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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Anyone who knows me knows that I love my dogs. I got my first puppy, Dionysus, when I had about 2½ years sober. I had moved into a little efficiency apartment in the Heights area of Houston. I was struggling with loneliness and isolation after sober living. One day, a friend in the program posted on Facebook that his dog had a litter. He lived close by, and impulsively I thought, “Well, I’ll just drive by and look.” When I picked up the first puppy, she wriggled and squirmed. The second, a shockingly tiny thing with big, fluffy ears promptly fell asleep in my arms. I fell in love instantly. I took her home that day and never looked back.
So today, I bring you: Three Life Lessons I Learned from my Dogs.
1. Forgiveness: It is embarrassing to say, but I seemingly made it to adulthood with fully grasping the concept of unconditional love and forgiveness. I just didn’t get it. Instead, I judged people. I held them to impossible standards. When they inevitably let me down, I walked away. I rationalized my behavior in the spirit of self-preservation, without ever understanding the chaos and hurt I left in my wake.
I still had not learned this lesson when I got Dio. I stayed home for the first couple of days I had her, but eventually I had to return to work. I was a waiter, so my shifts were relatively short, and yet, almost every day, I would come home to some sort of puppy induced damage. She chewed through my cable wires, speaker wires, multiple pairs of shoes, my couch cushions, and my linoleum floor. One day she even ate the side of my door. I tried to protect my belongings. I bought her chew toys and bones to no avail. Every single day, as I assessed the new and totally incomprehensible form of destruction, I would become angry. “Dang it, Dio!” I’d say as I stomped my foot. Dio would sense my frustration and momentarily hang her head. And then, much to my surprise, I would instantly forgive her. She, in turn, would instantly forgive me. One day, I realized that there was nothing Dio could ever do that would cause me to stop loving her. She taught me how to love unconditionally.
2. Acceptance: My little apartment had floor to ceiling windows in the front of the apartment. It was one of the original reasons I got the apartment. But at the time, I had not envisioned owning a puppy. Now, had the windows been a normal height, my tiny Dachshund would never have been able to bark at the mailman, the neighbor’s cat, my landlord, bicyclists, walkers, or the kids who lived across the street
The barking was frustrating; I won’t lie. It tended to happen the most just as I was lying down for a nap, and as much as I went “Dio! Shush!” she did not listen to me. Do you know why? Because she is a dog. And dogs bark at things. It is in their nature to do so. So, on some level I had to let Dio be Dio, an insanely protective, vicious, barking attack puppy.
Alcoholics are like that too. We have a shared bond of insecurity and fear, bad judgment and self-centeredness. These shared characteristics are what make us relate so well to each other, and yet, when I see them in you, it drives me crazy. Just sit through a whole meeting for once, dang it! No crosstalk. You can go an hour without smoking. Stop smacking your gum. No need to curse. Eventually, though, I learned that my taking your inventory is not going to do me or you any good. Regardless of how much I wish you would, you will not listen to me. Most often, the life lessons we learn are a direct result of our own personal experience, not things told to us by other insanely controlling people. I learned to let addicts be addicts too.
3. Responsibility: Every family sitcom over the span of television has had the episode where Little Johnny brings home a dog. He wants to keep it. The parents have the inevitable conversation about how owning a dog will teach Little Johnny responsibility.
Dogs require a tremendous about of time and money. Before we go any further, let me tell you that I am not coming at this one from a place of moral superiority. My love for my puppies is equally matched by my procrastination. Even as I type this, I know I am a month overdue for their vet appointment.
There is something about a dog, though, that will eventually warm the heart of even the most cold-hearted, miserly, and selfish addict. Anyone who has a problem sharing their resources should get a pet that requires much from them. Having dogs has taught me that my time and money do not always belong to me. I have cute, lovable, little furry beings that are totally reliant on me for food, health, and safety.
I remember the old Sandra Bullock movie, 28 Days, when they tell her to get a plant. If she could make it a year without the plant dying, she could get a dog. If the dog made it a year without dying, then she could get a relationship. The movie is terrible, but the sentiment is good.
Learning to be a contributing member of society requires one to give of themselves. Sometimes this is difficult. Other people’s character defects can grind on us. Our own behaviors can push people away. But a dog’s loyalty rings true. My sobriety today has been improved by the forgiveness and character of my fierce, little puppies.
New Years is one of my favorite holidays of the year. I think it is about the closest normies ever get to working the program. I mean, let’s admit it; there’s the reflection on past, the admission of shortcomings, and an somewhat earnest attempt to change the negative aspects of their personality or physique. From a young age, I was drawn to this idea (or maybe I was just drawn to New Years because it’s the only holiday based on the self-centeredness.) Anywho, when I got sober, I thought the days of the New Year celebration was over. Little did I know….
