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.

December 5, 2013 (this day)

IMG_1242There is a momentary peace in my house since my daughter left and took her two cats with her.  It’s only momentary, since today we will travel a bit of a distance to attend my daughter’s graduation.  I have terrible separation anxiety leaving the pets, and especially the dog.  Even though we pay lots of money to the most excellent pet sitters ever born.

I need to get back to writing about the first step.  Really need to, because it’s been the most persistent thing, through the years, that I’ve seen people struggle with as they try to achieve sobriety.  As a problem child myself, I understand but I’d really like to be more helpful to the people who struggle, beyond sharing my experience and offering the hope of my experience.

I’m missing an important event at work to go to the graduation.  I’m spending hours in the car with my wife, son, and mother.  All relationships are good enough to make me not worry about the hours in the car, beyond missing work.

Ah, worry.  My favorite most persistently annoying character defect.  In an effort to stamp it down and disable it, I have not consulted weather predictions for my journey.  My worry surely never melted one flake of snow.  Or comforted an abandoned dog.  Abandoned to wonderful, loving, reliable pet sitters for a brief period of time.  And to the company of cats.

The Bottom is Where You Stop Digging (you hit bottom when you stop digging)

IMG_0824It’s good to have a dog to help you clean the floor if ever you should drop a turkey.  Just sayin.’

This wisdom of the bottom makes me think of chronic relapsers like me.  It implies that I may have some control, and that something I am doing or not doing is preventing me from maintaining sobriety.  That’s true, to a point.  I surely didn’t follow the program thoroughly, but I don’t know if I was capable of doing that or not.  The “stop digging” I’d like to point out to the repeat offenders I know is to stop disregarding parts of the program, stop lying to yourself and face the reality of your situation.  If only.

As an oldtimer it’s interesting to me to try to apply these principles to my life as it is today, when drinking isn’t a consideration.  I’ll never be free from the label of alcoholic.  I don’t want to be free from it.  But many days go by that alcohol doesn’t cross my mind in any way, and certainly very long periods of time go by when I don’t think of actually drinking it myself.

But there are other problems of daily living and other kinds of dysfunctional and harmful behavior that I engage in.  These behaviors get more entrenched as the years go by, and still I choose to keep doing them.  And I can’t completely make the mental jump from drinking to other behaviors, I guess because the consequences aren’t so dire and so immediate.

Attitude Part 2

IMG_0116So my attitude has to do with my evaluation of things – people, situations – things.  Is it (the thing) good or bad?

AA taught me that almost every single thing in my life is good.  AA taught me that if I can’t see the truth in that, I’ll have a hard time and may not be able to stay sober.  AA taught me that when I can have that attitude, that almost every single thing in my life is good, I will want to stay sober and actually want to live.

There are terrible tragedies and great suffering in life, and I really haven’t had these be a part of my little life.  The Big Book talks about serenity when bad things happen like losing a child in a war, which is surely one of the worst things I can think of.  I haven’t been tested like that, and I don’t know if I’d pass a test like that.  I might not.

I didn’t make it through raising two teenagers unscathed.  There were times I worried for both of their lives.  They have truly been in that much jeopardy, but those experiences were short-lived and even as they took place, I had some of the most advanced medical technology and psychological help available, and since these things turned out OK, the bright sides I was trying to cling to came to pass as true.

For the more mundane things that test my ability to stay positive I looked back through the blog and I came up with this list:

  • people at work coming in late or not at all
  • I am not the perfect dog mom
  • I am often afraid to drive in the snow
  • politics in general, and people who want to deny me the right to marry in particular
  • people commenting on the way I look (only positive comments, mind you)
  • people in my vicinity expressing negativity (!)
  • missing people and situations from the past

Something in Step Eleven (I’m not sure what) says that we bring light to bear on the negative aspects of our personalities.  Something like that.  Here I’ve got a list of things to bring to that light.  I hope the light makes them shrivel up and die!  Or at least get a little smaller.

April 3, 2013 (this day and search terms that brought you here)

Not much is going on for me right now.  I’m going to work and coming home, going to meetings, going to the doctor and the dentist.  Our weather is still frigid with frequent snow but warmer temps are forecast.  We are planning to have our bathroom redone and planning a trip to Vermont in July, including the place where Bill Wilson grew up.  I did go to a meeting last week where we read Tradition Three.  That was interesting, since as I understand it, the man with the “worse addiction” was gay.  How awesome to read that he was welcomed into AA, and that 75 short years later the Supreme Court would be hearing arguments for legalizing gay marriage.  My attendance at that meeting, or membership in AA has never been questioned by anyone because I’m gay.

