Sobering Up a Horse Thief

Horse Thief

In the past week, I was confronted with two particularly acute displays of the alcoholic mind at work. While both incidents initially inspired a fairly strong emotional response from me, a little sleep and some separation from the tantrums have allowed me to see the outbursts for what they really are: alcoholic cries for attention and control.

As anyone in AA knows, the disease of addiction is three fold. There is a physical component- From the moment my brain registers the intake of a foreign chemical inside my body, it instantly demands more. But there are two more elusive parts to alcoholism. These are the emotional and spiritual aspects of the disease. I think the spiritual and emotional bankruptcies are the parts of the disease that most alcoholics like to disregard in the misguided attempt at supposed normalcy. I’ve come to the conclusion though, as have most of the AAs I know, that that alcoholic’s shared psychological defectives and behaviors are a very real manifestation of our disease.

My trying to figure out my alcoholism is much like the causality dilemma of the chicken or the egg. Was I born genetically prone to alcoholism and developed the emotional and corollary psychological issues? Or did my reaction to my psychological issues result in my dependence upon escape? Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters which came first. Years of selfish behavior, putting our drinking before any and all others, daily participation in the process of demoralization and self-loathing has a lasting effect on the alcoholic. The idea that we, people who have such a capacity for caring, can also be the catalyst for so much hurt, leaves a profound scar on our emotional psyche. We have an uncontrollable need to dominate and manipulate all those around us, sure that if they only did what we thought was right, our life would finally meet our satisfaction. When they do not or when life inevitably fails to meet our preconceived expectations, we get angry. We eventually end up isolating, locking ourselves up in our houses so no one can see our growing insanity and self-destruction.

I like the statement, sober up a horse thief and all you have is a sober horse thief. It cuts to the chase. And yet, I think it is time to call it for what it is. Sober up a psychologically unstable, selfish, hurtful, dominating, manipulative, angry, isolating, self-destructive alcoholic and what you get is a psychologically unstable, selfish, hurtful, dominating, manipulative, angry, isolating, self-destructive person.

And that is what AA attempts to address. AA truly is not about the not drinking. It is about squaring one shoulders to all the years of bad acts. It is about taking responsibility. And then working daily to not repeat mistakes or fall back on the old behaviors of harmful and callous words or deeds.

This week, when confronted with these incidents of rampant alcoholic nuttiness, I wanted to respond. But then I remembered my old sponsors advice, “Do not engage.” I do not need to match crazy for crazy. I do not need to be brought down to the level of poorly chosen words and bad timing. I do not need to hurt others. Those are the acts of yesterday. I am in today.

Today when I am hurt, I call sober people and go to meetings and work with others. That does not come natural. I was taught that in the rooms. I learned that from the steps. Today, I rise above my lesser self. And tonight, I will sleep easy.

The Spiritual Tools are Laid at my Feet. Now if I Just Picked Them up.

Spiritual ToolsHere’s how it went down: First we got in an argument. Not a real argument, a baby one. A spat. The kind of argument a couple has when they’ve been together for a while and one of them, namely him, thinks he is being funny and the other one, namely me, doesn’t. And so I walked away.

But then, shoot, I needed to remind him to do something, so I texted him. No response. So, I texted him again, nice this time, please and thank you. Still no response. I texted him a third time, a little huff in this text. Silence. Here is where most people would stop, thinking that maybe he just needed a little time to himself, but not I. I texted him again. Indignant and self-righteous. And again. Self-pity. As I look back over the texts, I can see the downward spiral of alcoholic thinking from sanity to anger to self-aggrandized woe is me.

Three hours later, his text messages started rolling in. “Hey. I haven’t heard from you all day and then a few minutes ago, I got a whole bunch of texts.” And “I’m sorry.” And the kicker… “I called the guy. I sent you an email telling you everything he said.” Turns out the cell phone system was down. He hadn’t receive any of my text messages over the course of the whole day.

“It is plain to see that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while… we began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill,” (BB 66).

“The wrong-doings of others, fancied or real.”

