Alcoholics Especially (Step Four continued)

Alcoholics especially should be able to see that instinct run wild in themselves is the underlying cause of their destructive drinking.  We have drunk to drown feelings of fear, frustration, and depression.  We have drunk to escape the guilt of passions, and then have drunk  again to make more passions possible.  We have drunk for vainglory–that we might more enjoy foolish dreams of pomp and power.  This perverse soul-sickness is not pleasant to look upon.  Instincts on rampage balk at investigation.  The minute we make a serious attempt to probe them, we are liable to suffer severe reactions.

 

Thinking for the past month or so about instincts on rampage when I feel an excess of negative emotion.  Alcohol did briefly and for a blessed second relieve me of negative feelings.  It was that numb spot that I was always aiming for, and because I’m an alcoholic, I was never able to achieve it.  By the time I was there, I had drank too much and it was about to kick in an throw me over into confusion and sickness and wooziness and despair.

It happens quickly for me these days when I feel something negative to identify it as a character defect, no really an instinct, but I can see how they are the same.  I can take joy in the cat who is sitting right here having been coaxed off of my shoulder and into the cat bed.  I can immediately feel the fear of her care and well-being in my hands, that I won’t succeed in caring for her, and that even if I do, the pain of separation will be ours one day when one of us doesn’t come home any longer.

Now investigating and probing, as the paragraph suggests.  Life is a series of separations and failures.  Still, the cat was an orphan at a shelter and in distress.  I was someone who would take joy and comfort in a cat in the years to come.  Here we are, both of us lucky, and blessed by the other.

It chokes me up.  My instinct to shield myself from the coming worry and heartsickness are feelings I have to investigate and probe and, ultimately, ask to have them removed.  Although today I have decided not to drink over them (and really, only because drinking over them did not work), they lessen the quality of my life and they lessen my usefulness.  And the cat wonders what’s wrong.

This fourth step hard, deep look at what’s wrong in me can’t go on at length.  It’s purpose is to free me from myself, from my self-centeredness, so I can’t stay here for long thinking about how bad I am, or how good.  Unaided by alcohol my instincts still try to overwhelm me and take over and protect themselves and run my life.  Even though, for a long time now, I’ve known the answer is to turn away, and even though it’s become semi-automatic to do so, I am still learning.  Now there’s a reason to keep going to meetings after 35 years of sobriety.

In These Ways We Are Set in Conflict (Step Four continued)

But that is not all of the danger.  Every time a person imposes his instincts unreasonably upon others, unhappiness follows.  If the pursuit of wealth tramples upon people who happen to be in the way, then anger, jealousy, and revenge are likely to be aroused.  If sex runs riot, there is a similar uproar.  Demands made upon other people for too much attention, protection, and love can only invite domination or revulsion in the protectors themselves — two emotions quite as unhealthy as the demands which evoked them.  When an individual’s desire for prestige becomes uncontrollable, whether in the sewing circle or at the international conference table, other people suffer and often revolt.  This collision of instincts can produce anything from a cold snub to a blazing revolution.  In these ways we are set in conflict not only with ourselves, but with other people who have instincts, too.

Timely!  As always, any part of the program I set my attention on corresponds with what is happening and with what I need to consider to grow.

I’ve been at my same job for twenty one years, supervising a human services program with a partner whose job is the same as mine.  We have worked for over ten years with someone else who has an important role in the program, let’s call him Maurice.  Maurice  has taken another job in the agency in the same building, and my work partner is retiring in one month, and I will supervise the program alone, along with an assistant yet to be named.

Many many of my character defects are blowing full force with these changes.  Number one is fear, the fear of doing this without my partner, on my own.  I have always taken great comfort in the fact that there are two of us.

There is also fear of conflict with my soon-to-be-ex partner and Maurice as I make changes that I feel are needed.  I’ll make these changes in conjunction with the next boss above us, but he gives us a fairly free hand.

My “words to live by” up until today have been,”Scaring yourself through what-if scenarios has traditionally been called worry.”  I kept that one for two weeks, it fit so well.  Well I turned the card today and now will be considering Bruce Springsteen – You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart.”

And all this will mean I have increased contact with all the other supervisors of other programs, and that, I do not want.  I don’t want to impose my will on them, I want to hide from them.

Meanwhile continuing to deal with others who demand too much attention, protection, and love, without dominating or feeling revulsion.

In these ways I am set in conflict.

April 14, 2019 (this day)

My children are on their way to South Africa.  Yesterday would have been my father’s birthday.  He would have been 85 or 86.  I’m not sure.  He died when he was 33, from alcoholism.  He didn’t know me and he didn’t know them and he sure didn’t go to South Africa.

I don’t like to travel and I actually fear it.  I like being in interesting places, but getting to and from frightens me beyond what it should.  I have traveled and I’ll continue to, but I won’t like it.  Not until I’m entirely ready to give up that fear.  So thinking of my kids so far away is hard for me to accept.  That’s the best way I can explain this particular anxiety.  I feel like I can’t bear it, and yet, I do.

