The AA Cliché: It Works if You Work It

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote of walking down the sidewalk, thinking for myself, “Just for today.” It started me down that path of thinking about the other clichés we often find on the walls of the meetings. Anyone who has studied rhetoric for more than a couple of days can tell you that the purpose of the cliché is to wheedle its way inside the brain. Successful clichés are unforgettable, if annoying. “All’s fair in love and war,” and “The early bird gets the worm.”

AA has its own clichés, irritating on even a good day. They appear to be everywhere. “Live and let live,” “One day at a time,” and the passive-aggressive, “Keep coming back.”5 Minutes After the Miracle

I have no balance in my life today. I’ve been working too hard. I think, I am not going to drink tonight, so I afford myself another opportunity to work rather than go to a meeting. Consequently, I know my spiritual condition has taken a hit. I can’t help but sit here and be reminded, “Whatever I place first before my recovery is sure to be the first thing I lose.”

I know other clichés too. I know that “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us” (Twelve and Twelve 90). And I know, “We need not be discouraged when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” And I know “Faith without works is dead” (Big Book 76).

Every once and a while, I have found myself lost in thought, looking at the cliché’s on the wall. In the past, I’ve discounted them as little more than what passes for decoration in AA, but as I sit here in the moment, I have grown in appreciation over the humble cliché and its pithy outlook on recovery. So, today, I’m gonna add the cliché to the “Spiritual toolbox laid at my feet.”

As for the rest, “I’m all right, all ready,” because “Any day I go to bed sober is a good day.” And tomorrow, I’ll “Clean house, trust God and help others.” Afterall, “It works if you work it.”

 

What’s your favorite Cliche? Post here anonymously, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AnnGKroger, or on Twitter @AnnKroger.

 

Will Write for Food

As always, please consider contributing to my writing fund. Even a couple of dollars will make an enormous difference. Thank you.

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I am Responsible

A little before Christmas, I wrote a post, Only God and Santa can Create AA Miracles, about a young outdoorsman who would occasion visit my homegroup. I wrote about the outdoorsman in that way that while I felt his homelessness was tragic, that is was just a matter of time before his miracle was to happen too. I can read the goodwill in my own words, that feeling of sentimentality that only comes in the night during winter.

Sometimes, though, those miracles do not come. Last week, the young outdoorsman’s body was found in a local park.

I think his death has had a serious impact on our little corner of the recovery world. I know his death has profoundly impacted me. I keep trying to think of what we could have said, what we could have done that might have averted this tragedy. I want to reach out to his family and hug them and reassure them and tell them I don’t think there was anything we could have done. And yet, in my heart I know I’m wrong. There is always more we could do.

I wrote my post in December. Now it is May, and I regret it. I regret suggesting that only God and Santa can create AA miracles because that is not good enough. It removes the responsible of the program off my shoulders and on to something/someone else. And that is not what we are taught.For That I am Responsible.

What we are taught is: I am Responsible.  When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there.  And for that:  I am responsible.

AA.org goes on to quote Bill W. “‘The first concern of AA members should be with problem drinkers the movement is still unable to reach,’ Bill said. He estimated that there are 20 million alcoholics in the world today, five million in the U.S. alone. ‘Some cannot be reached because they are not hurt enough, others because they are hurt too much,’ he declared. ‘Many sufferers have mental and emotional complications that seem to foreclose their chances. Yet it would be conservative to estimate that at any particular time there are four million alcoholics in the world who are able, ready and willing to get well if only they knew how. When we remember that in the 30 years of AA’s existence we have reached less than ten per cent of those who might have been willing to approach us, we begin to get an idea of the immensity of our task and of the responsibilities with which we will always be confronted.'”

There are only two sober high schools (Archway and Three Oaks) in all of Houston. The rate of addiction, especially in the youngest members of our society, is disastrous. Their brains are not fully developed enough to make the logical and sound choices that they might have otherwise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Nine percent of 8th graders, 23.5 percent of 10th graders, and 37.4 percent of 12th graders reported past-month use of alcohol… 19.4 percent reported binge drinking.” Although these numbers are lower than in previous years, they still warrant serious attention considering the US department of Health and Human services in their article, “Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue,” states “Young people who begin drinking before the age if 15 have a 40-percent higher risk for developing alcohol abuse or alcoholism some time in their lives than those who wait until age 21 to begin drinking.”

According to HISD in the 2014-2015 school year, there were 46,559 enrolled high school students (In just HISD, not counting Spring Branch, Katy, Spring, Cy Fair, et cetera). If 23.5 percent of these 46,559 (15 being the average age for a 9th-10 grader) drank in the last month, then reason would go to show that 10,941 currently enrolled HISD high schoolers are at a higher chance of developing alcohol abuse or addiction in their later years. 11,000 students. And we have 2 sober high schools.