I cannot even begin to tell you how vivid my imagination is. It will highjack my thoughts in an instant. To prove it, I spent the entire day obsessed at something that existed only in my mind. By the time I realized my mistake, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I had, in fact, completely squandered my day.

An any given point in those eight hours, I could have written a quick gratitude list of all the things he does for me. I could have meditated. I could have done a spot check inventory. I could have simply given him the benefit of the doubt. If he needed space, I should have given it to him. If I was worried, I should have called him, like big people do, instead of continuing to text. If I didn’t want to call him, I could have called a friend or read the book. The friend would have told me I was being crazy. The book would have reinforced it.

AA has given me the tools to deal with life, but I have to be willing to pick them up and use them. The Big Book tells me, “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it,” (83). I cannot find acceptance through osmosis. I cannot retain sanity through blind wishing. I have to work towards it.

Luckily, I did no lasting damage to my relationship. We mended fences quickly and moved on. But my crazy has left a lasting impression on me. It was a reminder, a little nudge, that I will never be so sane that I do not have to work this program. And thank goodness for that.

Third Day of Sobriety

Obsession

Usually, even the worst of us can stay off the drink for a day or two if we are seriously motivated by the adequate amount of force and calamity. The real trouble often begins around day three when the brain starts to convince one that maybe they have made too big a deal over whatever currently has them in a knot. I can stop. It ain’t no thing. I bet I could have one beer or two. Everything will be okay.

********************************************************************************************************************************

Lydia was conscience of being awake long before any move was made to get up out of bed. Instead, she laid there in the semi darkness of the curtained bedroom and tried to assess her physical and mental state of being.

The rhythmic beating of her heart seemed to pulsate throughout her body. She sensed she could feel the blood running through her arteries and back again. Next Lydia moved on to her stomach. She had eaten too much last night. In the mood to ride the wave of hunger, Lydia gorged on junk food and ice cream. It had made her feel better in the moment, but as the laid down to sleep, her stomach, unused to such sustenance, surged and gurgled. But by morning, everything seemed to be quiet again. With her eyes still closed, Lydia promised to take it easy with the food today.

As to her mental state, Lydia did not want to get out of bed. She had an odd sense of energy running through her, and yet simultaneously, she was so exhausted, she thought she could easy melt back into sleep. She had only fallen asleep a few short hours ago after hours of trying. Stress, fear, questions, had raced in her mind for an unendurable length of time. Having awoken to a sense of calm, Lydia was unwilling to let go even as her body was aching for movement and a shower. Lydia opened one eye, then the other, as the realization slowly started coming into focus. She couldn’t quite think through the thought. It was still fuzzy and out of focus. And yet there it was.

Her body seemed to be resisting the choices her mind was making. Was her whole life an ongoing battle between the desires of her mind and the reality of her body? How could that be? Weren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t the body support the mind? Wasn’t the mind the superior entity?

With a shake of her head, Lydia dislodged the thought and moved off towards the shower.

 

As she pulled into the mall parking lot, Lydia realized going to the meeting was a little easier than the day before and a lot earlier than the day before that. She was starting to get a feel for the layout of the club. She was starting to recognize some of the faces. If it wasn’t home exactly, at least it wasn’t terrifying.

Lydia ordered a hot tea and made for the meeting room. She was a few minutes early, and the room was empty. Lydia had realized over the last couple of days that people tended to walk through the door just as the meeting was starting. Lydia walked over to the large poster on the wall labeled, “The Twelve Steps.”

“Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Powerless over alcohol.” Lydia knew from endless TV shows and movie, from culture, that admission of the problem was the first step. But it looked different in this format. Powerless. It sounded so much more ominous and permanent and old fashioned than a simple, “Admitted we occasionally drank too much” or “Admitted we sometimes got a little out of control.” Lydia wasn’t even sure if she knew what that word mean. Powerless. Lydia kept rolling the word around in her mouth, tasting it on the tip of her tongue. Lydia was conscious to pick a seat for the meeting that had a full view of the steps. She took a sip of her hot tea. Powerless.