Good AA that I am I do not need it to be explained to me.  I’m grateful beyond explanation that I have these children, that they are sobriety babies, that they have the means and the desire and the ability to take such a trip, that they love each other enough to do it.  These are things that are truly, truly, way beyond my expectations or imaginings.

And yet….

I work with adults who have multiple, severe disabilities.  Two of them died in the past week and a half, two who had been with us for almost 20 years.  The parents of individuals like this inspire me endlessly.  Some of these parents devote their entire lives to their children, only to lose them, and I can’t imagine the pain.

Minute by minute, I’ll get through my kids’ trip.  Soon it will be a memory (like my daughter’s solo trip to Greece a few years ago).  My kids will not tell the story years from now, “Then we went to South Africa, and our mother was so freaked out, she drank.”  Of course they won’t.

No Peace (Step Four continued)

Nor is the quest for security always expressed in terms of money.  How frequently we see a frightened human being determined to depend completely upon a stronger person for guidance and protection.  This weak one, failing to meet life’s responsibilities with his own resources, never grows up.  Disillusionment and helplessness are his lot.  In time all his protectors either flee or die, and he is once more left alone and afraid.

We have also seen men and women who go power-mad, who devote themselves to attempting to rule their fellows.  These people often throw in the winds every chance for legitimate security and a happy family life.  Whenever a human being becomes a battleground for the instincts, there can be no peace.

Again, I hope I am someone who has escaped these extremes, but at a lower level all these character defects are alive in me.  I am frequently frightened, and I love to depend on someone else when that person will let me!  I did, however (and with lots and lots of help) live on my own with two young children.  I kept them alive and fairly well, and I held down a job I did reasonably well at.

And while I like to think of myself as this passive, peaceful, easy-going person, I know that I am very strong-willed and quite opinionated.  So while in general I may fit the label “quiet,” that by no means translates to “no attempt to rule their fellows.”  I attempt it frequently, and I have no plans to stop!

To elaborate, I don’t really want to rule my fellows, but I want to influence them heavily in terms of, for example, gun control, election reform, the right to choose, health care for everyone, and clean water.  To name a few.  My desire to influence these things has, I hope, taken on more meaning and more actual work, in a healthy way, these past 2.5 years.  I’ll also get triggered at work when people do things like use their phones when they shouldn’t or suggest that we wear ID badges.

So the battle of the instincts goes on.  However, these days, and for a long time now, drugging myself does not appear as a viable nor an ideal solution.

March 16, 2019 (this day)

the man on the bed

Since I last wrote about the big wind that took part of a tree down, and the second big wind that crashed the roofers’ ladder onto my new car, we have had a third big wind, and this one exposed and stoked and played and fed my #1 character defect, my fear.

We had a very big wind, and it knocked the power out a few Sunday nights ago.  I well remember long power outages of the past, and I’ve always hated it and always loved electricity!  My neighborhood is old, and the power lines are above ground, and my house is very windy, sitting above a street that runs below and acts as a wind tunnel.  My house also is surrounded by trees that I love very much for many reasons, but of course, those trees will fall, and they do.

Anyway the lights went out around 7 pm on Sunday, and at around 9, in the very black dark, the house shook, and we were able to see that a tree had fallen but we couldn’t really tell how bad it was, or if it had hit the house.  Right away my fear demands we don’t open the door to see, because it’s cold out and we have no heat now, and the power outages are widespread and we don’t know how long we’ll be without heat.  I have two indoor cats who haven’t been out of my house since we brought them home from the shelter.  They’ve never been out and they’ve never been cold.  We checked to see that the tree hadn’t made a hole in the house that the cats could use to get out.

We went to bed but I couldn’t sleep, and around three in the morning I freaked out a bit and told Carole I wanted to get a pet-friendly hotel nearby, just in case there was a rush on hotels.  My son still had power, and he lives just a few miles away, but he lives in the city and parking seemed like it would be a hassle.  Also, not knowing how long it would be, I thought we needed a potentially long term solution.  I did think of bringing the cats to him if need be.  (Turns out his girlfriend’s dogs were there, but that’s another fear post for another time).

We got a hotel, and we left and left the cats in the pitch black around 4 in the morning.  When I we got outside into the absolute dark we ran into a wire down in the our driveway.  The wind was still making it difficult to talk or move or open the door.  We went to the hotel, but again I couldn’t sleep worrying about the cats and the house and the electricity.  Just because one tree was down, that didn’t mean another wouldn’t fall, break a window, scare a cat.

We came back to the house and it was getting colder.  The power outages were spread out widely in my area, and my work was going on though it was cold there (another fear story for another time).  I told them I wasn’t coming.  We saw that the tree had missed the house but had fallen on our fence.  Carole went to work, and my plan was that when she got home, if we still didn’t have power, we would pack up the cats and take them to the hotel.  The wind was lessening but still very strong.

