December 5, 2021 (this day)

from a trip to Akron

Generally what’s up with me. My mother visited for Thanksgiving for the first time in two years. I usually see her twice a year, once at Thanksgiving and once in the summer, but covid made us pause. My son is temporarily living with us as he’s having a bad break up. My daughter, who lives about six hours away, came with her husband and they stayed, looking for a house where I live in order to move back. So there were for a few days six of us in my house, plus two cats.

Some of my previous FB Thanksgiving posts note that everyone got along! They still do. I am so incredibly grateful that there is no alcohol in my house and no one drank at the house. No alcohol induced drama or sickness, no apologies necessary from anyone to anyone. The kids do drink, and I’m sure they did at their friends’ houses over this time, but no one got into a kerfuffle bad enough to get my attention as a result.

In my drinking days I would have been the one under the table throwing up. I took secret alcohol to family gatherings and drank all that was offered, which was a lot. Right before covid, my daughter visited my mother and said she would never go back to stay with her because my mother got so sloppy drunk. When I return from family functions that are held away from my house where there is alcohol, I’m always struck with gratitude at my next AA meeting where everyone is sober. Theoretically.

I heard a lead last night by a man who had many similarities to my own story. His father died from alcoholism when he was 7 (I was 6 when mine died). There were other things, but the difference is what caught my attention. I got sober at almost 22, he got sober three years ago in his 50s (guessing). So I was identifying with his story strongly, which is such a cool aspect of AA and meetings, then our stories departed ways in our early twenties, to come together again in our 50s, being together at that meeting, sober.

November 21, 2019 (this day)

We celebrated Thanksgiving for our clients at my work today for my first time in a very long time without my work partner.  I’ve been through a lot of change and loss there recently, but I somehow feel like I always say that.

For actual Thanksgiving, my mother will fly to my house as usual.  We’ll then drive her to my daughter’s, where we’ll stay for a few days.  My daughter’s mother-in-law (God bless her) will have all of over including my son and his fiancé.  It’s different.

I have what I like to refer to as nostalgia as a character defect.  The definition includes longing.  When I think of what I long for, it isn’t necessarily Thanksgiving at my great aunt’s or at my aunt’s, I long for some tradition that doesn’t change except that some people die and others are born.  That’s never been real.  But I long for it.

For me, there is fear and loneliness and sadness is still being an only child.

Every aspect of the holiday coming up is a call for gratitude for me.  My mother, wife, children, are all doing well.  They all want to see me, and I want to see them all.  I have (mostly) passed through that season of loss at work, and things look promising.  I am able to stand it, day after day, and of course to find lots of joy in it.

I need to remember the Thanksgivings when I drank to stand being around people.  I may have even skipped one, drunk or hung over badly.  Alcohol tried to take everything away from me, and nearly did, yet today I have everything, and alcohol isn’t a factor.

Grateful.

Step Four – Made a searching and fearless morale inventory of ourselves.

Creation gave us instincts for a purpose.  Without them we wouldn’t be complete human beings.  If men and women didn’t exert themselves to be secure in their persons, made no effort to harvest food or construct shelter, there would be no survival.  If they didn’t reproduce, the earth wouldn’t be populated.  If there were no social instinct, if men cared nothing for the society of one another, there would be no society.  So these desires–for the sex relation, for material and emotional security, and for companionship–are perfectly necessary and right, and sure God-given.

Yet these instincts, so necessary for our existence, often far exceed their proper functions.  Powerfully, blindly, many times subtly, they drive us, dominate us, and insist upon ruling our lives.  Our desires for sex, for material and emotional security, and for an important place in society often tyrannize us.  When thus our of joint, man’s natural desires cause him great trouble, practically all the trouble there is.  No human being, however good, is exempt from these troubles.  Nearly every serious emotional problem can be seen as a case of misdirected instinct.  When that happens, our great natural assets, the instincts, have turned into physical and mental liabilities.

I have always understood my insane drinking, my alcoholism, to be a misguided attempt to make myself happy.  An insane attempt to make myself happy.  One of my starkest memories from my drinking days was when an AA friend remarked, to my drunken self, “It doesn’t even make you happy.”

No, it didn’t.  But is used to!  And to it might again, if I could only get it right.

I know now that I was wanted and cared for and celebrated and protected as a child.  But the world is a dangerous place, even for children born into circumstances like I was.  My father died when I was six, and I’m sure it gave me a fear about losing my mother that most of the other children in my life didn’t have.

And there are other things.  My point at this moment is that I saw the world as dangerous, and the world was dangerous, even though I had every advantage and after all I did come through all right.  The fearfulness of that child, the normal misunderstandings of my child’s mind, and the dormant seed of alcoholism laid the ground work for my drinking nearly to death.

