Who Cares to Admit Complete Defeat? (Step One)

WHO cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one,
of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea
of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit that,
glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an ob-
session for destructive drinking that only an act of Provi-
dence can remove it from us.

As I have written out in my story, and as I seem to share endlessly, I fought this long and hard.  Within a few days or weeks of beginning to drink, I knew I was in serious trouble.  I contacted AA thinking they helped alcoholics drink safely.  I went to my first meeting at 16 years old, all on my own.  After a few false starts I stayed sober for 18 months.

And then I drank again, and again and again for another five years.  I went from “probably going to be an alcoholic” (in the estimation of my high school psychology teacher, God bless him) to unable to function at all.  I couldn’t write my name.

And so I understand now, I hope, that although I thought I had taken the first step when I first got sober, I hadn’t.  I hadn’t admitted complete defeat because I went on to try and drink successfully.  And at that time I surely wouldn’t have admitted that I needed an “act of Providence” to save me.

Why?  It’s interesting that the instinct to survive almost kills us.  Kills many of us.  I am so lucky.

As for how this step and concept are active in my life today, most important of all is the fact that I feel sure I won’t drink again.  I won’t drink, and I won’t stop the behaviors of working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, just in case, and because I don’t want to stop.

I’m powerless over other things and I’m afraid that they don’t  impair me the way alcohol did, so I don’t admit defeat, so I continue to struggle with them.  Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.

Most Married Folks in A.A. (Step Twelve continued)

Most married folks in A.A. have very happy homes.  To a surprising extent, A.A. has offset the damage to family life brought about by years of alcoholism.  But just like all other societies, we do have sex and marital problems, and sometimes they are distressingly acute.  Permanent marriage breakups and separations, however, are unusual in A.A.  Our main problem is not how we are to stay married; it is how to be more happily married by eliminating the severe emotional twists that have so often stemmed from alcoholism.

This paragraph is, I think, I sign of the times the book was written in.

I went to a meeting last night where they were reading the last part of Chapter Five in the Big Book, the part about the sex inventory.  There was a pitiable newcomer there for his very first meeting, and he asked immediately what sex had to do with drinking.  He told us he was there to stop drinking because his wife had taken a PFA out against him, and he loved her, and he wanted her back.

I spent a lot of that meeting wrapping my hands around my Big Book, grateful I could see what he so obviously could not.

Some time ago, a friend in the program asked me if it was my experience that couples who come in together, stay together.  Thinking it over, most of the couples I know who came in together have stayed together, though that’s not always a good thing.  But sometimes it’s a very good thing.

But permanent break ups are not rare.  I remember when I was a child, in the late 1960s, then permanent break ups were rare in society, but not any longer.  I think it’s the same with AA.

I’ve been in three serious relationships.  The one I was having when I came into the program was all kinds of wrong.  Then, in AA, I married someone in the program and later got divorced.  Now I’ve been with my wife, Carole, in AA, for fourteen years (I had to count).  We met in sobriety, and have never known each other drunk.

As for the severe emotional twists, well, the wife of a blogger has to expect some degree of discretion.

But, we speak the same language.  We’re surrounded by the good people of AA in a wonderfully supportive community.  I would not want to be involved with someone who wasn’t in the program.  To me, that would be like being with someone of a different religion, if religion was the most important thing in the world to you.  Even more drastic than that, actually.

So I know AA doesn’t solve all relationship problems, or even many of them.  But I can’t imagine changing our AA marriage for anything.


Sponsorship (my history and a brief number three)

While Elli and Florence were my sponsors, I achieved around 18 months sober.  I’ve written about it elsewhere.  I drank, and continued drinking in and out of AA for another five years.  During that time I had one of my more harrowing incidents.  I called an AA friend, then passed out in a snow storm.  When the good people of AA rescued me, I spent the night trying to drown myself in a small pond.  In the morning I went to the hospital.

I asked a woman, Marva, the one who I called when I was driving through the storm, to be my sponsor.  It was ill-advised for me to ask her and ill-advised for her to accept.  She was a character.  She had about five months sober at that time.  I was too hard a case for either of us.  I didn’t get any sober time that time.  I also can’t recall even one sponsorly thing that she did.  But to be fair, I can’t remember much of anything from then.

Sponsorship (my history part two)

So I asked Florence to sponsor me as well.  I don’t know why.  She was a very, very nice woman, a mother of four young children.  Her husband was in the program as well, and neither of them had a lot of time at that time.