So, without any further ado: five ideas for New Year’s celebrating, old school style.
Go Dancing!: I heard a great story once when a friend of mine was getting married. The wedding planner, a woman baffled by sobriety, made the comment that no one was going to dance if there wasn’t any alcohol served. My friend answered something to the effect of, “Well, you haven’t met my friends.”
I honestly think dancing sober is high on AAs list of fears. It only took me one boy-girl dance in middle school, awkwardly dancing in a circle with my friends, to know that sober dancing, for me, was never, ever going to happen. I was a club hopper in my day, but it always took an insane amount of liquid courage to get me out on the floor. So, when I got sober, I naturally thought I had to hang up my dancing shoes.
But then I went to a sober dance. My friends dragged me over to North Wayside on a Saturday night. I was amazed by the sheer number of people out there in the dance floor, cutting a rug, and having a great time. It immediately took all the fear out of the situation for me.
Many AA clubs sponsor sober dances for New Years, and many of those are free. So, grab your nearest sober buddy and have a blast!
Movie Marathon: This one stemmed from a recent conversation I had with my brother. I have never seen Star Wars 4, 5, 6 (Or is it 1,2, and 3? Whatever, the new ones). I feel this is a major gap in my cultural education. I can’t tell Mozart from Bach and I haven’t ever seen the new Star Wars. So, this New Years, I am going to sit down and see arguably the greatest movie I’ve never seen. So, I pass this on to you. What movies are on your bucket list? The Caine Mutiny, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind? Put your feet up, pop the popcorn, and watch away.
Clean House: In my super early days of sobriety, I kept hearing people talk about the importance of “Cleaning house.” I didn’t really understand it. I went home and thought, “They want me to clean my house?” I spent the rest of the night scrubbing down my apartment. Since then, I’ve clearly learned that “cleaning house” is a metaphor for the spiritual inventory that comes from getting down to causes and conditions. But still, in my head, the two cleanings are linked.
My mom always says, “If you haven’t worn it in a year, you’re not gonna wear it.” Throw it out. Donate your clean, slightly used clothes to a women’s halfway house. These women often need clothes befitting their newly sober lifestyles. Additionally, I’ve seen first-hand what perfume and nice bath products like Bath and Body can mean to a newly sober women. These items take on a whole, new level of luxury because many of these women have been struggling so long just to survive, that they have forgotten entirely about small gifts of beauty. Clean out your bathroom closet. Make a nice care package and deliver to a woman’s shelter. This may not be the funnest thing on my list, but I promise you, you’ll feel great afterwards.
Get a Makeover: It’s 2015! Halfway to 2020. Time for a contemporary haircut and some fresh makeup to get you ready to tackle new adventures. Don’t go for the same old same old. Don’t stick with the usual. Go to a new hairdresser and let them choose the style they think would be the most flattering on you. Let go of the control. Then walk over to the Mac make-up counter and ask for a makeover. It’s free. This is not time to play it safe. Let the girls to do it up, and while a Mac makeover can be a bit much for everyday wear, I guarantee you by the time it is over, you will feel awesome. Then buy the florescent blue eye shadow, even if you only wear it in the house on Sundays. Afterall, just because you are sober does not mean there isn’t still a little rocker left in you.
Game Night: Game nights are an opportunity to get together with one’s closest friends and make complete fools of ourselves. Over time, I’ve come to the decision that game nights not only work best with an even number of people, but one needs a variety of fun games and ridiculously junky food. So, call your friends up and invite them over. Tell each one of them to bring their favorite game and their junkiest appetizer (Remember! Resolutions start the next day!) Proper game nights are not for the faint at heart. Get the mini frozen eggrolls and fried cheese. Put the RedBull on ice. Have the stogies at the ready). My favorite games for groups are Taboo, Pictionary, and the old standby, Trivia Pursuit.
There is a total misconception that once we stop drinking, fun has to end. The truth is, AAs are by and large a ridiculous fun and stupidly adventurous group of individuals. Whether its New Year’s skydiving or Polar Bear swimming off Galveston, someone’s bound to be doing it. All you have to do is make a few phone calls. And the greatest thing about whatever it is you do this year? You’ll remember it Jan 2nd.
Happy New Years!
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.
It is fairly rare that someone says something new in a meeting that I have not heard before, but this is exactly what recently happened. The observation came from a line in “How it Works.” “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely” (58). The gentleman in the meeting said that his old ideas included a sense of worthlessness, of insecurity, and feelings of less than.
Even though I generally zone out as “How it Works” is read, for the past week, I have thought about little else. I have always thought those lines had to do with drinking, about my old thoughts with alcohol, about the thoughts of whether or not I could ever drink like a lady. Never once had I considered all the other old ideas I had been holding on to. Now I can think of little else.
