Dryland

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AA-bot that I am, I admittedly see everything through that lens, and for this I am grateful (like a good AA should be).  I’ve read a few sobriety memoirs and I’ve known ….. thousands?…. of people who drank alcoholically and got sober.  I’ve also listened to ….. thousands?…… more “stories” as we tell them in AA.  Stories of drinking and stopping drinking and life after stopping drinking.

The drinking portion of this book is very interesting because the author lived an extraordinary life.  She traveled and lived in other countries the way few people do, and she relates those aspects of her story well enough.  She describes drinking alcoholically and she does that well also.

But then, of stopping there is only a very slight mention.  She stopped.  Of life after stopping there is only slight mention.  She stayed stopped, at least for a while.

The abrupt ending of her story made me turn to Google to see if she’s still stopped.  I cannot tell.  Of course I hope that she is still sober.

So the abrupt sobriety without any details of how that sobriety made it into the future made me think about my own situation.  First of all, I could not just stop.  Or rather, sometimes I could, but those times never lasted for any significant period.  With nothing to this book except a description of alcoholic drinking and a cold turkey unassisted sobriety, I was left to think about what my life might have been like had I been able to do what the author did and stop for good unassisted.

I just would not have pursued the personal growth I’ve had to pursue as part of AA.  I doubt I’d be the kind to find a religion that fits or stick to my own program of recovery.  Most importantly, I wouldn’t want to.

“The drunk who brought you in will take you out.”  We’re told in AA that unless we change we’re in danger of drinking again.  I hope this woman has found a lasting sobriety, but how does she go about changing?  This book doesn’t tell.

I inevitably come back to the thought that I’m grateful I couldn’t recover without AA.  If I had been able to, I would have missed the greatest moments of my life.  And by the way, AA is happy for anyone who stops under and means.

Pride in Reverse (Step 4 continued)

If temperamentally we are on the depressive side, we are apt to be swamped with guilt and self-loathing. We wallow in this messy bog, often getting a misshapen and painful pleasure out of it. As we morbidly pursue this melancholy activity, we may sink to such a point of despair that nothing but oblivion looks possible as a solution. Here, of course, we have lost all perspective, and therefore all genuine humility. For this is pride in reverse. This is not a moral inventory at all; it is the very process by which the depressive has so often been lead to the bottle and extinction.

 

Pride in reverse has been an extremely important pillar of my sobriety.  When I have an excess of negative emotion it is often not anger but rather guilt or self-loathing.  I can recount scenes, especially scenes of me as a mother, that I would give almost anything to take back and undo.  And these happened in sobriety.

I have got to heed the words of this step and know that shaming myself to myself is destructive.  Mothering is good example because I do not get to do it right again next time.  I get to pay better attention to how I now mother my grown children and that for now is best I can do.

We often talk at meetings about regretting the past and wishing to shut the door on it.  These feelings lessen for me with time, but they won’t go away.  It also strikes me as new agey crap to “forgive” myself.  The tools I’ll try to apply here are knowing that wallowing is wrong, that much of the time I spend regretting the past is wasted time, and that I have to put constructive energy into right living and making new things to be guilty and ashamed about.

January 1, 2020 (this day)

Happy New Year!  I did not drink any alcohol in 2019.  I was almost killed by my compulsion to drink alcohol in 1984 (1983, 1982, 1981, 1980, 1979, and 1978).  I am lucky beyond measure.

After the tragic election of 2016, I subscribed to the (failing, as Voldemort likes to call it) New York Times.  I read with interest the other day (in the car, on the way home from an AA meeting with two other women as miraculously alcohol-free as I am) this article.  A few points:

They aren’t drinking themselves numb because they are awash in oh-so-much power, or because of some pathological inability to follow rules or humble themselves, or because their outsize egos are running the show, as A.A.’s messaging would suggest. Quite the opposite: They’re drinking because they have so little power, because all they’ve ever done is follow the rules and humble themselves, because their egos have been crushed under a system that reduces their value to subservience, likability and silence.

This was not true for me.  I drank because I was an alcoholic, and I believe for myself that had I evolved in a place where women ruled, I still would have drank unto death.

There are many other evidence-based options available now — from medically assisted treatments to cognitive behavioral therapy to the emerging use of psychedelics including psilocybin.

AA officially welcomes all forms of recovery in the world.  The methods listed here, however, take time, money, insurance, stability, commitment.  To be sure, AA takes time and commitment, but for me, the daily availability of meetings and other alcoholics to talk to helped me recover where no doctor or therapist could.

