June 15, 2016 (this day)

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I had to consult a calendar to know what day it is.  I’m on vacation!  These signs were leading the way to a meeting I tried to go to.  Carole and I scoped it out, but when only four or five men showed up for the meeting, we decided not to go.  Now we have no doubt that we would have been welcomed.  We know we would have been.  And I have no doubt that if either of us felt in danger of drinking, we would have gone.  But we didn’t feel that way.  The next night we found a bigger, mixed meeting, and we went there, and all was well.

Vacation is a huge stressor for me.  There are many things I “worry” about, and anxiety is maybe my biggest character defect.  There many things I like about vacation as well, and this one is turning out to be a beautiful one.  I still have a mother, grown children, and an old dog to leave at home, and they all have the desire and the means to get together while I’m gone.  My wife and I still want to travel together (still, after 19 years).  There’s no one I’d rather go with.  I hope she feels the same way.

AA can be a major activity for us on vacation.  I’m so fortunate to share this with my life partner.  It always makes me feel grateful that it’s everywhere I want to be.  It also makes me grateful for AA in my area, because I places I go never have as many people or meetings as my home town does.  AA away is always different, but the same.  As Carole and I were waiting to see if the second meeting would pan out, I started to read a story from the big book to her (against her will) just to give us some semblance of a meeting if it turned out to be just the two of us.  The story was by the man who started AA in Canada.  His drinking in 1924 was exactly the same as mine was in 1978.  He got sober, and so did I.  Miracles, both of us.

Don’t Drink and Go to Meetings

Basic advice sometimes given to flustered newcomers who don’t know what to do.  To not drink is the first, necessary part of recovery.  My mind, under the influence, could not absorb anything or advance in any way.  “The disease that tells you you don’t have a disease” comes to mind.  It’s like a part of me wanted desperately to keep drinking, and it would not stop for any kind of reason.  With alcohol in me, it didn’t matter what I believed or didn’t believe.  I was bound to go for more.

Going to meetings begins to put in place all the other changes and learning that are needed for recovery.  At meetings we hear instructions.  We hear what people have tried and experienced.  We hear from other alcoholics.  That has always been an essential part of the program. Sometimes people who cannot recover given treatments and medicines and therapy can recover when given the experience of someone just like them.  Meetings are where the people are.  The people who can help me and the people who need my help.

March 14, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0337Twelve months ago Carole and I were visiting our daughter for the first time in her new location, exploring, among other things, the “foreign” foods there.  I hated her being so far away and I didn’t love the place she went to, either.  She’s still there, and I have to call this year a huge success in terms of her.  She’s safe, she’s reasonably happy, she’s self-sufficient and embarking on an incredible adventure.  For the uninformed, a week in Greece, by herself, not part of any group or tour, and she doesn’t speak or read or have any knowledge of Greek.  For me, her mother, this is a bit of a nightmare.

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I for myself am OK.  We’re ending a season of extreme cold and snow here, and I haven’t gotten to as many meetings as I would have liked.  The last bits of snow are melting and Carole is recovering from her most recent surgery and I’d like to get my meeting like back to normal.  Years ago, when I lived alone and had school-aged children at home in bed, I went to online meetings in addition to my once-a-week-bare-minimum real life meetings.  I met Carole there so I don’t recommend it.  I don’t think I’d have the patience for online meetings now, and the idea doesn’t appeal to me at all.  But I’ll do it again in the future if I can’t get out.  It’s amazing to think that when I started, there wasn’t online anything.  There were no cell phones, no text messages, no GPS to guide you to a meeting in a strange place.  Soon no one will remember when these things didn’t exist.  And in my personal universe, there was no daughter and my hypothetical, not-yet-existent children were in very real danger of being hurt or worse by my alcoholism.  I don’t know how that would have worked out of this daughter, but she probably wouldn’t be going to Greece.

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!

Can You Ask a Person to Leave the Group?

Disclaimer:  I am a sober member of AA, and that’s all I am.  I do not speak for AA or represent AA in any way, and all the contents of this blog are my opinions only.

 

In a comment on the post The Thirteenth Step, Laura asks:

 

What is it called when a person a sober Narcissist in fact appears to be working in the program and really just using it as a dating service? This person is very predatory and has cause a lot of dissonance. Can you ask a person to leave the group?

 

It’s my understanding that AA groups are autonomous, and so they can do whatever the group decides to do.  A question like this is never asked for a good reason, and I’m sorry to say again that AA is not a safe place.  I have almost always been safe there, but it’s not by any means a given.

There have also been very few times in my experience when someone who is attending meetings makes other people so uncomfortable that they want to ask the person to leave.  Right now I can only think of two times.  One was when a rather verbally aggressive man was frightening people.  Another was when a registered sex offender started attending meetings.  Both of these men acted in other ways that made people uncomfortable and sometimes afraid.  The aggressive guy faded away.  The sex offender stayed and became more tolerable and accepted, though maybe not fully accepted.  I’ve known many people with mental health symptoms that made their attendance challenging, though not to the point where anyone wanted to ask them not to attend.

