Emotional Sobriety

This sounded new age to me, but Bill W actually wrote about it link.

“How to translate a right mental conviction into a right emotional result . . .  it’s the problem of life itself for all of us who have got to the point of real willingness to hew to right principles in all our affairs.”

He goes on to say that the answer is in perfect love.  Not being dependent on any person or thing, not even AA, but upon God.  That loving others with no expectation of return is the true key to happiness.  And in AA we have a field ripe for harvesting.

When I was newly, temporarily, precariously sober, avoiding an excess of negative emotion was life or death.  I had to work the program and practice the positive thinking it teaches, or drink.  Now the drink is much farther away.  The emotions are much milder and more easily handled.  I think that sometimes I stay negative because I’m not so compelled to change as I was in the begininng.

“If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy demand. Let us, with God’s help, continually surrender these hobbling demands. Then we can be set free to live and love; we may then be able to Twelfth Step ourselves and others into emotional sobriety.”

I’m going to make an effort in the next little while to examine my disturbances and identify the dependency and the demand.

My current big, long, awful disturbance – the election.  I depend on the government to do many things and to basically keep me safe.  The government is currently, in my eyes, putting me in danger.

The day after election day someone I work with said something like, “Don’t worry, God is in charge.”  I don’t believe that, though I accept that it may be true.  When I think about my government-inspired fears I have to acknowledge that most people in the world are not so well-situated as I am.  I protest without fear of reprisal.  I tell half of my elected officials that I disagree with them, again without fear of reprisal.  I’m allowed to engage in activities that are meant to undermine and overthrow these particular politicians.  In many places in the world this would be a very dangerous undertaking.  Not here.

And I have to acknowledge that no administration kept me “safer” than this one.  Danger is always there, and I live most of my life not considering it.   Dependency identified.  Now what?

I’m volunteering to help a campaign that seeks to oust my terrible congressman, so that’s something.  I can’t fit the pieces together to say how this reduces my dependency, but it does serve to take my mind off of it, at least for a while.

Emotional Hangover (from step 10)

When a drunk has a terrific hangover because he drank heavily yesterday, he cannot live well today. But there is another kind of hangover which we all experience whether we are drinking or not. That is the emotional hangover, the direct result of yesterday’s and sometimes today’s excesses of negative emotion—anger, fear, jealousy, and the like. If we would live serenely today and tomorrow, we certainly need to eliminate these hangovers.

My emotional life is ruled by politics right now, and I’m just going to go with it.

I know I’m not doing it well when I dream about congress, or when thoughts of politics and politicians are the first thoughts I have waking up, or the things that run through my head when I’m trying to sleep.  I don’t feel that the negative emotions are excessive.  I think  anger, fear, and the like (disgust, dismay, despair) are appropriate and called for.  If you’re not terrified you’re not paying attention!  And I don’t live serenely.

I mean, I do live serenely, this just takes up too much negative space in my head and in my day.  I haven’t reached my goal of spending ten quality minutes with it.  I’ve seen people around me lessen their zeal.  I think I have lessened my newspaper reading, but only a little.  I’m not sure what an appropriate amount would be.

Other things.  I marked 33 years sober last week.  This number is beyond my comprehension.  I feel in this way blessed among all the alcoholics who ever lived.  Emotional hangovers, unpleasant as they are, are the only kind of hangovers I’ve had in all that time.  I remember cotton mouth, dry heaves, vague and fearful regrets.  I’ll take the emotional hangover because this hangover comes with hope and a plan to suffer less next time.

And viva la resistance!!

Emotional Balance (from Step 10)

Then comes the acid test: can we stay sober, keep in emotional balance, and live to good purpose under all conditions?

To this I have to say no, I cannot.  Not immediately anyway.

I can stay sober, yes, so far.  I’ve been through quite a few things in 32 years, both good and bad, and I haven’t had any alcohol.

A lot of that time I’ve been in emotional balance and lived to good purpose.  I have to say that if I spend any prolonged time out of balance and life of good purpose, I think I would drink.  In past times of difficulty I have looked to the steps, and I’m grateful.