And isn’t aging, as I’ve been blessed beyond measure to experience, a creeping back toward that time when I may not be independent and I may not understand all that goes on around me?

Let’s look first at the case of the one who says he won’t believe (Step Two continued)

Let’s look first at the case of the one who says he won’t
believe—the belligerent one. He is in a state of mind which
can be described only as savage. His whole philosophy of
life, in which he so gloried, is threatened. It’s bad enough,
he thinks, to admit alcohol has him down for keeps. But
now, still smarting from that admission, he is faced with
something really impossible. How he does cherish the
thought that man, risen so majestically from a single cell
in the primordial ooze, is the spearhead of evolution and
therefore the only god that his universe knows! Must he
renounce all this to save himself ?
At this juncture, his A.A. sponsor usually laughs. This,
the newcomer thinks, is just about the last straw. This is
the beginning of the end. And so it is: the beginning of
the end of his old life, and the beginning of his emergence
into a new one. His sponsor probably says, “Take it easy.
The hoop you have to jump through is a lot wider than you
think. At least I’ve found it so. So did a friend of mine who
was a one-time vice-president of the American Atheist Society, but he got through with room to spare.”
This was me, in that I wouldn’t believe.  I wasn’t all about science, not at all, but I was severely disillusioned with my quasi-religious upbringing and I just thought God and the church were ridiculous.  I absolutely rejected this spiritual side of AA.  I stood and held hands at meeting, but I did not pray.
No one laughed, for which I am very grateful.  And thinking back, it seems to me it was the language of the books that finally cracked my door open just a little, just enough.
I try to maintain this attitude today with many issues.  I am very stubborn.  It is difficult.  But I have such a shining, such a drastic example of how this worked for me in my past.  I wonder if there are any more new lifes for me to begin.

Tradition Eight

“Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.”

I’m actually not dreading writing about this!  I read the text last night, and I don’t have the book out here on the back porch with me (there are VERY high winds, and my book is VERY delicate – I think I need a new one, I didn’t take it to a meeting the other night because there was a very light rain).  So I can’t quote.  But when I read it, something in the text jumped out at me.

It said, approximately, that professionals have never been able to help us the way we can help each other.  So true!  And so cool!

I know that some of the criticisms of AA center on the fact that AA doesn’t advance medical advances in the treatment of alcoholism.  It’s important for me to say that in my experience, AA does not deny or hinder these advances either.  But if some newcomer were to show up at my meeting and ask about a pill or a therapy or anything else, she would be told that for us in that room, maybe to a person, these things did not help us stop drinking or stay stopped.  I also need to point out (not to the proverbial newcomer, but here) that those things are not readily accessible nor are they free.

But anyway.  Nonprofessional.  I guess the thought is that once someone, anyone, even a member in excellent standing, a certain percent of us stop listening.  And the motives of the paid person don’t stay 100% pure (or nearly).

I think it goes along with the traditions for therapists and counselors to disclose they are in AA, if it fits, but they have to make it clear that they don’t speak for or represent AA, except in their own person.

And thank goodness for all of the paid people through the ages, members and nonmembers, who have kept the business of AA going so that when we needed it, it was there.

Tradition One

Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

How about the use of the semicolon?  You don’t see that much anymore.  I know I don’t use them for fear of using them incorrectly.  I’m so grateful that Bill W was such a wonderful writer.

I read the long version of Tradition One yesterday in preparation for writing something about it here.  At my meeting last night, Tradition Three was the topic of conversation.  In thinking about both traditions, I am amazed at the organization, or lack of organization, in AA.

The text of Tradition One made me consider a time in the future after AA had hypothetically fallen apart.  In the course of human history, AA is very very very very young.  I’ve always marveled at my luck at being in the time, in this place, where it is available to me.  I know there are many roads to recovery, but I also know that hardly anyone travels any of them for very long.  A recovered alcoholic is a rare and precious thing.

Anyway the text said the alcoholics of the future might hear of our movement and of how it fell apart, and curse us in their caves for letting it happen.  I do love Bill’s writing!  It describes how AA groups were born back then, by one person seeking out other drunks and forming a group, which isn’t the case anymore for the places where I’ve lived and the program that I’ve worked.

The text marvels at how few “rules” there are in AA, and how minimal the structure is, and how bad ideas tend to die on the vine rather than needing to be cut off.  I am so grateful to the people who work and volunteer to keep the organization of AA going for me, and for the future.  I don’t know that I could have recovered back in the days of AA’s beginnings, and I truly doubt I could have recovered any other way except through AA.  I don’t think there were many female teenagers haunting meetings back then.