I did notice, when I first got to AA, and I still notice that it is a program designed by men for men.  It does emphasize character defects I don’t identify with as stated, for example, that resentment is the number one offender.  It does always mention the other side of the character defect coin, though, listing depression and fear and self-pity along with an inflated ego.

This program, which was designed to break down white male privilege, made sense for the original members: It reminded them that they were not God and encouraged them to humble themselves, to admit their weaknesses, to shut up and listen.

That may be true.  However, in my female drunken existence I also needed to humble myself (my way wasn’t working and was actually killing me), so admit my weaknesses (like not being able to handle basically anything without chemical courage), to shut up (I wasn’t a big talker then, I’m still not, but all I had to add at the beginning was to remind sober people how unhappy and sick a drinking alcoholic is), and listen.  Yes, listen to how to get out and be in the world sober.

It does make me unhappy that it was by and about men.  My favorite AA symbol, the man on the bed, shows three men.  I’m unhappy that God is the “father” and that all the presidents have been men.  The main thing I can add to this canon is my witness.  I am a woman, sober 35 years.  I have two children who were born in my sobriety and raised by a sober mother.  I have a career history or contributing, showing up with integrity and trying to serve people.

Women are the fastest-growing demographic becoming dependent on alcohol, which means we’re on our way to being a majority of participants of recovery programs. There’s no question that we need help. But we don’t need to give up our power.

I had no power when I was drunk and under the table.  All the power I have today is a direct result of repeated engagement with that oh-so-male program, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Staying Away from the First Drink

It’s a special kind of mental gymnastics I engaged in that tried to calculate three beers or two wines or two slugs from the bottle straight.  What was too much, and what was too far?  I attempted over and over and over again to hit the right amount of alcohol to give me that slight, pleasant buzz.  I never achieved it after the first few times I drank.

I know I may have fallen faster and harder than some alcoholics.  Some who achieved the perfect buzz for years until they didn’t.  But my memory of the perfect buzz was so perfect that I felt compelled to try again and again and again and again, always going too far, too fast, drinking too much, not stopping at just enough.

My calculations did not work, and so I had to accept and understand that THE FIRST DRINK GETS ME DRUNK in that once I drank, my judgement was impaired enough to make it impossible for me to control how much I would drink.  Even though terrible or just bad consequences didn’t kick in until the third or fourth drink, perhaps, I could not predict or control it or them.  To 100% guarantee I would not drink too much, I had to stay away not from the fourth, third, or second, but from the first.

Now, I’d love to employ that method on some other things I should stay away from…… I have stayed away from the first cigarette but now the rest of my bodily vices are trying to kill me.

Move a muscle, change a thought.  Call someone.  Read something.  Remind myself what road I’m on, which way the road goes.  Toward what?  Sick, painful, soon death?  Or a hopefully healthy old age.

Anyway I am here to report that staying away from the first drink has been 100% successful in keeping me sober for 13,011 days.  And counting.

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.

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.

September 17, 2019 (this day)

I haven’t been right since June.  In June, I went to the dentist and found out I have high blood pressure.  I started on my first-ever permanent medication.  My daughter and her husband visited for the 4th of July, and my son brought his girlfriend over, letting them all meet for the first time.  I went on a cruise with my wife, my mother, and my aunt, and that was very nice.  As we were getting home, my wife came down with a horrific cold.  While we were away, my work partner retired and another clinician left.  We hired three new clinicians, but since they were all new, I was the only one at work who knew how to do any of the paper work, and it was much harder to teach them than it would have been to do it myself.  I had to be there for every click of the mouse and for every meeting.  As that was going on, I got the horrific cold.  My work got a state licensing date of Sept 13, and again I was the only one who knew how to check anything and I felt I had to check everything, so that went on for weeks.  Finally I got a sharp and terrible pain in my lower left ribcage, so bad that I went to the doctor and got x-rays.  Like most of my ailments, it was nebulous and undiagnosable and just strange.  Clear lungs, no broken ribs, organs OK.  It still hurts!  We’ve also had visitors and Carole has traveled.  My son has told us that he’s going to get married to his girlfriend.  My wife is turning 60 this month, my mother is turning 80 next month.  My work is shorter-staffed than it has ever ever been.  At licensing, we got 100% and heaps of praise.  Oh, an on my mother’s birthday, I have to call in to see if I’ll have jury duty.  I went years ago, and while I only know one other person who has ever gotten a notice and then didn’t have to appear, I’m being called for the second time.  We had our porched screened-in due to the tree damage it suffered in the storm last February that scared the heck out of me.  And a plumber told us that our 92-year-old house has 92-year-old terra cotta pipes.

All of these things, good and bad, have been brought to my life by AA.