Now.  This is really quite a different test of my emotional balance than I’ve experienced so far.  Daily, things in politics disturb me greatly.  I believe it is right to be disturbed.  Can I be disturbed and still be in emotional balance?  Can my life’s good purpose expand to include my tiny, tiny role in shaping the politics of this, my country?

It’s been four months since that terrible election.  I spend part of each day reading the news and contacting my legislators.  It’s my blessing and my trial to have both Republicans and Democrats representing me in state and federal government.  I’ve made a donation each month to a different cause that I find worthy.  It’s a struggle to limit that and my list grows often.  My biggest glimpse of personal peace comes when I see this as the way I’ve become, the new me who will continue to do these things as long as I am able, regardless of politics and politicians.

I still have a giant hurt spot where I keep what I feel I’ve lost.  I understand that because the first woman president didn’t happen, it remains ideal.  The reality of what might have happened won’t come into being.  It might have been awful and terrible in ways I couldn’t imagine.

Good may come from the present situation.  In ways I can’t imagine, but also in ways I can.  Maybe this extreme situation will change some hearts and minds to be kinder in the ways I think kindness should be expressed.  Maybe.

How can I sit here with over three decades of sobriety and fail the acid test?  It’s an ideal, I understand, and I am far from ideal.  I’ll keep my faith in the program and believe that one day I will see my emotional balance restored and my good purpose enlarged.

Eleventh Step Prayer

Self-Centered Fear

It’s Friday and I’ve found I’m “alone” in management at work.  This is something that will increase in my life over the next ten years as my work partner of almost 20 years retires and probably won’t be replaced in the same capacity.  Really, I’m far from “alone.”  I work for a big agency with 20-30 staff people just at my site, and many managers above me readily available.  Still, hearing that my immediate manager will be off and my partner being off spark a fear reaction in me.  I will breathe a sigh of relief at the end of this day that I made it through, which is just goofy.

 

Trying to think of how to embrace this day enthusiastically and confidently (because I am competent and should be confident).  Thinking of the Saint Francis prayer because that’s the next piece of program stuff I should consider.  I’ve long visualized a “channel of peace” that extends from the heavens down to me.  But the darkness/light, despair/hope, doubt/faith rubric is hard for me except in the most dire of situations.  Today I want to bring faith to overcome my own doubt.  I am so blessed and so fortunate to have the ability to help people at least a little bit every single day at work. If I’m “alone,” “at the top,” my attitude will be the most important one here today.

 

Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace . . .

PS added this evening:  I nearly had to evacuate 60 individuals with multiple, severe disabilities and many many staff into the cold, cold morning, as a bathroom fan stopped working, heated up and started smoking.  Whew.

 

Ego continued

In my previous post I quoted every place the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve mention ego.  I don’t pretend to know what the common understanding of ego was at they time they were written, or what Bill W knew and thought about Freud or anything else.  To me, ego in those books seems to refer to myself, sometimes my high regard for myself.  The books also say that lots of us, when drinking and when we stop, have too high a regard for ourselves, or alternately, or at the same time, too low a regard for ourselves.  I’m especially struck by the passage that says, “Our eyes begin to open to the immense values which have come straight out of painful ego-puncturing.”

Drinking, I was more on the depressive side and apt to think very poorly of myself.  This too is a sign of an ego that needs to be punctured.  Whatever my problems, I was ultimately willing to risk my life and yours by drinking when I knew what terrible consequences resulted.  I didn’t, because I couldn’t, do any real work on myself, do anything meaningful to improve my life or to improve myself.

Now I’ve been sober for a long, long time.  I’m sure I have a better perspective on my ego, more humility and more of a sense of my right size and right place.  Yet I struggle mightily with this, especially now.  Applying this part of the program to my present unhappiness tells me, for one thing, that if I had a healthy ego, I wouldn’t be so badly affected by world events.  Angry, disappointed, heartbroken even, but not so crushed and shattered.  I believe in the value of ego-puncturing and at this point I truly welcome the pain that will bring me a newer attitude and a newer outlook, and I know I will be privileged way beyond what I deserve to experience this yet again.