I would do a lot to protect AA.

And PS – the writing of the Tradition also made me look up Eddie Rickenbacker, and so my education expands.

AA Slogans

I call them “truisms.”  I’ve collected some and I don’t have much to say about them.  They stick with us, they haunt us, they have the power to change our lives.  Some came from the founders and literature, some are more recent.

  • Bring the body and the mind will follow.
  • But for the grace of God.
  • Do the next right thing.
  • Don’t drink and go to meetings.
  • Don’t quit before the miracle.
  • Easy does it.
  • Fake it till you make it.
  • First things first.
  • First thought wrong.
  • How important is it?
  • HALT (don’t get hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
  • I am responsible.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Let go and let God.
  • Live and let live.
  • Meeting makers make it.
  • No pain, no gain.
  • One day at a time.
  • Principles before personalities.
  • Progress, not perfection.
  • Restless, irritable and discontent (RID).
  • Think, think, think.
  • This too shall pass.
  • Time takes time.
  • To thine own self be true.

Self-Will

The alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.

The text goes on to say that we need to get rid of selfishness, of self, or it will kill us.

This is painfully obvious to me, as it relates to drinking.  No question I was not going to live much longer the way I was drinking.  That’s an extreme example of selfishness, in that everything and everyone fell by the wayside and came second to what I wanted, which was to drink.

This seems as good a place as any to mention a sort of debate I’ve been having with Antonahill.  This person has commented on my assertions that AA is not a cult.  The discussion has gotten too convoluted and difficult for me to follow, with Anton quoting me and me quoting Anton.  Our discussion travel over several posts and I have printed all of Anton’s comments in full.  I just find I can’t really answer them anymore and make any sense, though I can address ideas one at a time.

Somewhere in there Anton asks if I hadn’t been exposed to the ideals of AA before.  Ideals like honesty, hard work, and taking care of others.  I was very young when I got sober, but of course I had been exposed to those ideals since I was born.  Part of the magic of AA, for me, is that it gave me a concrete way and unlimited support to actually progress in my ability to live those ideals.  If I had been able to do it alone, believe me, I would have.

I started to write this post with the Big Book quote, then I saved it as I was going to a meeting.  At the meeting they read this very paragraph and talked about it for an hour.  They talked about prerequisites for taking the Third Step and formally opening the door to giving up my own will to a higher power.  Somewhere in the cult posts, Anton asserts that saying I am powerless is ridiculous.

I picture a tantruming toddler who has been put in her crib.  She is powerless to get out of the crib or to bend circumstances or people to her will.  She has the power to rant and cry and hurt herself and possibly some property.  But really she is powerless over the conditions that set her off in the first place.

While I tried to have power over alcohol, I was powerless to make any kind of change for the better, to manage my life or to do anything other than race toward death.  My will, the will of an active alcoholic, was killing me.  I had to give it up to live.

Now I’m a bit farther down the road.  I don’t will my own destruction any longer.  But have I really reached the place where I want to be good just because it is good to be good?

My self-will battles with God’s will when I try to lose weight.  The battle continues when I know that I must love someone, or forgive someone, or do something for someone that I don’t want to do.  I can be stubborn to my own detriment and to the detriment of others.  My self-will won’t let me easily erase lines I’ve drawn in the sand, or opinions I’ve formed and that I use to judge other people.

The leap from wanting and needing to drink to wanting and needing sobriety was a huge and profound change for me.  The other changes are not so profound nor are they as long-lasting or as complete as that change was.  I think that each time I knowingly act on my character defects, my self-will is, if not running riot, at least disturbing the peace quite a bit.

All This Should be Very Encouraging (Step Eleven continued)

All this should be very encouraging news for those who recoil from prayer because they don’t believe in it, or because they feel themselves cut off from God’s help and direction.  All of us, without exception, pass through times when we can pray only with the greatest exertion of will.  Occasionally we go even further than this.  We are seized with a rebellion so sickening that we simply won’t pray.  When these things happen we should not think too ill of ourselves.  We should simply resume prayer as soon as we can, doing what we know to be good for us.

Well I’m not brave enough to argue that something that happens to all of us, without exception, has never happened to me.  But I don’t remember being unable or unwilling, so on I go, through the step.

Clean and Sober

I’m an alcoholic in recovery.  I drank excessively because of the effect alcohol had on my mind and on my mood.  I do not take mind- or mood-changing drugs unless I need them.  I take anesthesia during surgery.  I take pain killers after surgery.  I do not have depression, bi-polar disorder, an anxiety disorder, or any other reason to take mind or mood altering drugs.

