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.

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.

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.

Before Tackling the Inventory Problem (Step Four continued)

Before tackling the inventory problem in detail, let’s have a closer look at what the basic problem is.  Simple examples like the following take on a world of meaning when we think about them.  Suppose a person places sex desire ahead of everything else.  In such a case, this imperious urge can destroy his chances for material and emotional security as well as his standing in the community.  Another may develop such an obsession for financial security that he wants to do nothing but hoard money.  Going to the extreme, he can become a miser, or even a recluse who denies himself both family and friends.

There’s something somewhere.  Maybe further along in this step?  Where we who have escaped such extremes congratulate ourselves, or something like that.  Right now, I’m looking for the “world of meaning.”  I recently went to a meeting where they discussed Step Five, and I thought then that the “exact nature of my wrongs” has changed drastically since I stopped drinking.  The “wrongs” of the active alcoholic are a world away from those of a sober alcoholic.  Thank goodness.

I’m not so much trying to understand what I did wrong between 34 and 40 years ago when I was for most intents and purposes a child of sorts.  I’m trying to understand what I do wrong now, in old age and in old sobriety.   The sex maniac and the miser aren’t ringing any bells for me.  I need to get a better handle on the low level procrastination, mid level fear, high level sloth.  These are my basic problems.  I think.

We Want to Find Out Exactly How (Step Four continued)

We want to find exactly how, when, and where our natural desires have warped us. We wish to look squarely at the unhappiness this has caused others and ourselves. By discovering what our emotional deformities are, we can move toward their correction. Without a willing and persistent effort to do this, there can be little sobriety or contentment for us. Without a searching and fearless moral inventory, most of us have found that the faith which really works in daily living is still out of reach.

 

I decided, for better or worse, to do an actual fourth step of sorts.  I looked at this text and thought about it.  I looked at my list of character defects.  I got some scraps of paper and quickly wrote down much of this kind of thing:

house and car:  fear, greed, lazy, self-conscious

health:  fear, greed, lazy, self-conscious

pets:  fear, anxiety, not good enough, guilt

work: fear, anxiety, afraid to confront, afraid to say no, fear of losing partner, resentment, guilt

politics:  fear, anger, lazy, self-righteous, judgmental, despair

Of course there are details to go along with each.  I’m not sure it’s a traditional fourth step, and I’m not sure it’s not.  You would think that after 34 years of sobriety and 40 years in and around the program, I’d be more sure.

If I continue with this, it would be my third formal fourth step in 34 to 40 years.

Going back to the text, I think I can claim persistence and more than a little sobriety.  I have had much much contentment.  As for faith, I don’t know….