Ego

First, the places in the Big Book and the Twelve and Twelve where ego is mentioned:

He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. -Big Book page 61

They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their  egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. Big Book page 73

After we came to A.A., we had to recognize that this trait had been an ego- feeding proposition. In belaboring the sins of some religious people, we could feel superior to all of them. 12 and 12 page 30

This, of course, is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual develop- ment. 12 and 12 page 36

The problem is to help them discover a chink in the walls their ego has built, through which the light of reason can shine. 12 and 12 page 46

Our egomania digs two disastrous pitfalls. Either we insist upon dominating the people we know, or we depend upon them far too much. 12 and 12 page 53

ALL OF A.A.’s Twelve Steps ask us to go contrary to our natural desires . . . they all deflate our egos. When it comes to ego deflation, few Steps are harder to take than Five.  12 and 12 page 55

Our eyes begin to open to the immense values which have come straight out of painful ego-puncturing. 12 and 12 page 74

Over the years, every conceivable deviation from our Twelve Steps and Traditions has been tried. That was sure to be, since we are so largely a band of ego-driven individ- ualists. Children of chaos, we have defiantly played with every brand of fire, only to emerge unharmed and, we think, wiser. 12 and 12 page 146

I realized that my five-dollar gift to the slippee was an ego-feeding proposition, bad for him and bad for me. 12 and 12 page 163

 

Easy Does It

AA has no opinion on outside issues, hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.  I am not drawing the AA name into controversy.  I’m sharing how I, as an old-timer, deal with my life, which has taken an extremely hard knock due to happenings of a controversial nature.

My emotional life has.  It’s a quadruple blow, I’ve some to understand.  #1 I am a long time Hillary supporter.  #2 I am a long time feminist.  #3 The opponent is a disgusting human being, and the people who voted for him seem to like that or to not care.  #4 The unfairness of her getting so many more votes makes it seem unbearable.

Unbearable.  I’m not kidding.  My emotions can still go there in an instant.

Meanwhile my life and my program continue as they have for the past 38 years (32 of them in continuous sobriety).  Actually I’ve upped the program piece a tiny bit with reading from As Bill Sees It at night before bed.  I’ve added readings to my day in tough times in the past.  More repetition of the program on my brain can only be a good thing.

Writing here is part of my personal program.  I’ve taken the topics from my topic list one by one and the next one is Easy Does It.  The current step is Step Three.  No matter what I pick or how I do it, if I apply it to my life I find that my happiness increases or, in times like this, maybe, my unhappiness decreases.  Right now there’s an struggle inside of me between the part that wants to get better and the part that resists.  I know this is familiar and appropriate stage of grief, where if I buy into getting better, I’ll be accepting that this has happened, and part of me resists that, knowing how crushing it will be when accepted.  But the program clearly tells me that I can’t stay in the negative emotions, or I will drink, and I will die.

So, Easy Does It.  I’m familiar with it’s place in the Big Book.  I’m familiar with the advice we give newcomers about trying to solve all their problems and manage all their circumstances yesterday.  I looked up the word “easy,” and I noticed the synonym of “serenely.”  Serenity is of course a cornerstone of sobriety, and so I took that meaning of the word to apply to myself, today, in my current heartache.

The “do it” part for me today is resist, object, obstruct…I come close to saying “deny” but I know denial to be wrong.  Resisting, objecting, obstructing, they are words that denote negative energy and so I’m not sure that they can be done serenely.  I’m reading with interest what the Quakers write about this situation since their protests are always peaceful and very, very meaningful.

I have a glimmer of an ideal I’ll aim for today.  That is where I am grateful for having been a part of these historic events, and where I help use them to be a part in bringing about the change I want to see.  I can absolutely see that happening every day around me, I just can’t join whole-heartedly yet because right on the surface, my heart is still broken.