No Matter What

Tidal Wave

I remember watching John Cusack’s movie 2012 a few years ago. I don’t exactly remember the plot, but I do remember at some point, a giant tidal wave is about to engulf a cruise ship. The captain of the ship, a man depicted to have some length of sobriety, takes a drink in the last moments of his life. I thought a lot about that drink over the course of the day. Later that night, I went to a meeting and questioned my sobriety: if death were an absolute certainty, would I drink? In response, two of my dearest friends told me it was time to join the “No Matter What” club. No matter what happens today, I will not drink. No matter what. There is no caveat if something happens to a parent or a loved one. If the man leaves. If the job is lost. If the tidal wave bears down.

I think in early sobriety, we can sidestep the idea of being sober forever. Although we sometimes minimize it by saying just, “Put the plug in the jug,” setting aside a drink for a day or two or eight is extremely difficult.Thinking about never having the crutch of alcohol ever again was, for me, really and incredibly terrifying. As a person who drank every day, I had zero conception how not to drink. I needed the option to drink again. I needed the freedom to say, “If I want to drink tomorrow, I will drink tomorrow, but I will stay sober today.” For the first two years of my sobriety, every morning in the shower I would say, “Today, I am not going to drink,” like a mantra. Some days, I sat on the floor of my shower and cried. Some days I screamed in rage at God. But every day, I said, “My name is Ann and I am an alcoholic. And today, I am not going to drink.” And it worked.

But at some point, when the boot of alcohol what removed from my throat, my life just became more life-ish. Small and large events happened that made me want to disappear for a little bit, a few hours. I craved a little escape, a break, a time out. And that is when the not drinking actually became harder.

When AAs talk about the first year as a gift, that is what they are talking about. It’s one thing not to drink when the chips are down and I’m facing an eviction and I have zero friends and no job. It’s another thing to not drink when I’m all alone at night and there’s every reason in the world to drink and no one to stop me. It’s been in those dark hours that I’ve held on to my sobriety with both hands and the idea of “No Matter What.”

I’ve come to the realization over the years that the conscience decision to not drink regardless of any situation is the great determinant between those that stay sober for the duration and those who do not. I think at some point in our sobriety, we have to look in the mirror, look ourselves in the eye, and make the resolution to not drink, no matter what.

Day Two of Sobriety

Alcoholic Hobo

As the second morning of her sobriety turned into her second afternoon of sobriety, Lydia found herself increasingly restless. She had tried to watch TV, but TV had made her want a glass of wine. She had tried to clean, but cleaning made her want a glass of Vodka. Lydia didn’t want to go shopping or call up a friend, two additional activities that usually ended with cocktails. The country club seemed an equally bad idea, and also there might have been an incident the last time she was there. Sigh. There was, Lydia realized, little she did that didn’t involve drinking. By two o’clock Lydia found herself walking in circles from her living room to her kitchen to the dining room to the foyer and back to the living room.

With a sigh, Lydia grabbed her keys and purse and walked out the backdoor.

As she entered the club, Lydia saw it was a little busier than the day before. Several men were watching television and throwing cards and a small group of women sat around a table talking. She ordered a hot tea from the coffee bar and was about to go sit in the meeting room when she heard her name. One of the girls at the table was waving. It was Aiyana from the day before, the girl who had collected the phone numbers for her. “Hey. Hey Lydia. Over here.”

As she moved towards the table, Lydia suddenly as if she was an awkward teenager on the first day of school and the cool girls had just invited her over to their lunch table.

“How are you?”

Lydia had every intention of answering in her customarily dismissive way, but to her surprise the simple, “I don’t know,” came out. All three of the women paused momentarily and then began to subtly nod in acknowledgment and understanding.

The two women with Aiyana were around the same age as Lydia. The one introduced as Tracy was an English professor at the University of Houston. June was a stay at home mom. Lydia was a bit surprised how normal the women seemed. They inquired as to how she was feeling and if they could do anything for her. For a few minutes, Lydia could have easily convinced herself that she was out to lunch with some of her closest girlfriends; well, only if girlfriends had been candid and kind.

