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.

Suppose that Instinct Still Cries Out (Step Three continued)

But suppose that instinct still cries out, as it certainly will, “Yes, respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain my independence. Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity. If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I’ll look like the hole in the doughnut.” This, of course, is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development. The trouble is that this kind of thinking takes no real account of the facts. And the facts seem to be these: The more we become willing to depend upon a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. Therefore dependence, as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit.

Let’s examine for a moment this idea of dependence at the level of everyday living. In this area it is startling to discover how dependent we really are, and how unconscious of that dependence. Every modern house has electric wiring carrying power and light to its interior. We are delighted with this dependence; our main hope is that nothing will ever cut off the supply of current. By so accepting our dependence upon this marvel of science, we find ourselves more independent personally. Not only are we more independent, we are even more comfortable and secure. Power flows just where it is needed. Silently and surely, electricity, that strange energy so few people understand, meets our simplest daily needs, and our most desperate ones, too. Ask the polio sufferer connected to an iron lung who depends with complete trust upon a motor to keep the breath of life in him.

Instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development.

When I consider a character defect, or a way in which I think I should change, this is exactly what happens.  I’m grateful that I have the huge, miraculous example in my life of getting sober.  I can remember that instinct and logic fought my sobriety at every turn, and that it was an act of will to give up my will and do the program thing.  Now I try to apply that concept to my present difficulties which do not involve alcohol.

A list of things I’m dependent upon is long.  Along with electricity there is water, central heating, and all that goes into making food available to me since I could not feed and support myself without many complex systems and many varied people.  I depend on the police, firefighters, doctors, the list is really endless.  All this dependence makes me free to pursue things that don’t have to do with basic life support, like writing in a blog.  I also have the experience of working with people who have multiple, severe disabilities.  Some of them depend on others to give them a drink and for every movement they make.  My society at this time and place is incredibly supportive.

I had to depend on the program in order to stop drinking and live.  A crucial point of that was to understand that I couldn’t follow my own will any longer.  My own will was trying to kill me by driving me to drink.  My own personal logical experiments with drinking sanely did not work and nearly killed me.

Today, honestly, I’m dealing with a little bit of fear inspired by the current political situation.  My support of Hillary Clinton is making me a little bit of a target for some negativity and violence.  Instinct and logic are telling me, at the extreme, to move, and start my life over again as someone who doesn’t particularly care who gets to be president.   It is a complete and total coincidence that the portion of the 12 and 12 I was set to write about today addresses just this dilemma.  Spiritual development, here I come!

 

 

July 8, 2016 (this day)

IMG_0492I don’t have much to write about today.  I don’t comment on current events because I don’t now much about them.  I don’t watch or read news when I can avoid it.  I find the local news to be stressful in that it mostly has to do with fires and murders and other bad things that happen to people.  I feel, really, that I don’t do enough to improve the state of things.  I work with people who have multiple, severe disabilities.  That is not enough.

Regarding my program there are two things on my mind.  One is that I’ve tried to help a young lady who is worried about her daughter in a way that I used to worry about my daughter and, at times, my son.  I suggested to her that she give the issue several  quiet minutes a day.  I remember that as I worried about my daughter and dealt with her issues day to day, I tried all the time to keep gratitude up front.  My friend and I have some of the best resources in the world available to us.  We have great support systems and we have hope that our daughters will be independent and happy, at least some of the time.  Remembering these facts helped me get through.

My second issue is a character defect of mine I’ve been attacking.  Attacking!  Something has been bothering me, and I don’t know why, and I might at times even blame those pesky female hormones.  As I seek to overcome this character defect, at least as much as possible, I’ve looked up prayers about it and read about it and I keep deepening my understanding of it and resistance to it.  I want it to be removed, as much as that is possible, and I’m willing to work for that.

Maybe this all Sounds Mysterious (Step Three continued)

Maybe this all sounds mysterious and remote, something like Einstein’s theory of relativity or a proposition in nuclear physics. It isn’t at all. Let’s look at how practical it actually is. Every man and woman who has joined A.A. and intends to stick has, without realizing it, made a beginning on Step Three. Isn’t it true that in all matters touching upon alcohol, each of them has decided to turn his or her life over to the care, protection, and guidance of Alcoholics Anonymous? Already a willingness has been achieved to cast out one’s own will and one’s own ideas about the alcohol problem in favor of those suggested by A.A. Any willing newcomer feels sure A.A. is the only safe harbor for the foundering vessel he has become. Now if this is not turning one’s will and life over to a newfound Providence, then what is it?