I handled the two sponsors fine.  But really, I don’t think Florence added all that much to my sobriety.  As it turned out, she had never stopped using pills.  Years after my relapse and reentry, she was getting busted and going to rehab, moving away and breaking down.  She lost her marriage and her children and her career and eventually her life.

She does more for me now than she ever did when she was alive.  She stands as a very very powerful example to me.  I have a strong fear of drugs taken for any reason, and she is part of why.  I don’t know what her mental issues were beyond addiction, but I bet some of the drugs were prescribed and maybe she truly “needed” them.  She doesn’t need anything now and drugs can’t hurt or help her.

I know for my own mind, I love the effects of drugs too much to take them.  I went through many hours over months of time to be able to fly without drugs, and I didn’t enjoy spending time that way, but I’m drug free and alive today.

I don’t doubt I could be anxious or sad or upset enough to get a doctor to legitimately prescribe me something to help.  I don’t doubt I would love to feel my brain on drugs once again.  I don’t doubt it can go terribly, tragically wrong sometimes.

I’m still in touch with a few people I knew back then.  I’m not in touch with Florence.

The Spiritual Part of the Program

First, a brief recap of my history.  What it was like – I was raised as a half-hearted Lutheran mostly by my mother, who later voiced atheist beliefs.  My father died when I was six.  He had been raised Roman Catholic, but, according to my mother, was fairly anti-religious and, when he was hospitalized for alcoholism over and over, he refused to list a religion and refused to be visited by a priest.  Hindsight being 20/20, I can easily see now that a priest could only have helped him.  There was no more harm to be done than he did to himself, as he died from drinking at the young age of 33.

The other religious influence in my life was my grandparents, who combined different kinds of superstition.  My grandmother was from Scotland, and she was raised in the Episcopal church.   She was superstitious about all the clichéd things: umbrellas in the house, spilling salt, walking under a ladder.  If your palm itched, you were getting money.  If you dropped silverware, company was coming (gender based on cutlery).

My grandfather, who passed on the Lutheran religion to us, was from Germany.  They were Lutheran in Germany but somehow, a long time ago, my grandfather’s mother’s sister was a Lutheran nun.  Anyway his superstitions said, bottom line, that you had to belong to a church to go to heaven.  When he failed to attend the church or give any money, he would get very insulted when they tried from time to time to get him off of their membership records.  He had given the church two daughters to marry off, and he had made donations at that time.  When my grandparents died, and the Lutheran pastor spoke at their services, I think it’s safe to say the pastors probably had no first-hand knowledge of the deceased.

To be continued.

Sharing My Story at Meetings

I just got back from a speaker meeting where the woman who spoke was very entertaining.  I can’t help it, I wish I could be entertaining when I speak.  Again, with AA lingo, where I am, “speaking” is telling your story of “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.”  We tell about our childhood, what made us finally stop drinking, and how sobriety is going.  In the lingo we would also say that “speaking,” or telling your story, is “sharing” your story.  So sharing can be commenting on something or telling your whole story at a meeting.

I’m amazed at the miracle of AA in my life, that by telling my story and hearing that of others I and they can stay sober.  Again, my favorite symbol is “the man on the bed” because it represents to me an image of the birth of AA that flourished and was passed on until I needed it.

My feelings about my story have changed.  When I first came to AA, I didn’t have much of a story.  I had started drinking at 16, and almost immediately fell into the pit of alcoholism.  I made my first meeting before I was 17, and shortly after that I achieved sobriety for 18 months.  During that time I told my story a lot.  Where I got sober, people tell their story at 90 days.  Where I am now, a year is almost a “rule.”  I firmly believe that 90 days is better than a year.  I also believe that any, almost any excuse someone or someone’s sponsor gives for a person not telling their story at all is just wrong, and jeopardizes sobriety.  I especially don’t like to hear that someone isn’t “ready.”  If I had waited to be ready, no one would have heard from me yet.

I hate doing it, but I do it when I’m asked.  Mostly, I hope to help someone, especially people who relapse again and again the way I did.  These days I’m also really glad to “represent” old oldtimers.  But oh it would be so nice to entertain as well!

Of course telling my story reminds me of my more harrowing adventures.  I’ve tried recently to think of different examples from my old favorites.  Last time I told my story, someone commented that she liked one of the anecdotes I had left out in favor of another.