After a few minutes, the group moved towards the meeting room. Lydia noticed some of the same people as the day before. Paul was there. Sammy was too. Tessie came in a little late and waved as she took her seat. Lydia tried to follow the readings, but she had trouble keeping up. It seemed like a lot of information. She watched as some of the people smiled knowingly and still others settled themselves in for the meeting, sipping coffee. Once again, Lydia was somehow surprised at how normal they all looked. She didn’t realize it yesterday, but as she looked over the faces, there seemed to be a general cross section of age and race and gender. Lydia realized she thought alcoholics were mostly hobos with scraggly beards and mended tops hats with flowers sticking out of the top. But these people looked like students and housewives and executives and mechanics, like people.

The meeting went by quickly. The topic was about fear. Lydia couldn’t figure out what fear had to do with alcohol. After the meeting, she thought about asking Aiyana, but changed her mind. It was getting late and she once again felt overwhelmed and exhausted. And hungry. As she walked to her car, Lydia looked up at the late afternoon sky and smiled. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been hungry.

Day 1: Desire Chip

Desire CHip

There is a psychology to drinking. Everything has to be just so. Not at the end, though. The end is a fabrication, a lie we tell ourselves. We are not drunks. We are misunderstood. Put upon. Lied to. We are cultured, educated, not of this world. Outside is a cruel existence which tramples on our inner souls. So we push people away with both hands and a “Fuck You” to boot. We are lost, confused, scared. We live in continual fear of other people and of ourselves. We fear what we have done. We fear what we still need to do. The thoughts which lie inside our head, coupled with our erratic emotional state, make us feel like all of life is insurmountable. And then we want to die.

 

It was an oppressively bright, sunny day as Lydia drove to the meeting. It was hot. Too hot. Too bright. The kind of hot and bright that only comes in late August as everyone curses yet another cerulean day. Houstonians choked on smog as sweat came rolling down their foreheads and into their eyes. Lydia turned up the air conditioner another notch and dreamed of October.

Her brain was in a fog. It made it hard to think, but she figured that was probably a good thing. If she had stopped and seriously thought about what she was about to do, she knew she would not go. So instead, Lydia concentrated on trying to find the defunct place in the defunct mall that she knew none of her friends shopped at ever.

Lydia tentatively stepped into the club, one foot and then the other, as if the mere stepping into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting branded one for life. She looked to either side of her, and sighed a sigh of relief as she realized she was mostly alone in the room. She was scared someone would try to talk to her. She didn’t want to talk. She wouldn’t have been able to express herself anyways. Lydia tried to look like she belonged in this room, while simultaneously fearing she really did belong. Lydia suddenly thought of the Groucho Marx joke, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept people like me as a member.” She smiled to herself. Lately it seemed if all of life was some sort of cruel, inside joke that she could not understand.

She looked down at her watch. The meeting was supposed to start in ten minutes. Maybe she had the wrong time. There were a couple people smoking out front, two women at a table in the corner reading a book, and a man selling coffee. Lydia smirked; maybe the other members had decided to go out for a midafternoon cocktail.

Lydia looked around the club. It was bigger that she thought it would be. And comfortable. Was comfortable the word? Anyways, it was clean. Off to the side was a large room. Lydia figured it was the meeting room from the way the chairs were arranged. It was an inoffensive beige color. Along the walls were pithy sayings, “First things first” and “Think, think, think” and the infamous twelve steps. Lydia shook her head. This was her salvation? More like a farce. She should leave, she thought. But somewhere in the back of her head, Lydia could just not make the motion happen to walk out. Instead, she hung her head and silently began to cry. What was to become of her?

A minute later, laughter started migrating towards the room. Lydia quickly wiped her eyes. She took a seat in the back row and righted her shoulders. It’s going to be okay, she whispered unconvincingly to herself. The door of the room opened, and four middle-aged men entered the room. Several of them were involved in a conversation that Lydia could not seem to follow. It may have been about fishing. Or Women. Instantly, Lydia was transfixed. All four men seemed to be happy, arguing in a good-natured way. Lydia realized she had not seen anyone genuinely laugh in a very long time. Life had been so difficult. So sad.