So here possibly lies some of the key to my early chronic relapsing.  It took me six years of drinking and attending AA to finally achieve a sobriety that would last.  I didn’t feel AA was a safe harbor.  Although I believed that the sober members were telling me the truth.  I believed they had been just like me and that through following the program they had achieved sobriety, I was not completely sure that I could.  And I held on to a tiny straw of hope, for the longest time, that although I knew I was alcoholic and that alcoholism always gets worse, I would learn to drink successfully.  So I didn’t entirely give my will concerning alcohol to AA.  Almost all matters, but not completely all.  And I did intend to stick.

Now I’m writing this blog with 32 years of sobriety and counting.  I want to work and rework these principles in my current, sober life.  I suffer still from many disturbances of my peace of mind.  They are nothing like they used to be, and when I was drinking that disturbance was quickly bringing me to my death.  No, sobriety gets better and sobriety is worth it.  If I didn’t have sobriety, I wouldn’t have the life nor the ability to grapple with my current state of mind.

Day to day, alcohol is not an issue for me.  Character defects are.  I cannot completely surrender and abstain from anger and fear, anxiety and jealousy the way I can from alcohol.  There is no religion that would guide me thoroughly enough to give the rest of my life over to it.  There is in me, after all the time, still the hope and faith that by continuing with the program I will continue to improve.  Just grappling with this one paragraph of this one step of this one book has hopefully brought me closer to that ideal me I want to be.  Maybe this is mysterious – impossible to explain.

January 24, 2016 (this day)

IMG_0291It’s very very very very cold outside, and this kitty has made herself a place where the sun comes in the window, the radiator sends up heat, and the curtain cushions her tush and creates a little heat pocket capturing both the sun and the radiator heat.  I should add that this is an inside kitty.  She has never been colder than probably 50 degrees, at the coldest.

Our weather has been cold for a long time.  Below freezing for days and days, and the walls radiate coldness no matter how high the heat is inside.  I used a heating pad to warm my feet at the work the other day.  Still, I far prefer this to heat.  I don’t like driving in the snow though I’ve done it since I could drive, and I haven’t had to yet this year.  It’s a persistent fear and worry that hasn’t left me.  I think that it may have gotten worse since I’ve gotten older, though I *try* to lessen it, seeing the fear and worry as a character defect I would like to allow God to remove.  I don’t allow it.  I hang on.

Along these lines, my daughter has settled for the time being about 360 miles away from me, as opposed to the 540 miles she used to be.  The ride is much nicer now, much more doable, but still I feel an ache about it even as I know it is well within the realm of possibility that she will one day move much farther away.  She lives near her boyfriend’s family, and even as I’m glad she has them there, I am jealous of them and their proximity.  It’s at the top of my mind because my usual defaults for letting go of feelings like jealousy and longing are not working very well on this one.  My daughter occupies a special place in my psyche that I can sense I don’t understand very well myself.

Carole and I are reading some of the materials early AAs used and we are making our way through The Runner’s Bible.

Self-pity must be strangled the moment it is recognized. It is the worm that dieth not. To indulge in self-pity is to tear down your own strongholds. If you have spiritual understanding even in a small degree, you will know that continued misfortune indicates that something is clouding your consciousness of Ever- Present Help, you are engaged in wrong doing, are holding to the belief that some act of the past has power to harm you, are indulging in some form of hate, or you are not protecting yourself as you should “from the fiery darts of evil.” Self-pity has no place in the divine economy, and should be reckoned with worry and regret as agents of death. No cure can come, nor inharmony be banished while any one of these three has control of the thoughts.

This passage has helped me a lot.  I’ve thought of it (when I successfully can) when the thoughts of longing and jealousy have come, and I truly feel these feelings have lessened in me over the week or so that I’ve applied this.  Self-pity, worry and regret as agents of death may sound at first like melodrama.  But it was this point of view that helped me recover from alcoholism.  As an alcoholic I cannot indulge myself in those emotions.  If I do, I put myself in danger of drinking and yes, if I’m lucky, death.   I say “if I’m lucky” because for me drinking caused a lot more damage than death.  Death will come, but all the alcohol-induced damage doesn’t need to come first.