Which brings me to Thanksgiving. Letting go of old ideas also means letting go of the family that exists only in my imagination. My family is not the Norman Rockwell idealized greater version of ourselves. We are messy and dysfunctional and alcoholic and brilliant and interesting and funny. My family loves with a big heart, yet shows it in ways that are often misguided and uncomfortable. We think we know what we do not know. Words and deeds, meant to help, often lead to hurt feelings, arguments, and the taking of sides.
I think on some level we all suffer from this misconception of what families and the holidays are suppose to be rather than what they are. There seems to be a certain level or denial or delusion that comes with the holiday season. We gift wrap hurt and cover it with large bows of dysfunction because anything less would be to acknowledge that life is not perfect. “Just smile through it and whatever you do, don’t drink.”
This Thanksgiving, though, my love and I did something totally different. Instead of the traditional meal with family, we went to a friend’s house. While the food was incredible, it was the people that softened me. My friend and her husband are both in the program. And so is her family. And so are our friends. Throughout the day, the program was not sidestepped, but embraced. Gratitude was on everybody’s lips and in their hearts.
I really do not think I have ever had a better Thanksgiving, and yet, it didn’t feel like a “real” Thanksgiving. So, even though I had an amazing day, there is a little asterisks by it as if to say, “Really fantastic runner-up Thanksgiving.”
And that is the idea I need to let go of absolutely.
Measuring my insides by other people’s outsides is bad enough; measuring them to my own expectations is a nightmare. If my life or my holiday season does not go the way that I plan it or wish it does not make my life any lesser than it would be otherwise. It does not speak to some sort of failure. Those are the ideas that exist only in my head. Those are the thoughts of envy and fear. They are the ideas of some insane form of unattainable perfection. They are the thoughts that will get me nil results because they do not amount to anything of value.
What does give me results, what does add value to my life are the same things that give me results and value the rest of the year: AA, my higher power, the steps, service. Those are the ideas worth holding on to. When I can stay in the moment and purely appreciate the people and love that continually show up for me, I realize I am so incredibly blessed. It is that feeling of gratitude that I need to carry forward into the remainder of this season.
Over the past couple of weeks, as the alcohol slowly left her system, she had been overcome with emotions. Feelings of anger gave way to self-pity, which quickly became elation. The day before, having gotten off the phone with her daughter, Lydia found herself in the awkward place of simultaneously crying and laughing. There was such a pall of depression and despair that clung to her life. And yet, for the first time in a very long time, there was also hope.
She had heard in the meetings that sobriety could only be reached when the pain of today exceeded the fear of tomorrow. That seemed to sum up so much for Lydia. She was worried about her impending divorce, about being poor and alone. The sensation was so acute, it made her body her body ache with the desire to drink. If she thought long enough about it, her palms would start to itch and sweat would break out on her upper lip. But it was also this gut wrenching, physical need to escape that had managed to keep her dry for the past two weeks. Lydia didn’t know much, but she knew anything that powerful, that existed inside of her, calling for her own self-destruction, was not good. She knew, in these moments, that if she gave in, she was likely to kill herself. And that terrified her.
The AA club had very quickly become a bastion of security for Lydia. As soon as she pulled into the parking lot, a wave of warmth and security began to replace her fear and insecurity. The club, though not especially lush, had a certain feel of comfort. Three overstuffed couches huddled in the far corner of the main room, next to a flat screen TV. Two tables sat in the middle. It was not uncommon for Lydia to see groups of twos or threes eating lunch, doing schoolwork, or playing a game.
But the people who attracted Lydia’s attention the most were the ones huddled over the hard covered, blue book. It was not very difficult to ascertain who was the sponsor and who was the sponsee. Lydia sat near them sometimes, sipping on her tea, trying at decode the meaning of their conversations.
Sometimes it would appear as if the sponsor and the sponsee were reading together. They would occasionally stop and point to certain lines of the Big Book and have a soft discussion followed by much head nodding.
Sometimes, the women looked like they were having fun. The conversation would revolve around a cup of coffee and a laugh. There seemed to be a comradery about these women and a genuine sense of care and affection. Lydia wondered to herself if she had ever had a relationship such as these women seemed to have. Certainly, she never had it with her own mother and she didn’t have any sisters.
But sometimes the conversations seemed earnest and serious. The two huddled together conspiratorially as the sponsee read from some sort of list or another. Sometimes there was crying. Sometimes a pat on the back. Once Lydia saw both women get on their knees and pray right there in the room. No one else took much notice, as if this sort of thing happened everywhere. But to Lydia, who was never much of a pray-er, this had a profound effect. Like her first meeting and her first sober phone call, Lydia wondered if she would ever get to a point where she would feel comfortable praying. It was right then and there, though, that she decided that if prayer would keep her sober, she would do it.