I have a fear of flying and I’ve had it for around 25 years.  During that time I’ve flown lots, but not much lately.  Over the last 16 years I flew in 1994, 2002, and yesterday.

I believe, for myself, that taking a drug to face my fear would put me in danger.  Before I got sober, I relapsed chronically, meaning that after making a decision to give up alcohol, I drank.  I love the feeling drugs and alcohol give me.  I chased that feeling closer and closer to absolute ruin and death.  I experimented with drinking just a little, drinking just a while, drinking not at all.  I am not able to manage my drinking.

Once, in the past, I bought a book about phobias and worked on my fear with some success.  Then I moved, and basically lost my reason to fly frequently.

A few months ago, I agreed to fly to Hawaii, a distance of about 5000 miles.  I began to work on my fear of flying again, but I also made a conscious effort to talk to lots of people about it, and to consider drugs.

If I took a drug in this situation, I would not consider it a ‘slip’ and I would not say that I had given up my sobriety.  I have to say that most of the people I talked to, in and out of AA, some who knew about my alcoholism and some who didn’t know – most people suggested drugs, or at least said that in my situation, they would take drugs.

I gave birth to two children, one using (or failing to use) the Lamaze method of child birth and one using Bradley.  The Bradley method was much better for me, and I used my interpretation of that philosophy to work on lessening my fear.

I took time just about every day to watch videos that had been taken from planes to get used to the sights and the sounds.  I collected meditations about and prayers and quotes about fear and studied them and meditated on them.  I spent time consciously relaxing my body as a response to mental stress and anxiety.  Up until about a month ago, I considered the pros and cons of taking a drug.

I was surprised by how many people in the program thought a drug was a good idea.  I thought that maybe my anti-drug stance had to do with the time and place I got sober.  But I even talked to people who had gotten sober in my time and in my place, and they didn’t have the same attitude that I do.

Two things helped me turn the corner and decide.  One, someone suggested to me that I give myself a deadline to decide, so that each day before it and each day after it I didn’t have to wrestle with the decision.  Finally, someone let me pretty much talk about it almost exclusively, asking good questions but not changing the subject or shutting me down, for somewhere over an hour.  During that conversation, when I articulated pretty much all my thoughts about the matter, and it became obvious to me that I should not take a drug for this flight.  I decided then (though it wasn’t actually decision day) that I would do without this time, and if it was a disaster, I would reconsider for next time.

It occurred to me during this process that times have changed.  When I was an adolescent, and when I went crazy with drinking and lying and cutting myself among other things, the school and my mother tried to get me to cooperate with therapy, but no one suggested drugging me.  I’ve since known other adolescents who have acted out the same ways I did, and they often had three classes of heavy drugs thrown at them to see what would stick.  I’ve known teenagers who have harmed themselves and they have been hospitalized and given an anti-seizure mood-stabilizing drug, an anti-depressant, and an anti-psychotic.  Then, if they cooperated with treatment, these drugs would be changed and lowered over time to see what was really doing what.

I’m not saying that is the wrong approach, and I have no doubt that it has saved the lives of kids who would otherwise have suffered further and engaged in more dangerous behavior.  In my case, before the drug-em days, I found alcohol and then along with that a program of recovery that worked for me and that didn’t include drugs.  I understand that many people my age were not as fortunate as I was, and that their outcomes weren’t as good as mine, and that drugs that are now available and more often given could have saved them.

That’s not my story, though.  For now I’m sticking to my understanding of myself that drugs endanger me, no matter how necessary they are.  I believe for myself that I have to be very vigilant, only take what is vitally necessary, and get off of them as soon as it’s safely possible.

Honestly, flying to Hawaii and back was very difficult for me.  My doing it represents many hours spent in unpleasant preparation.  There were times during the flights that I felt I couldn’t take the fear or the reality.  It was not comfortable or pleasant and if they ever invent a way that I could just not experience it, and still get where I want to go, I’ll be right there – unconscious flying and safe cigarettes would be two wishes the genie could grant me.

Also honestly, it breaks my heart a little that I bypassed the chance for a legal high.

Now if I had taken a drug, and not endangered my sobriety (NO guarantees there), I would not have grown in my ability to tolerate and overcome things.  That is one of the seminal (influencing the development of future events: a seminal artist; seminal ideas) ideas of my sobriety – that by the fact of being sober, over time, I come to do life better and better.  Although I don’t know what will happen if I’m fortunate enough to experience a next time, I know that I’m stronger and even more likely to succeed than this time.

Sobriety (for me) brings all reasonable things into the realm of possibility.