If I want to go trolling for a resentment, I spend some time on Facebook. Acquaintances, old high school friends, people I met that time at that place and then never spoke to again, people I assumed were of sound mind when I sent/ accepted the “friend request” will eventually post something that makes me sit up a little straighter, cock my head to one side, and query to myself, “Really?” I think this is where not talking about outside matters in meetings really hinders my ability to discern the average AA crazy from the absolutely-out-of-their- f-ing-gourd crazy.
But I digress. I was mildly minding my own business, voyeuristically peeking in on other people’s worlds last week on Facebook, when I saw a friend had posted a comment about another anonymous person. The diatribe, and a diatribe it was, was about how the anonymous guy had cried while oversharing in a meeting thus making my friend uncomfortable. He posted that one is always supposed to share in generalities in meetings, not specifics. Now, there were many parts of this comment that infuriated me (besides the fact that I totally believe in specific sharing, cause I need to how someone can lose a job, lose a man, get a promotion, get a man, and still not drink).
But what most irritated me was the judgement. By and large, we are a room of thieves, liars, cheaters, brawlers, users, abusers, instigators, runners, petty crooks, and substantial crooks. We done things that would make people cringe. Then we sober up a few years and suddenly, an overshare causes us to rise from the gutter and to declare our stance regarding AA sharing etiquette. I mean really, who was this guy, a person in recovery, to judge another person in recovery? Patience and tolerance is our f-ing code or did he miss that part?! Harrumph with an arm crossed, foot stamp!
And then a new thought occurred to me, a second thought, elusive at first but coming into ever sharper focus. I sat back. I don’t like the comment of a person in recovery as he commented about the share of another person in recovery? Wait a minute… yes, no, yes, wait… I, a person in recovery, is judging the share of another person in recovery as he judges the share of another person in recovery.
And then I had one of those moments of quiet.
Next week is the AA International Convention in Atlanta. I’ll be there. If you are going, give a shout out.
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It’s 1935. A man stands in the wood paneled, dimly lit hallway of an Akron hotel. The man stands there, with his hand in his pockets. The jingling of the coins against one another reminds him of his hotel bill. He does not know how he is going to pay it. He’s busted. The business he had traveled to Ohio to conduct has fallen through. One more hope; one more disappointment.
His wife, back home in New York, has been hoping that this newest opportunity would come to something, anything. In the last years, she has been working at a department store. The hours are long, and the work is hard. He has let her down again.
But she doesn’t know yet. Alone, depressed, hopeless, full of self-pity, he hears the sound of the barroom. The man looks down the hallway. From the far end, a golden light emanates from the doorway. From it he can hear the tinkling of glassware and the slightly too boisterous laughter that stems from such places.
This man has been sober for six months, but now old thoughts turned anew begin to crowd his head. They are the thoughts that after six months, maybe he could take a couple of drinks. They are the thoughts of being a foreign city and that no one knows he is an alcoholic. And maybe just maybe, he could compose himself like a gentleman. All he needs is a few moments to forget his worries, take on a new persona, and talk to a stranger as if they were long lost war buddies. Yes, a few moments is all he needs to feel normal and carefree again.
But the man does not follow his desire. He turns away, and walks slowly in the other direction towards the telephone booth. Maybe he will call his wife. And there, next to the booth, hangs a glass case with the obligatory phone numbers that one always sees but never calls. Listed are the police department and hospitals and clergy. Calmly, the man picks up the phone and began dialing one of the clergymen at random.
I sometimes wonder what it must have felt like to be the only person in AA.
No book. No meeting. No coffeepot.
Just one man.
In a hallway.
I question the fragility of life when so much rests on one man deciding whether to turn right or turn left.
One decision. One turn.
And I wonder of all the other people in recovery who turned the wrong way. I wonder what might have happened if they had turned the other way.
Ever 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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.)
I occasionally tell my students that we all have gaps in our education, things we misunderstood or never really grasped to begin with. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have it wrong. One night in college, I was up late studying biology. I was all alone. It was quiet. Something was not quite right. No one was around to ask, so I just kept staring at the textbook, flipping pages, staring again. According to my book, atoms made up cells, but that couldn’t be right. Cells, I knew, made up material things like people and trees, whereas atoms made up chemicals like oxygen and hydrogen. Yep. That’s what I thought. Sometimes, I tell my students, we just miss obvious things.
Last weekend, I went to my annual women’s retreat. It’s one of my very favorite weekends of the entire year. As usual, I heard many insights into recovery that resonated with me. One, though, (maybe because I fear everyone but me already knows it) has been keeping me up at night.
I have always thought I understood the necessity of the “we” portion of the program. When I was drinking, I felt isolated and alone. Towards the end, I didn’t speak to anyone that was not absolutely necessary: my boss, maybe the check-out person at the liquor store. I know I didn’t have any “real” conversations. The fact that I was chronically and fatally depressed or that my life was a shambles, was never openly admitted, not that I even had someone to tell had I wanted to. When I finally found recovery, I clung to the group, hanging on for dear life. I stuck to the middle of the herd, found a home group, got a sponsor I could be accountable and honest with, performed service work, went on twelve step calls. I did all that things one does when they are trying not to spin off the side of the record.