A few minutes later, as Lydia sat in the meeting, she decided it was time to take the step and ask a woman to be her sponsor. She knew the woman she wanted to ask: Tracy, the college professor. Lydia didn’t know what it would feel like to be beholden to another woman or what it might feel like to confide one’s deepest darkest secrets. A part of her recoiled at the idea, tempted to run away. But another part of her was curious. There was only one way to find out. And besides, the pain of today was greater than the fear of tomorrow.
A man I have come to respect, George G., always says, “Alcoholism is a threefold disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” It makes me smile just thinking about it. Next week is Thanksgiving and it officially marks the beginning of yet another holiday season. The holidays are a stress-filled time with obstacles and pitfalls. In light of that, I decided to take a moment to write down some of the suggestions I have received over the years on how to remain sane over the holidays!
1. Read the Big Book: I had a sponsor who told me that every time, before walking into my parent’s house, I was to read page 66-67. It works. “We realized that the people who had wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like the symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves were sick too. We asked God to help is show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’”
The Sick Man’s Prayer reminds me that I never know exactly what I going on in the mind of anyone else. I have had times when I became angry or said hurtful and intolerant things because I was the one in distress. Oftentimes, it had nothing to do with the other person. They just happened to be in the direct line of fire. I try to keep this very thought in mind during stressful times. If something is directed at me, I think, “Is that a valid complaint?” If not, I do my best to let it go, and turn my thoughts and my hands to service. Which brings us to Number 2…
2. Be of Service: Being of service sounds like drudgery. I tend to think of it more like helping out, being a good sister and aunt. I always try to do something that is helpful. There are a lot of members of my family. Sometimes we are like a tornado. I try to lessen the blow of family gatherings by helping cook or washing dishes. Sometimes my service work is simply playing with my nieces or nephews so that my siblings can have a moment of quiet (that’s the best kind of service because it’s also the funnest!)
Being of service allows for two things. First, it makes me feel good about myself, like I generally made a positive contribution to the gathering. (Something that was not always true in the past.) Second, I feel like if I have to make a quick escape or if I inadvertently say something inappropriate, it gets tempered. “Did you hear what she said?” “No, but did you taste those mash potatoes she made? Yum…”
3. The Car: When I first got sober, I was prone to anxiety attacks. It felt like the room was suddenly closing in and I could not breathe. I learned the only way to end these attacks was to leave, sometimes unceremoniously. First, always drive yourself. Do not be beholden to someone else and their time frames. If you gotta go, then go.
Additionally, my parents have a long driveway only one car width thick. On more than one occasion, I got blocked in. Nothing is worse than needing to leave and having to ask three other people to move their cars to get out. Not only does this make one’s leaving largely conspicuous, there is the additional stress of interrupting conversations and waiting for people to find keys and then while one is finding their keys, another decides to use the restroom… Just park in the street. This same system is also true for valet parking. Nothing is more irritating than having to make mindless conversation with a stranger as you are waiting for a valet to finish his smoke break. Park your car yourself.
4. Just leave: You know, I make this mistake all the time. I want to leave, but I feel guilty, so I stay. As my impatience and anxiety rise (as it always does) the party becomes increasingly more uncomfortable.
Leave the party. If you think you may be too uncomfortable with the whole, “I’m an alcoholic in the midst of an anxiety attack (or craving) and must leave immediately” excuse, come up with a few other’s in advance. Sometimes, beforehand, I say I already have another engagement. “I have to be somewhere at seven.” Then, if I end up staying later, I say, “Well, I was having such a good time, I called and told them I would be late.” This has the additional pleasure of making the host feel happy that their party is such a huge success.
5. Go to a Holiday Meetings: One of the things about Christmas is that everywhere I look, people have more presents, more fun, more everything than me. Even the glow from the Christmas lights makes everyone better looking than me. Envy is a killer, man. It’s useless and pointless.
Because of this, I always try to make it to a meeting on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s. Once again, there are a couple of different benefits to the holiday meeting. First, I think it is important for someone to be there to unlock the door and help the newly sober man or woman make it through his/her first holiday season. Second, this service works in the same vein as sponsorship. By being around the new man during the holidays, I gain gratitude for all that I have rather than wallowing in envy and self-pity.
My list is my no means exhaustive. These are just the ones I have personally come to live by. I know there are a ton more suggestions out there and I would like to hear them. If you want to contribute to the discussion, please post your comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am more than happy to keep your suggestion anonymous.
I hope everyone has a sober and safe Thanksgiving!