Yes, there’s more than we can do. We can stop stigmatizing alcohol and drug addiction as a character flaw and instead embrace the years of scientific research that show addiction as a chemical imbalance. We can stop suggesting the the asking of help is somehow a weakness, or that social services is beneath us. We can slow the funding of the criminalization of this disease and instead move funding into rehabilitation, social services, and schools. Yes, there is always more that we can do

That young outdoorsman, we failed him. Now, what are we going to do about it?

Its my responsibility. It’s your responsibility too.

 

Please contact your local school board about funding for local sober high schools.

Cy Fair ISD: (281) 897-4000

HISD: (713) 556-6121

Katy ISD: 281-396-6000

Spring Branch ISD:713-464-1511

 

I would like people to know that there is a vigil on Sunday for the outdoorsman as well as a GOFUNDME to help defray the cost of his funeral. I struggle with the concept of anonymity in this case. Ultimately, with the help of my support group, I am going to err on nondisclosure. If you would like more information, please email me. Until then.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single, Sober Step

AA Ironman I saw something incredible today. I saw a man, 53 years of age, studious and pensive in nature, run an Ironman Triathlon. A 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 55 mile bike ride, and culminating in a 13.1 mile run.

I was in a meeting last week. The topic was along the lines of, “AA is not a cure-all, but without AA very little else is possible.” For the past few days, I have been thinking about that topic. It seems an idea so simple, I find it hard to believe I haven’t heard it before.

I think we all grow up with dreams, with ideas of who we are and who we want to be. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it all falls apart. Genetic determination mixed with anxiety and hurt leaving many of us in a comatose state unable to function. Then we find substances outside of ourselves and immediately, things start to look up. We can talk to people again and dance and sing and laugh. These substances worked so well in fact, that most of us then turned to stronger, more potent, quicker, cheaper, more readily available versions. Along the way, the things we originally desired start to disappear. Friends, jobs, cars, freedom, sanity, but they don’t go immediately, no. At first they go slowly, so slowly we don’t always see the signs, confusing dysfunction with bad luck. In the end, life gets catastrophic enough that even we can finally see the devastation. It is here that one of two things happen: we either sober up or else we don’t.

AA allowed me to put down the drink long enough to connect to a higher power. It showed me how to take an inventory of my behavior, assess my character defects, and choose an alternate existence. AA gave me friends to talk to and a place to go. But it didn’t cure everything. AA hasn’t made me rich or beautiful. AA hasn’t bought me a house or gotten me into graduate school. AA hasn’t won me the Pulitzer Prize or made my life into a Lifetime movie. And it definitely hasn’t made me able to compete in an Ironman.

But I could.

And that’s the thing. Without sobriety, nothing is possible. Without sobriety, I would be stuck in that continuing vortex of self pitying, self-delusioned obsession.

With AA, there is a chance. It has taken me eight years to begin to understand what the full potential of my life with AA can be. “There you will find release from care, boredom and worry. Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. Thus we find the fellowship and so will you,” (152). So true.

The journey of a thousand miles or of 70.3 begins with a single, sober step.

Will Write for Food
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Just for Today

Fat Hobo** So I have decided to limit my posting to Sunday night/ Monday morning, instead of twice a week. Writing has followed the path of sobriety; so much awesomenesses have come out of this post that it hard to set aside time to post anymore. For those of you who like Lydia, I have been working on her storyline. I will start posting parts of her story or simply adding new chunks under her and Henry’s pages around the beginning of June. I’ll keep you updated.**

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I do not know what it is about me that is never once satisfied with the suggested serving size of anything. Two Advil. One glass of red wine. One piece of dark chocolate. Driving home last night, I was thinking about 4oz of protein. The size of a deck of cards. What is that? If I ordered a steak at a restaurant and they brought me a steak the size of a deck of cards, I wouldn’t know what to make of it.

Hence, my problem.

This week, I came to a bottom. A food bottom. I was gonna say, “a new bottom,” but I have reached this particular bottom before. So, it is not so much new as, “Ahoy, I didn’t see you lurking there,” kinda food bottom. Argh!

The thing that should not be surprising, and yet surprised me none-the-less, has been how this recent admission of surrender has brought forth all the same emotions as when I first got sober. Not to the same degree, I admit. I am not trying to stop a cycle of addiction while battling homelessness and unemployment. The physical destruction of my addiction is fairly minimal. But what I am feeling, the emotional part of the decision to address my food issues, feels very familiar.

Yesterday, I was walking down the sidewalk of my apartment complex. My stomach was growling, and just like that, a torrent of thoughts and justifications flooded my brain in a milli-second’s time. Maybe I could have just a little. I could start again tomorrow. It is awkward to think about how easily these thoughts came. And a little scary. It was a reminder of the alcoholic obsession I come from and how quickly I could return.