On to some search terms that brought readers here:

  • what does humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings mean  It means that after doing a moral inventory, and identifying character defects, we become ready to have them removed and then actually ask our Higher Power to do so.  To me this means doing the work and suffering through the experience of giving up my bad habits, and using the wisdom that’s out there in other people and other resources because I can’t or won’t or don’t do it on my own.
  • restraint of pen and tongue  One of my favorites!  Sleep on it.  Don’t react.  Take time and think and talk to other people and then respond.
  • how to find a higher power  Look for one.  Acknowledge that you are not the most potent force in the universe.  Any group of people in AA is a power greater than you.  They have solved their problem with alcohol.  They have wisdom and experience beyond what you can ever hope to have.  Look into religions that appeal to you.  Read about spiritual experiences.  Ask other people how they did it.  Be open and even just a little bit willing.
  • why is people pleasing a defect of character  Because it’s dishonest and self-serving.  It’s like trying to trick someone into liking you.  It’s all about you and your desire to be liked, not about the needs of the situation.

And finally

  • do women 13th step me in aa  I don’t know, do they?  I hope not, and shame on them if they do.  But hey, that’s a terrible thing, taking advantage of a newcomer.  As much as women should not do this, newcomers also have to be aware and look out for themselves.  AA is not a safe place.  It just isn’t.

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.

December 20, 2012 (this (last ?) day)

I’m having trouble getting some time away from worry and sadness.  Probably several times a day – no, several times an hour – there is the news that is making the whole world sad.  It reminds me constantly that whatever I am going through, I’m lucky to have made it to this day and this issue.  The one young teacher was born two months after my daughter was born.  To me, this is not someone’s teacher as much as someone’s child.  I live in the suburb of a city and a quick search tells me that someone is murdered in that city once or twice a week, every week.  Of course it’s mostly young men.  But because they don’t look like or act like my young man, my son, I don’t do anything at all about it.  If all 50 or 60 were killed at one time, I guess I’d take better notice.  And being more liberal than you (whoever you are), I’m sure it is the fault of guns and our gun culture.
Then there are the holidays which are not like they were when I was a child.  I could go on an on but really, I’m disappointed with myself and I’d really like to climb out of the pit and into the world which is a really, really, really good place for me today. 
There’s been a huge change for the better at my work.  It’s so good that I’m afraid to believe in it, and maybe it won’t last, but it’s here for today.  The family is better than fine.
I’m in the doldrums of “shouldn’t” feel this way after this much time.  Though I reserve the right to plead insanity caused by hormones on the rampage.

Service, gladly rendered . . . (Step Twelve continued)

Service, gladly rendered . . .

 

Thinking about my character defects, the number one impediment to my service is my dog.  Service is helping or doing something for someone.  Service usually takes me out of the house.  I work full time and I usually feel like it isn’t right to leave the dog all day and then all night.  Sometimes I take the day off, or work half a day if I need to go somewhere at night.  That somewhere doesn’t usually involve service, though.  I’ve told Carole that, when this one is no longer with us, I want a year without a dog.

But but but but but . . . She was on death row, a big black dog in a kill shelter.  On top of that it turned out she was deathly ill and cost a lot to get well.  I thought I could feel like a life with us is better than no life.  All this having nothing to do with service.

I know that we have to serve AA, in order to keep it here for ourselves and help secure it for the people of the future who need it.  Last night we celebrated the seventh anniversary of the meeting we started and Carole said we have 15 members.  I wouldn’t count them all as members, but many do participate and help now, whereas until maybe a year ago it was mostly me and her.  That service, of going early and making coffee, I usually did gladly and gratefully but there were times she and I argued about it and I tried hard, after that, to remember that doing that was nothing, and I do mean nothing compared to the lengths I went to in order to drink.  The time and expense of helping an AA meeting is a day at the beach compared to the planning, the securing of funds, the buying, the hiding, the drinking, the lying, the missing school, the midnight dialing, the puking and clean up and a thousand other awful things that were part of my drinking.

I still set that meeting up often but not nearly as often as I used to.  And the argument about whose turn it is has become moot because the person who we fear at local meetings comes to the meeting very early, so we travel in pairs now without a second thought.  I also am the treasurer for the group and that is a bigger service than it might seem because it involves math.  The only other service I perform in AA presently is helping people when they ask, mostly sponsoring.  That is 99% joy and 1% frightened sadness for me right now.