Last weekend, though, a friend altered my perception of the “we” part of the program. She said something in just the way to tweak it in my mind and bring about a new realization. My friend was re-working her steps. She had done her fourth step inventory, but had yet to meet up with her sponsor. But she had years of sobriety. She had some independence in the issue, so she went ahead and filled out the fourth column. She knew her part and could see the pattern of behaviors. And yet, she had no relief. The thoughts and emotions were still with her, rummaging around in her mind.
My friend realized that relief does not come from the act of writing the fourth step, but of speaking the fifth step. As she put it, until the words were actually spoken, the thoughts still took home in her mind.
Only after she spoke did I realize that my intellectual mind had always supposed something happened with the admission of resentments and faults to ourselves. One would think that simply the admission of transgressions to ourselves would give us something, some kind of relief. But it doesn’t. Half measures avail us nothing. It seems so obvious. I’ve heard it a million times. We admitted we were powerless…We came to believe… our wills and our lives… etc.
The “we” part is not a piece of the program, a part of it that encompasses the social or service portion of the steps. Over here are the meetings and service, and over there are the steps. They do not exist simultaneously but separate. No, the “we” makes up all the other stuff. The “we” is the atom and the steps are the cells. It is the core, the essential, the thing from which all the other stuff is made.
I think missing the group is why people who separate from the program, who think the lessons that they have learned in AA can carry back into the real world without the support of their fellows, never seem to hang on. It seems as if they should. I believe them when they say they have every intention of hanging on. But without the sponsor, without the group, without the speaking of the words aloud to another person, there is no connection and no relief, and therefore, no recovery.
A couple of years ago, through a series of unusual events, I found myself swimming along with my aunt in the sea off the coast of Cancun. My aunt, the wife of a Lutheran minister, is an incredible woman of natural spirituality and grace. So, we were bobbing along in the ocean, talking about life when she said, “It must be interesting to have a relationship where from the beginning, you each knew the worst thing about the other person. So many times, people in relationships try to cover up and hide the worst parts of themselves, hoping the other person will not see it.”
I’ve thought about that sentiment many times over the last couple of years. It is true. When I had two years sober, I got my very first apartment all by myself. Up until then, I had lived in sober living. I was struggling. I had those thoughts of “If I drank, no one would know.” And it scared me. One night I found myself at a ten o’clock meeting. In short time, I found myself comfortably sharing in the quiet dim of the candle light. Free from imagined judgment, I was able to share my deepest insecurities and fears.
It was in this setting that my love and I spent many months sitting across the room from each other, before we ever went for our first cup of coffee. In fact, if you asked him, he would readily admit that he originally felt sorry for the poor, lost girl who didn’t believe in God. What I remember about those times was his honesty in admitting his social anxiety and how we both bonded over our shared hatred of driving. (I do most of the driving now. I figured living in Houston, one had to work through this fear. He’s fine with letting me process my recovery as he sits in the passenger seat.)
I’ve had a lot of conversations with lot of different women over the years regarding whether or not one should date within the program. I know many people who are attracted to the idea of dating a “normie.” I get that. I get the idea of swaying away from the fear of potential relapse and the emotional baggage that follows in the wake of any given alcoholic. “But it is from our twisted relations with family, friends, and society at large that many of us have suffered the most. We have been especially stupid and stubborn about them. The primary fact that we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being,” (Twelve and Twelve page 53) Trying to align oneself with a narcissistically immature misanthrope can be a bad idea.
Yes, there is something to my aunt’s words; we do know the worst about each other. But we also know the best. I know my sweetie wakes up each morning and prays. I know at some point in the day, he will read and meditate and go to a meeting. I know he will talk to another alcoholic and ask that man for a slice of wisdom. I know he will help someone.
And I know with my sweetheart, I never have to apologize for working my own program. I never have to procure a reason for going to a meeting. A sentence like, “I’m going to call my sponsor,” doesn’t send him into a spiral of insecurity. Saying, “I’m crazy and I don’t know why” or bursting into tears for no reason doesn’t require really any more explanation than that. Cause he knows why. I’m an alcoholic and some days are just like that.
Our love is predicated not on fear of relapse but on the combined spirituality and growth that active recovery ensures. I can tell you in all honesty, we are better people today than we were five years ago when we met. Over time, some of the anger, jealousy, and fears have subsided. We have worked through abandonment issues, monetary insecurity. When we argue, phone calls are made and inventories are taken (our own, not each other’s). We look at our character defects, apologize, and make honest attempts to do better next time. But y’know, it is not even how far we have come that calms me; it is the thought of how much more we have to grow. I look forward to seeing what will become of us, for I am sure, “The most satisfactory years of [our] existence lie ahead” (BB 152).
On January 8th, Bob got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said, “Yes.”
I know I haven’t met you yet,
But I’m positive when I do,
We will greet each other like old friends.
I’ll extend my hand to you.
But until that future time comes,
I can only wish you well.
Cause the road you travel down
Is a solitary hell.
Littered with tears and pity,
Shame and sorrow at your side,
You keep trying the same old game again.
The Devil’s in your pride.
So, keep walking down that path you made.
Walk it all alone.
Because you need to fully feel,
The existence you have sown.
But when you reach the point,
Of choosing life or death.
I hope you will reach out for help
With surrendered breath.
For though I walk another path
Your history rings true.
To the very path I used to walk,
Because I was once just like you.