But as quickly as these thoughts came, other thoughts followed. “One day at a time, one minute at a time.” “All right already.” And the ever irritating, “Keep coming back.”

Y’know, then I walked into the rooms of AA, I never thought it would work. I thought the steps and spirituality and all of it was just too esoteric and not concrete enough to offer anything like a real solution. But it did work. Working the steps worked. And being around other addicts worked. Talking worked and service worked. And I know, when I live my life in the spiritual realm instead of the physical realm, that works too. It doesn’t matter if it is food or drugs or alcohol. I know when I apply the steps in my life, things are bound to get better. I just have to hang on long enough for the recovery to set in.

Today, I have the gift of second thought. AA has taught me that. I do not have to act on my first impulse. I can pause long enough to remember there is a solution. And just because I want to eat or drink, does not mean I have to. Just for today.

 

Will Write for Food

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Another Day, Another Dollar

Will Write for FoodEver since high school, from the moment I understood I had no one with whom I could confide in except the written page, I wanted to be a writer. Over time, I grew confident in my ability. I knew I had it within me. My problem was I also had burgeoning alcoholism in me too.

The disease of alcoholism is rich in complexity. It pulls us from under while supplying us with visions of glory. It destroys dreams while simultaneously building up the nothingness of accomplishment. It was in this fog that I practice my craft. I spent many years writing my nights away. All those pages, though, were nothing more than laments on my dissatisfaction with life, a young girl’s struggle for place. It never amounted to anything more than a binder full of drunken, self-pitying ramblings not worthy of reading.

Ironically, when I finally got sober, I found I could not write. The mere thought of writing made my mouth water. If I sat down at the keyboard, I found my hand involuntarily reaching for the tumbler of vodka that was not there. The sensation was so upsetting, I eventually turned off the computer for good and walked away. I thought that if a sacrifice of sobriety was that I could not write, then that was a price I was willing to pay. After all, neither the writing nor the drinking had ever amounted to anything of value.

It would be years before I wrote again.

Last year, I found I was still claustrophobic with fear. I had a dream, but I lacked the courage to follow that dream. I feared my writing was nothing more than alcohol induced delusions. I feared that even if I did write, no one would read it. I feared that if they did read it, people would not like it. I thought I would suffer backlash from my job, from my students, and yes, from AAs for breaking my anonymity.

What I learned was that my fears were largely unfounded. I learned that most people, maybe out of sheer respect for the human condition, are really quite kind to those who try. Negative criticism has been rare, while positive support has been vocal. Additionally, my AA community has really embraced my blog. One alcoholic friend recently told me that while her and my beliefs are on opposite side of the faith spectrum, my interpretation of the Big Book was worthy of being read. And then there was the day when one of my high school students came up to me after class and told me he found my blog. As my eyes filled with tears, he whispered, “You are helping people.”

And now, my yearlong experiment in myself is drawing to a close. For some time, I have been contemplating what my next steps should be. But in my heart, I know. I am ready to suffer the criticism of professionals. It is time to take a deep breath and send my stories out into the world.

So… it is with a trepidation that I have decided to pass the metaphorical hobo hat; I’ve decided to add a place to make donations to my blog via PayPal. I realize the potential non-existence that could easily occur as a result of asking alcoholics to part with their money, but I figured it is worth a shot. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned what can happen when I simply have the humility to ask. My hope is that with enough small donations, I will be support myself long enough to begin piecing Lydia into an actual collection of short stories or maybe even a novel.

If you have read my blog over the past year and liked it (or even if you didn’t like it, but you read it anyways) maybe you could consider tipping the author a dollar or two or ten. I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,

AGK

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P.S. Even if you don’t contribute, I hope you still will continue to read and comment. It makes me happy.

P.P.S. If you make a donation or twenty dollars or more and let me know through email (agkroger@gmail.com) or on Facebook, I’ll draw you in hobo form and mail it to you. (Or if you live in Houston and are one of the ones who clamor for it, I will make you a jar of my green salsa.)

AA’s Success Rate

AA Success RateI was having a conversation with a co-worker. He graduated last year with a degree in psychology and is currently making steps to return to school to get his doctoral degree. I went to him because I had a question regarding an article I was reading. The article labeled AA as a failure because it is undirected group therapy.

Here is what he replied: “AA just doesn’t work. It has like a 98 percent failure rate.”

So I asked… “Which AAs are included in the studies of failure? I mean, who’s counted? Court appointed, once a week meeting goers, does that qualify someone as AA? Or is it based on a people who already have a foothold in the program? Over what period of time was the study? Cause over the course of a lifetime, people who come and go, sometimes come back and stay.”