Suddenly, Lydia caught the eye of one of the men. Although she quickly averted her gaze, she was not quick enough. The man walked over to her, and stuck out his hand. “I’m Paul.”

Instantly, Lydia realized she should use a fake name. What’s her name? Her name? Her name? Lydia rung her hands trying to think her way out of the name situation as Paul stood staring at her.

“Ummm… Don’t take this the wrong way ma’am, but you new here?”

Lydia stared at the kind man blankly, still unable to come up with a name, and burst into tears anew.

“Guys, we got a new one here.” By this time all four men stood staring at Lydia.

“I know they say don’t pass the Kleenex box, but man, I hate to see them cry,” said one of the men.

“Shit, she’s fine.”

“It’ll get better. I promise.” Paul turned to the man by the door, “Sammy, get one of them girls up in here.”

A minute later, Lydia looked up as Sammy returned with a young girl in her twenties. She was pretty in tight blue jeans and long blonde hair. She flashed Lydia a smile full of promise and confidence. Lydia looked into her face for a second before she lowered her head back down. But even in that moment, Lydia knew something was different about the stranger. The woman looked neither fearful nor anxious. There was a calm to her that seemed to fill the room. Two of the men took seats on the opposite side of the room against the wall, while Paul and Sammy sat in the two wing chairs at the front of the room. All four men continued to talk in lowered tones. The mood in the room at shifted subtly as people began filing in through the double doors.

The girl who returned with Sammy took the seat next to Lydia. She did not speak. She just very quietly took Lydia’s right hand and held it in her own. At first Lydia was startled by the singular act. Lydia had not felt the touch of sincerity in a long time. The woman’s hand was warm. As Lydia returned the grasp, she could feel a sense of peace work up her arm and enter her body.

A moment later, Sammy began to talk. “Welcome to the regular 3:15 meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Lydia tried her best to concentrate, to understand all the things that people were saying. Many people seemed to be talking about how and why they got sober. Some of the stories seemed to be funny because people were laughing. But as hard as she tried, Lydia could not seem to grasp what was happening around her. All she knew was that she could not stop crying, and that for the whole hour, Lydia’s hand was wrapped in a warm embrace of a complete stranger.

By the end of the meeting, Lydia was exhausted. She had cried herself dry and now all she wanted was a warm bed. Lydia felt pressure on her hand. She looked up and into the comforting eyes of the girl. “At the end of the meeting, Sammy will ask if anyone wants a Desire Chip. A Desire Chip is a personal commitment to stay sober for the next twenty-four hours. If you want one, you will have to walk up there by yourself and get it.” Lydia let this information sink it. Twenty-four hours without a drink. It seemed such a short time, one day, what was one day? And yet, the idea of not drinking was petrifying. Suddenly, Lydia realized that the room had become quiet, and everyone was looking at her. Apprehension and fear fill the air. Slowly, Lydia raised her body and walked to the front of the room. In Sammy’s outstretched hand, was a circular, silver coin that looked like a half dollar. Lydia took the coin and looked at it. Sammy moved to give Lydia a hug. It caught her off guard. And yet, as Lydia took the hug offered, she could almost feel her body absorb strength and compassion. Paul then stepped forward. He gave Lydia a hug that felt like forgiveness. It all happened too quickly, felt so foreign, and so beautiful. Lydia turned to walk back to her seat and for the first time realized that the entire room was clapping for her. She blushed crimson as she made her way back to her seat.

As she sat, from behind her, somebody slapped her on the back, “Its made from recycled beer cans. If you put it on your tongue and it melts, it means you can drink.” The man broke out in laughter at his own joke. The woman next to him giggled. Lydia looked down the coin they called a “Desire Chip.” It was made of a thin, light metal. On one side of the chip was a prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The other side of the Desire Chip had a triangle on it with the words, “Unity, Service, Recovery.” Along the top was the statement, “To thine own self be true.” Lydia turned the coin over and over in her hands as announcements were made. There was no way she was going to put that chip in her mouth.