March 4, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0756The weather has been kind of relentless and the people in this part of the world are sick of it!  I didn’t make it to the Thursday meeting last week and I probably won’t tomorrow, either, because of snow and ice and snow and freezing rain and snow and cold and snow.  In my early sobriety it was important to chase the program as enthusiastically as I had chased alcohol.  Now I will go to my home group every week and wait for the weather to clear for the rest!

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I was reading a book (not AA-approved) that said the winners continue to try to get better because they want to, and they should.  The losers wait until the pain is too much to handle, then improve only enough to stop the pain.  It’s an interesting concept.  I didn’t stop drinking until the pain was so bad that I was just about dead.  I think I do now continue to try to get better just  because I should, but mostly nothing motivates me as much as pain does.  Just about everyone in AA got there due to pain.  If, after not drinking for a long time, I still the program as the road map to follow to change myself so that I end up in less pain, I count that as a good thing, and myself as a winner (for today) for sure.

February 1, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0299It’s been almost a year since my daughter moved from a far away place to one even farther away.  Almost a year since my uncle died, at age of 60, from alcohol, and almost a year since his first grandbaby was born.  He never got to see her.

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Now, my daughter is almost 30.  She’s a sobriety baby and she’s never been endangered by my drinking.  She had some rough patches growing up, and I’ve been worried about her probably more than I’ve worried about anything else in my entire life.  But she’s doing really well.  And she’s bought a ticket, a plane ticket, to go to Greece, because she wants to.  She’s going by herself, and she doesn’t speak Greek or know anyone there.  She will go for one week.  That’s all she can get off from her job.  To say I am worried would be a supreme understatement.  But, especially because I have such a long time to get used to this idea, I intend to really, truly do some definitive work on my character defect, worry, which as I understand it is a form of fear.

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I mindfully worked on this and I did pretty well when I agreed to fly to Hawaii and back several years ago.  I’m afraid to fly.  This is a different kind of fear and while yes, it’s a “normal” kind of fear, I believe that I can and should continue to lessen my character defects, no matter how far away I am from a drink, and no matter how called for the defect may be.  I mean, any sane mother would be very worried in my place.  I make no claims on how I would react if something really bad actually did happen to her, but while it’s all hypothetical, I plan to attack this anxiety, this fear, and end up as serene as it’s within my power to be.  And once it all goes well I might even be able to admire a young woman who would do such a thing just because she wanted to, and think that her mother must have done something right.

January 19, 2015 (this day)

I’m worried about my daughter.  Now a big, huge worry.  She’s mostly OK, mostly great.  But not a tiny worry either.  She is having some life stuff go on, and she’s far away from me.  From everyone, really.  And I worry.

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It’s disturbing to me how quickly and completely my mind sinks into worry.  It is, I am sure, one of the most useless, most corrosive emotions I can feel, and I feel it too often.  I “should” be better by now.

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At my meeting on Saturday, the speaker asked for a blessing of sobriety.  I said this then, and I still hold it very dear.  Though I am worried about my daughter, and I’d like to not worry so much, she is not, I’m pretty sure, worried about me.  That’s because of AA.

Illness or Character Defect?

A reader asks:  Lydia, I’m new to your site and much of it makes sense. How ever with the defect issue I have one thing that bothers me. That would be the influence of anyone with a mental illness. To be clear I’m talking about a diagnosis from Mental Health professional and not one of self diagnosis. I struggle with this. Depression for one is an illness and not a defect in character. I struggle with the concept of defect in relationship to mental illness. Where is the line between a defect and an illness? Maybe you addressed it in another post regardless I would be interested in your take on this.
Thanks Doug

******Extremely important disclaimer:  All that’s written here is my opinion only.  I have no special training or credentials.  I have lots of opinions, and when someone asks, I usually will give it.*******

I gave this question a lot of thought, for many reasons.  Critics of AA find fertile ground here.  AA members span the spectrum on what they think about these things.  As I hope we all know, AA is not an inherently safe place, and people can find someone to say just about anything there.

And that’s part of the problem.  Mental illnesses (including alcoholism), physical illnesses, terrible life situations, bad luck.  Alcoholics can and do use all of these to manipulate people including doctors and therapists.  They can and do use all of these things to manipulate the people in their lives.  They can and do use these things to avoid sobriety, to avoid work, to obtain drugs, to get or avoid attention.

I have personally been pregnant and given birth, I’ve had teeth removed and a dental implant, I’ve gone through bad emotional crises in sobriety and I’ve been offered drugs that I didn’t need and that are dangerous to me by doctors who I’ve specifically asked not to do that.