Personally, I am temperamentally a helper protector type.  The easiest and most frequent service I do anywhere is when I directly help someone with a severe disability.  I do that at work, a lot less directly than a few years ago, but still daily I get to push a wheelchair down a hall for someone who cannot do it him/herself, as an example.  I struggle to turn the work I do directing the direct care staff into service for the people with disabilities and the staff as well.  It is potentially more helpful to a greater number of people and, of course, it’s harder than helping directly.  Still it works perfectly with my personality and it is an easy, easy way for me to serve.  I even get paid to do it.  AA has taught me to be grateful for that.

We have a dog walker come walk the dog when we’re at work, serving.  A lot of our financial resources go there.  It helps keep some lovely ladies in business and I’m sure that’s a good thing.

Now I’ve agreed to help with a presidential campaign after work.  It’s something I feel deeply about, although I’m skeptical as to the work I do really making any difference.  But I’ll do it, regardless.  I keep asking for a work at home opportunity, because at home, I haven’t left the dog all day and night.  Four years ago I hand wrote cards to get out the vote.  I like to serve and protect but I don’t want to leave the dog and I don’t like people, so I won’t do calling or knocking.  If only the candidate’s campaign people realized what a worker bee they have in me, as long as I can stay in my hive . . .

Still More Wonderful (Step Twelve continued)

Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to be useful and profoundly happy.  Not many of us can be leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be.

There follows a whole long list of rewards, and I’d like to take them one or two at a time.  So I’ll do that.  My old saw about the above is that I don’t like to be specially anything, I’m a hide under the heap kind of person.

Today, at work, I sat for three hours with four other people and made plans for the future of our program.  I disagreed with the majority twice.  Once, they went my way, and once, they didn’t.

I was very happy to be getting along with them, not trying to dominate or push my view hard.  There are things at work that I feel passionate about (like wearing name tags, for example) but the issues we discussed were important but not vitally so.  It really felt nice to just sit there and work it out with them.  And I really, really hope that they came away from it feeling that I am OK to work with, if they thought about it at all, which they probably didn’t, because it just went well.

Act As If

Knowing that I wanted to write about this soon, I’ve been considering it in different contexts.  The first context that jumps to my mind is that advice given to newcomers to “act as if . . .”  There’s a whole world of acting to be done then.  Act as if you believed in a higher power.  Act as if you liked meetings.  Act as if you were a responsible citizen/neighbor/parent/spouse.  Fake it till you make it.  Bring the body and the mind will follow.

It is the truth for me that I can’t only think myself into right acting.  I also, and mostly, have to act myself into right thinking.  If I waited until I wanted to and/or felt ready to get sober/lead a meeting/eat right/do my job well/be a good pet parent, I’d still be waiting.  By acting as if I am those things, it pushes me along the road to becoming them.  Just like smiling or laughing makes me happy.

I’m thinking about where I still need to improve my actions today.  There are many places.  I took Carole to the eye doctor today to have a hole in her retina lasered closed.  Really.  And while I was in the waiting room, I took this picture of the TV.  That is Pat Robertson.  That made me mad.

Politics is something I feel so strongly about.  It is very, very difficult for me to “love” someone with opposing views.  I am selfish and greedy and I want to get married, damn it!  I have only one hope for that and Pat Robertson is firmly against it.  Against letting me do it.  How does it hurt him?  How?

Beyond the selfish greedy part of my politics, I believe strongly that our best chance for protecting the environment, taking care of the poor and disabled, those types of things, lies with the Democrats.  Like I said, it is very difficult for me to feel positive about someone who disagrees, but I come closest to that positive feeling in AA, about fellow members of AA.

Closer, but no cigar.  I know this is a defect of mine, and I know that I want to have it removed before (and without) it causes me deep pain.  It actually hurts my feelings that some people don’t want to let me get married, and the fault for my hurt feelings is all mine.

I can picture the truly loving, always forgiving person I would like to be and that I should be.  She is not triggered by Pat Robertson in the waiting room.  Which brings to mind an interesting dilemma.  I was completely alone in that waiting room, and I didn’t express my dislike to a single person.  I thought, briefly, of asking someone to change the channel.  I thought they should not play this propaganda in the waiting room, it might actually influence some people who are not as hard-core about their opinions and beliefs as I am.  OK, who are not as smart about their opinions and beliefs as I am.  But when a character defect is activated in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

It makes a mark on my soul, and even in complete isolation I need to keep trying to get over these things, to be more patience and loving and kind and tolerant than I am.  To see the other side more and to see the goodness in the other side, more.  Acting as if I am already that person is one tool that will move me farther in that direction (because really, I don’t expect I will ever arrive).