983, 1982, 1981, 1980, 1979, and 1978).  I am lucky beyond measure.

After the tragic election of 2016, I subscribed to the (failing, as Voldemort likes to call it) New York Times.  I read with interest the other day (in the car, on the way home from an AA meeting with two other women as miraculously alcohol-free as I am) this article.  A few points:

They aren’t drinking themselves numb because they are awash in oh-so-much power, or because of some pathological inability to follow rules or humble themselves, or because their outsize egos are running the show, as A.A.’s messaging would suggest. Quite the opposite: They’re drinking because they have so little power, because all they’ve ever done is follow the rules and humble themselves, because their egos have been crushed under a system that reduces their value to subservience, likability and silence.

This was not true for me.  I drank because I was an alcoholic, and I believe for myself that had I evolved in a place where women ruled, I still would have drank unto death.

There are many other evidence-based options available now — from medically assisted treatments to cognitive behavioral therapy to the emerging use of psychedelics including psilocybin.

AA officially welcomes all forms of recovery in the world.  The methods listed here, however, take time, money, insurance, stability, commitment.  To be sure, AA takes time and commitment, but for me, the daily availability of meetings and other alcoholics to talk to helped me recover where no doctor or therapist could.

I did notice, when I first got to AA, and I still notice that it is a program designed by men for men.  It does emphasize character defects I don’t identify with as stated, for example, that resentment is the number one offender.  It does always mention the other side of the character defect coin, though, listing depression and fear and self-pity along with an inflated ego.

This program, which was designed to break down white male privilege, made sense for the original members: It reminded them that they were not God and encouraged them to humble themselves, to admit their weaknesses, to shut up and listen.

That may be true.  However, in my female drunken existence I also needed to humble myself (my way wasn’t working and was actually killing me), so admit my weaknesses (like not being able to handle basically anything without chemical courage), to shut up (I wasn’t a big talker then, I’m still not, but all I had to add at the beginning was to remind sober people how unhappy and sick a drinking alcoholic is), and listen.  Yes, listen to how to get out and be in the world sober.

It does make me unhappy that it was by and about men.  My favorite AA symbol, the man on the bed, shows three men.  I’m unhappy that God is the “father” and that all the presidents have been men.  The main thing I can add to this canon is my witness.  I am a woman, sober 35 years.  I have two children who were born in my sobriety and raised by a sober mother.  I have a career history or contributing, showing up with integrity and trying to serve people.

Women are the fastest-growing demographic becoming dependent on alcohol, which means we’re on our way to being a majority of participants of recovery programs. There’s no question that we need help. But we don’t need to give up our power.

I had no power when I was drunk and under the table.  All the power I have today is a direct result of repeated engagement with that oh-so-male program, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Staying Away from the First Drink

It’s a special kind of mental gymnastics I engaged in that tried to calculate three beers or two wines or two slugs from the bottle straight.  What was too much, and what was too far?  I attempted over and over and over again to hit the right amount of alcohol to give me that slight, pleasant buzz.  I never achieved it after the first few times I drank.

I know I may have fallen faster and harder than some alcoholics.  Some who achieved the perfect buzz for years until they didn’t.  But my memory of the perfect buzz was so perfect that I felt compelled to try again and again and again and again, always going too far, too fast, drinking too much, not stopping at just enough.

My calculations did not work, and so I had to accept and understand that THE FIRST DRINK GETS ME DRUNK in that once I drank, my judgement was impaired enough to make it impossible for me to control how much I would drink.  Even though terrible or just bad consequences didn’t kick in until the third or fourth drink, perhaps, I could not predict or control it or them.  To 100% guarantee I would not drink too much, I had to stay away not from the fourth, third, or second, but from the first.

Now, I’d love to employ that method on some other things I should stay away from…… I have stayed away from the first cigarette but now the rest of my bodily vices are trying to kill me.

Move a muscle, change a thought.  Call someone.  Read something.  Remind myself what road I’m on, which way the road goes.  Toward what?  Sick, painful, soon death?  Or a hopefully healthy old age.

Anyway I am here to report that staying away from the first drink has been 100% successful in keeping me sober for 13,011 days.  And counting.