I crawled into bed in my clothes in the chilly house, and the cats joined me.  I couldn’t read or sleep or do anything but worry.  At one in the afternoon, the power came back.

My fear and worry were terrible.  I must point out that at no time during this did I consider drinking.  Didn’t even cross my mind.  Although at one time in my life I couldn’t face a perfect day without chemical influence, it is so not a factor in my life today that I didn’t even think about it in my distress.

I did think about all I’ve learned about life and coping and I’m not happy with how distressed I was.   I did know the whole time that everything really was fine.  I have the resources to deal with anything that happens to my house.  I think I focused on worrying about the cats because that’s what my protector mind does.  If I didn’t have cats, I would have been braver.  I was able to tell myself minute by minute, hour by hour that the cats were fine, and I could and would take care of them.  I worried profusely about being inconvenienced.

I’m sitting here writing this, and the wind is again howling outside.  I want to blame Voldemort (POTUS, he who will not be named).

The Spiritual Malady

Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.

 

I have always felt that resentment was not my “number one” offender.  I think, for me, it’s been fear, and a kind of resentment turned inward.  I see resentment and fear and part of the same thing.  I do experience resentments though, for sure.  Just not quite as often as fear.

This quote, from page 64 of the Big Book, precedes the fourth step inventory.  It’s saying to me that if I can dig out my character defects, I can stay sober and live well.  And from where I sit, with 34 years of sobriety, I can stay sober, and I do live well.  I live at least well enough to stay sober!

The promise that when my spiritual malady is overcome, I will straighten out mentally and physically….well.  Again, it is all true and all well as far as it goes.

Although I’m well enough, I’m not all well, and I do believe that the program and the steps still have promise of better living for me.  I read this passage, and a bit about it, and then I went to a Quaker meeting and sat silent and still for an hour.  I pictured my character defect of fear as a root that does deep within me, that I can dig out and destroy almost entirely.  A piece will always be alive, I know, but it can be a very small, tiny piece, one that doesn’t play an important part in any day of mine.

I am not spiritually, mentally, or physically “straight,” or well.  In fact physically things are tending to trend downward at my age.  But I can still do more to be more straight and well in each of these areas.  I hope the fourth step I’m working on will be a step in that direction.  This passage spells out that the spiritual comes first, before the mental and physical.  I’ll try to keep that consciously in my mind as I go forward, especially when times are tough and I’m having an excess of negative emotion.

January 26, 2019 (this day)

cropped-retirement07-015.jpgLooking back over my photographs for something to share here that tells what I’m up to, I found myself linked to all the pictures I’ve posted on this blog since I began in 2009.  I realize I used the passive voice there – “I found myself linked to.”  I know it’s not magic but it’s technology beyond my understanding, and so “I found myself.”

This image is the first I ever used, I guess.  I took it from inside my car when the car was covered with ice.  It seemed like an artsy metaphor for drinking and the danger of drinking, the hopeless nature of alcoholism and my own triumph, for today, over the bottle.

I’m blessedly not facing any new challenges today.  All is well in my little world, at the parts I see clearly.  The weather still does challenge those of us in my part of the world, but I’m still capable of dealing with it.

This brings to mind a story.  I’m driving a Dodge Charger, and not because I want to.

In November, I bought a new car.  This is an event for me, because I have been able to pay cash for my cars by saving money every pay period for years on end.  So I traded my 2011 with 90,000 miles for a new one, and all was well.

A few weeks ago, a shingle blew off of our roof and landed in the yard.  We called the roofing company that had put the roof on several years ago.  In an unrelated event, someone up the street from me called the fire department because they smelled smoke.  Eight fire trucks responded (8)!  Happily, there was no fire but there were eight fire trucks and their attendant firemen all over my street.

Roofers call, they can come over in 15 to check the shingle.  They arrive, and put a ladder up, the the two men climb up on the roof.  Inside my house, I hear a crash.

I went out the front door and some firemen were in my driveway.  I asked them if everything was OK and they said, “I guess so.”

Ladder had blown down while the guys were on the roof.  One roofer JUMPED off the roof (with 40 firemen present to help, since there was no fire to fight) to get the ladder and thank goodness he wasn’t hurt but, when the ladder blew, it hit my car.  My less-than -3,000 miles on it car, and it did almost $3000 worth of damage.

Carole says I’ve handled it well.  Honestly, the biggest surge of negative emotion I’ve had over it was the first night, before I knew what would happen with insurance, etc, when I was too worried to sleep much.  Worry.  Hello worry, my old friend.  I came to dance with you again.

The insurance, etc, has so far been very easy.  I do not love the Dodge Charger but it’s getting me where I need to go and keeping me warm so, gratitude.  And another example for the continuing fourth step.