Now, I have to cut my co-worker some slack. He really is an intelligent and charming individual. He just doesn’t know what he is talking about. And here’s the thing; I don’t think most doctors or psychologists or normies do. The people who tend to know the most about our disease of alcoholism and addiction seem to be us, the ones who have it (or at least the ones who know they have it). Doctors and psychologists seem to have no more insight into alcoholism than they had eighty years ago.

So, here is my totally unprofessional opinion regarding recidivism. I started out in AA totally wasted with a zero chance of not drinking for the rest of the day. I mean every day I wanted not to drink, but every night I ended up drunk. By myself, I had zero chance. Then one day, a miracle happened, and I had just a smidgen more willpower or disgust or stubbornness or something than I had just a few moments before. I don’t know how long this miracle lasts. For some people, I suspect it only lasts a few minutes. So, in those few moments, I needed to do something.

I think if I started at 0% and went to a meeting, I go up to about 5%. I start praying or else tapping into some kind of faith that maybe, just maybe, I can be sober for the rest of the day. I help someone. I am at 20%. I read the Big Book. 25%. Changing people, places, and things adds a few more percentage points. Sober living gives me lot more percentage points. Now, I’m up to 50%. I get a boyfriend, and I fall back down to 40%. I get sober friends who themselves are dedicated to being sober, and then I tell them everything that makes me cry at night. Back up to 50%. I get a sponsor. And I work the steps. And then I work them again. And then I work them again. And now I am 8 years sober.

I told my sweetie about what my co-worker said about AA not working. My love said, “I don’t care what he says. AA has a 100% success rate for me. And that’s all I really care about.” And he’s right.

I went that night to chair my usual meeting. It’s a small group, intimate. I’ve been sitting in a that room with some of these people a couple days a week for years now. I know them. I know their weaknesses and failures, their successes and growth.

About halfway through the hour, I looked out upon the group and started counting up years. B has 30-some years. S has another 20. B and A have 5. C has 4. J is closing in on a year. And R has come back and now has 5 months. And over there, in the corner, my sweetie has eight years.

Psychologists all over the world can tell me AA doesn’t work. What I know, is in that moment, in that meeting at 10:30 on a Wednesday night, ten people who normally would have been drunk weren’t. And to me, that’s 100% success rate.

A Disease of Perception

The HoboatorHouston has its own wrestling TV show called Reality of Wrestling. I am going to give Booker T. a plug because if you have not seen it, you should. It’s on at 1 AM Saturday night/Sunday morning on channel 57 (The Cube). It’s super awesome, old school wrestling in the overly dramatic, absurd kind of way. For the past few months, my sweetie and I have started a new routine. We attend our usual 10 o’clock candlelight meeting, go out to dinner, and then come home in time for wrestling. Though I cannot believe how lame we are, what I really cannot believe is how much I like it.

My sponsee and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about the idea that addiction is a disease of perception. I’ve never really been a happy person. I’m more the glass half empty, life has no meaning kinda girl. But I crave happiness. I desire it. I search for it like an explorer looking for El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth. For years, I traversed the bar scene, drinking and talking. I met not so interesting people. I played jukeboxes and shot pool. I skipped lines and got after-hours pulls.

Looking back, though, what’s incredibly awkward is I do not think I had a moment of pure joy the entire time I was out there. I thought I did. I thought I was having fun, because in some messed up sense it was fun, compared to the rest of my life. On my happiness scale of one to ten, I continually fell around a 2; I was genuinely unhappy. I then go out and drink, some gross boy flirts with me, tells me I’m pretty, and suddenly I’m like a 4. But I am never really happy; I’m just better than I was. I had mistaken happiness.

What the steps of AA do is alter my perception of my life through gradual acts that help change my perception of myself. Simple things: I look at my past acts, things I have done that have hurt others and try to rectify them. I look at the parts of my character that I do not like and try to engage new and better habits. It is cognitive therapy at its finest. “… huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them” (Big Book 27).

One of my favorite AAs in the world said something once that continues to resonate with me over time. He said, “I use to pray to God to make me a better dresser. But God did one better, he made me not care.” That is the emotional displacement that occurred as a result of the steps. Those are the parts of AA that make me say, “Oh, yeah. That’s right. Better dressing isn’t that important to me. Good character is.”

AA didn’t make me thin or tan or an optimist. What AA has done is help continually correct my faulty perception that being those attributes are going to make me happy. What the steps have done, what acting myself into right behavior has done, is improve, not my perceived life, but my genuine life. So today, on my happiness scale, I run about a six, but six is better than four. And the happiness I spent years looking for…? Well, I found it on my sofa, in my pajamas, watching ridiculously awesome wrestling.