But to address this question.  It’s my understanding that we can’t ask someone to leave AA, that everyone is a member if he or she says so.  The literature points out that to deny someone AA may be to sentence that person to death, and that we have no right to do that.  I don’t think that means that we have to put up with any and all behavior, though, and the original question implies that this person is taking advantage of newcomers especially.

My opinion is that first, Laura (or anyone asking) should examine her own behavior and attitudes to make sure she’s seeing the situation clearly and not prejudiced in some way herself against this person.  I think she should discuss it with some group members.  Now really by the time the group is discussing an individual, the individual is problematic enough to need an intervention.

First I think group members could approach the person and tell him what they see, and ask him to think about it.  If that doesn’t work I see nothing wrong with slipping the newcomer a little friendly warning about getting involved with this guy.  And that’s it.  At this point I think the problem person will probably find another group or fade away from AA completely.  Or he may (and Laura doesn’t use a gender – why do I assume it’s a guy?) actually change his behavior, or drink.  Because it doesn’t sound like sober behavior to me.

So my short answer is that I would approach the situation slowly and carefully and try to resolve it with as much care as possible.  Ultimately even the vulnerable newcomer is an adult who to look out for him or herself, and usually the best thing we can be is a power of example.

 

 

Being Considerate of Others (inside and outside of AA)

It has struck me, looking at what I know of the life of Bill W from books, movies, CDs, and being in the rooms, how drastically he went from only trying to please himself to caring almost completely about others.  There’s a scene in, I think, My Name is Bill W, where Lois says something to him about something she needs, and he basically says he can’t give it to her.  That without devoting himself to suffering alcoholics, he will die.

I read some sobriety blogs, some by people who are in and working AA, some who are not.  Those trying to stay sober without AA have been to AA and rejected it for various reasons.  I rejected it for many reasons, so I understand that.  Ultimately I couldn’t be sober without it, but that’s just my experience.  I know that many people do maintain sobriety without AA.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll say that something I notice these non-AA alcoholics are missing is work with other alcoholics.  And by “work” I mean, at a very basic level, the contact with other alcoholics that attendance at AA meetings gives, even if a person arrives late, leaves early, and doesn’t interact with anyone.  To me that is “work” with other alcoholics at a minimum level, and it goes up from there to sharing at meetings, befriending people, having or being a sponsor, setting up and cleaning up meetings, putting $2 in the basket (please, people, put $2 in the basket – what did your alcohol cost for goodness sake?), greeting someone at the door and telling them where the coffee and bathroom is.

They miss out on all that.  And of course they miss out on the “program,” which is the best and most important part.  I wonder sometimes if it’s easier to stay self-centered outside of AA, and if self-centeredness really is the root of our problem.

Being considerate in AA is almost always easy.  From time to time there appears someone who rubs me the wrong way for some big reason.  I have lots of trouble with arrogant men.  I also have trouble with very tall people.  Sometimes there is someone who acts in an aggressive way that is frightening.  I’m usually not actually frightened at meetings, because there are generally lots of people around to intervene in any actual violence.  But Carole and I open our house to people, and if we have an AA “party” that’s all the people, and sometimes I wonder or worry if some individual is dangerous.  So far so good.

But again, the scary and difficult people in the rooms are easy.  My guidelines are clear and at least I know that I am to keep trying to love each and every one like I do each and every other one.  I have an ideal and a plan and lots of guidance.

Outside of AA I hope I’m generally considerate.  I spend my days with people with multiple severe disabilities, and it’s easy and obvious that I should be considerate of them and put their needs ahead of my own.  I’m paid and called to do that.  Yet even there, there are some individuals who irritate the heck out of me, and once in a while, one who scares me.  But again my path is clear and obvious.

So I looked it up:

Adjective

Careful not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others.

A worthy goal indeed.

Anniversaries

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

~e. e. cummings

 

I love anniversaries.  Other places I’ve lived, they’ve celebrated anniversaries, sometimes called birthdays, in AA.  Not where I live now.  The group Carole and I started celebrates anniversaries and this Saturday we’ll have three, which is I think the most we’ve had in one month.  A great success for our group.

Anniversaries are about success.  I understand that the success is only for today, and that’s why we celebrate after the actual day has taken place.  And tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone but I doubt that someone who is solidly sober in AA is going to go out because of an anniversary.  When I lived in places where they celebrate, the last week of the month could be success story after success story.  A happy week.

I like the e. e. cummings because, although I hadn’t physically died, I believe I was almost there and still going in that direction when I drank.  Seeing my ex’s death confirms confirms confirms.  It is suicide and it is slow and it is pitiful.  While I didn’t die I put myself and untold strangers in jeopardy of death.  I drove drunk and I put myself in dangerous situations and I passed out in a snow storm.

It’s January and it’s COLD in my part of the world.  It’s not green and blue and gay, but these things are around the bend and I’ll count myself lucky to live to see them.  I know many people struggle with the cold and dark, though I prefer the dark and while I don’t like cold, I’ll take it over heat every every every day.

I was lifted from the no of all nothing.  My anniversaries marked another journey around the sun since that happy day, the day my life began.  Saved and reborn, recovered and alive.  Anniversaries are proof that it works.