For me, it is incredibly dangerous.  Once the drug enters my system, my ability to think clearly is compromised.  My brain reacts in a way that does not care if my tooth actually hurts beyond my ability to bear it.  It craves the sensation of those drugs and once it has some it wants more.

Sitting here now, sober, I can recognize and avoid all that.  But “what if” I actually need the drug and have to take it?

What if I don’t actually need it and want to take it?

I know people who have gone out and died because of needed pain killers.  I know people who have not been able to bear the psychic pain of depression and who have killed themselves.

Is “depression” a character defect?  I think so, yes, for just about everyone.  Depression as a mental illness is something else that only some people experience.  Personally I absolutely cannot judge what someone else is going through, and this troubles me very much when I’m asked to counsel or sponsor someone who needs to take psychoactive drugs.  I know that they can be easily abused and misused and cause death.  I know that a lack of effective treatment for some mental disorders can cause death.  What I don’t know is the mind of the person I’m talking to, or thinking about.

People who have serious mental illnesses, including depression, or serious physical disorders, in my opinion, may face a much more difficult time achieving and maintaining sobriety than people who do not have those things in addition to alcoholism.  I try to move very very cautiously when I listen to those people.  I’m afraid I usually end up on the side of not being tough enough in my questions about, “Do you really need this drug?”

The thing is it’s just so, so dangerous to take them.  If there’s any way to avoid it, I’m for that.  But of course I realize there is more danger, for some people, to not take them.  Problem is, all of us alcoholics in some way want to be the person who has to take the drug.

So, to answer the question, is there a line between the illness and the character defect?  I think there is, but it’s a dotted line, not a solid line.  A person who has the mental illness can still suffer from the character defect, and probably does, as we all do to some degree.  It may be harder for that person to deal with the character defect.  That said, in my real life I do know some people who have mental illnesses including depression who are successfully sober for long periods of time in AA.  I can’t pretend to know what they go through, but from my staunchly pro-AA standpoint it seems to me they have lives that are so much richer because they work the steps and participate in the fellowship of the program that was in large part designed, by the way, by a famous depressive, Bill W.

October 18, 2014 (this day)

IMG_1217It is so hard to photograph black animals!  This picture from last year’s getaway sent me down the road of thinking about the year.  Last year, we probably exposed the dog to the ticks that gave her Lyme’s.  I don’t know for sure, but she had a bit of a rough year physically.  She may be about ten years old now, getting up there for a dog her size.  She doesn’t follow me up and down the stairs every single time I go now, just most times.

 

Last year at this time, my work partner and her husband took a vacation that would be their last.  He had symptoms that finally compelled him to see a doctor, too late.  His cancer was diagnosed in December, and he died in March.  I spend my days with her and I have done so for 15 years.  She’s ten years older than me, and I try to ready some little part of my heart to accept working without her, to accept living without this dog.  I know that I may not experience these losses, but that I probably will.  If I’m lucky I will.

 

We made that trip last year with some women from AA.  One spent the year since then drinking, on and off.  She’s sober now, back in the fold, trying to embrace AA again as the only lasting answer.  I think, briefly, of what her life would have been like had she stayed sober.  I wonder if she could go back and do it again if she’d be able to stay sober.  I remember the lie my brain – my disease? – would tell me that alcohol would make me feel better, even when it didn’t, even when it hadn’t.  Reality was just too much to bear.

 

Really.  And my reality has never been all that terrible.  Maybe it’s not reality that I couldn’t bear, but just my undrugged self, my real self, my raw self.

 

I’m reading a book about lying.  I’m reading it because, as an investigator, I’m often trying to discover the truth about what happened from people who would rather I didn’t.  Reading about the way we individually view lies and lying made me jump to the program of AA.  I was raised in an average way for my time and place.  I wasn’t raised with strong morals or a serious code of ethics, beyond the regular WASPy-upper-middle-class values that predominated my neighborhood and my schools.  But in AA I learned to consider honesty as a character trait I would like to have, dishonesty as something that is bad and that will lower the quality of my life.  Active alcoholism taught me to lie as much as I needed to get what I wanted, which was a slow kind of suicide.  AA taught me to tell the truth in ever-increasing circumstances and situations and to consider carefully the content of my character.

 

So back to my friend who spent the past year drinking, on and off.  I think that if she had stayed sober that whole time, she’d be at least a little bit further down the road that values concepts like honesty and teaches us how to live them in the real world.  Instead she stayed still, or moved a little farther down the road of death and destruction.