I’ve read that Bill W’s story changed over time.  I’m sure mine has also.  Recently, Carole and the kids and I listened to an NPR report about false memories, how memories are influenced by time and images and different information.  The story used the example of people talking about September 11.  Even such a recent thing was influenced by what they saw and what they heard, and their stories changed over time.  For me and I guess for Bill W, the stories we are telling happened when we were drugged, to boot.

It’s very important for me to remember where I came from, what brought me here, and how the road of sobriety has changed as well.  What a miracle that by telling you, you and I can both stay sober.

June 21, 2010 (this day)

No one related to me, by blood or by marriage, is safe from alcohol.  I believe it.

I returned in the wee hours of the morning from a family wedding.  Carole the kids and I headed out Friday morning, back to near where I grew up.  My parents were the oldest and second-oldest among their siblings.  I have aunts, uncles and cousins of varying ages, and some of my aunts and uncles are not much older than I am.

We had a good time traveling Friday and Friday night we explored an almost-empty mall.  Saturday, the wedding was beautiful and went really well.  Sunday we visited relatives at a cook out.  And Sunday evening we started home, arriving around 2 in the morning this morning.

This wedding had more alcohol than I’ve ever seen at a wedding.  Everything was beautiful and costly, and even the delicious entrees (so I’m told) had alcohol in each and every one.  I don’t think I’ve seen that before.  There was an open bar, wine that was constantly refilled at the tables, champagne and, I’m told, cordials.

(For the record, Carole and I had NO alcohol at our wedding.  Nor did we have complications caused by alcohol).

There were several family members I worried about, people who have frequently, in the past, had too much to drink and acted out in one way or another.  Again, these people are related to me by both blood and marriage, and their ages and generations vary.  I remember once when a drunken wedding guest decided to steal all of the restaurant’s glasses.  I have pictures of a dance-floor strip tease.  I have pictures of children, children, passed out drunk at weddings.  I have to say that no wedding (that I can remember) coincided with my own drinking career, and I do not think anyone has drunken wedding stories about me.  But you never know.  There are a few years I can’t recall.

So two stories from this wedding.  One of my male relatives bullied me about dancing that is still upsetting me.  Understanding I have lead a very peaceful life in that respect – I have not been abused or beaten or tortured or bullied.  He physically pulled my chair out from under the table and threatened to carry me.  I know people live with so incredibly much worse every day, but I am not used to being treated that way.  I really panicked, in my thoughts, about how to make him stop and what I would do if he physically forced me.

The other major thing that happened was that an out-of-town relative who usually doesn’t drink, and who I actually thought might have escaped the curse, got so drunk that he sat at the table completely out, head on the table, picking it up to puke.  This relative sees us only once every few years.  The next day, at the cook out, he was too sick to get out of bed and missed seeing and talking to us at all.  I heard him remark to himself, “I missed the party.”  I’m still slightly shocked over that one as well.

We came home to the news that a friend in the program is drinking and struggling again.

In all this I realize, and I’m so very grateful, that Carole and I don’t (today) have to worry about each other, that we may or may not be sober, or how drunk we were when we had that (any) conversation.

On our way to the wedding, we visited a place I briefly lived when Nicholas was about two and Erica was about 4.  It’s a very rural area, and I’d find it hard to live somewhere like that today.  But it was closer to home (about three hours away by car) so I was thrilled with that and I really didn’t suffer from the location at that time.  Carole asked me where I went to meetings then.  I traveled to the very big city I had left once a month to attend my old women’s meeting there.  I found and joined a new women’s meeting in the farm country.  I traveled to a nearby tiny city to attend a “bring your kids” meeting in a church nursery, bringing Nicholas with me while Erica was in preschool.  I attended my old old meetings on visits home.  I kept in touch with a few of people I had known at the beginning.  I was then a sober, boring wedding guest just as I was two days ago and today no one is writing about the outrageous thing I did this weekend, or how I scared them or hurt their feelings.

The cook out was in the yard of a house that has been in my family for two generations.  I remember being in that yard with my great-grandmother, and my children, her great great grandchildren, were there two days ago.  I’m sure she couldn’t have imagined us (in many ways), and I don’t know if she herself carried the family curse or if she just passed it down or married it through.  I don’t know what relationship the next generation or any succeeding generations will have with alcohol, but today I am filled with gratitude that I have been able, for today, to break the chain.