Lydia looked up as everyone began to stand. The pretty girl once again helped Lydia. “We close the meeting by holding hands in a circle and saying the Lord’s Prayer.” Lydia could not helped but be surprised as her other hand was grabbed by a young man. He could not have been more than twenty. “Congratulations. Keep coming back.” Lydia just looked at him and nodded. She did not know what to say. This kid wasn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol.

Then the meeting ended. Some people clapped. Some began talking. Some simply left. Lydia looked around, amazed at what she had just experienced. “Congratulations. I’m Aiyana.” Lydia turned around and saw a young Indian woman with beautiful, deep brown eyes. “We passed around a newcomer packet during the meeting. All the women’s phone numbers are on it. You can call any of us anytime you need to talk.”

Lydia took the outstretched envelope. On one side were about twenty different names and phone numbers. Lydia tried to imagine any scenario wherein she would call a complete stranger from off an envelope. “Thank you,” she stammered.

Lydia walked out of the club and into the scorching hot sun. Some people from the meeting, including the pretty girl who sat with her, were standing under a tree smoking.

As she began to pull away in her car, Lydia saw the young girl flag her down and run over. Lydia rolled down her driver’s side window. “Hey. My name’s Tessie. I hope you come back tomorrow. I’ll be here.”

“I’m Lydia,” Lydia said. “Thank you. I might.”

“Okay, Lydia. Just don’t drink, okay? Just for the rest of today. Then come back tomorrow. Twenty-four hours, remember?”

“Okay,” Lydia said as she looked down at the Desire Chip still encased in her palm. The girl began to walk back to the group under the shade tree. A few feet away, Tessie turned back around. “Hey, Lydia?” Lydia looked up. “Just so you know… You never have to feel this way again.”

 

If You are Sober and Stupid, Boring and Glum, Then You’re Doing it Wrong.

Studio 54 Cartoon

Some of my most favorites lines in the big book are, “For most normal folks, drinking means conviviality, companionship and colorful imagination… am I to be consigned to a life where I shall be stupid, boring, and glum?” (BB 151-152).

Let me start off by saying that I was born in a nice part of Houston, complete with bike trails and trees. My mom took me to church and sometimes bought me an ice cream cone after (Bubblegum of they had it; turtle if they didn’t). I had tons of books and art supplies and after school activities. My parents stressed good grades and participation on sports teams.

So, where I got this notion of drinking, I have no idea. No, no, not the notion of should I drink or why I drank. I got that. I mean the notion that alcoholics and drug addicts are brazen intellectuals and glamourous artists, pushing past the lines of conventionality into oblivion, the notion that alcohol and drugs allow one to experience life on a heightened, more surreal plane.

I decided that my perception of drinking is based not on the reality but fantasy. James Dean. James Bond. Hemingway on the Champs-Elysees. Andy Warhol at Studio 54. Hunter S. Thompson’s Las Vegas, “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls…Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can, (Fear and Loathing). The realization that all my drug fantasies exist in an era before I was even cognizant of what drugs were, is only further evidence that I have invented my own duel existence.

The reality is, that’s not the way my drinking looked at all. There was no step and repeat in front of the Marshall House. I was a writer that never wrote. A schemer. A dreamer. I was neither glamourous nor charming. At best I was a bar fly and at worst a depressed, isolated drunk.

I am lucky that I am able to realize that my fantasies of drinking and drugging are a fictitious twist of my imagination. That’s not the case with many. There is a guy I hear that speaks of waxing poetically as he drinks. He doesn’t get it. There is a girl who, while she is at meeting, laments about the friends she is missing; maybe she doesn’t have to give them up after all. She doesn’t get it either.

When I got sober, I thought I would never again go out dancing, see a concert, or have sex. I never thought I would have interesting friends hell bent on making up for lost opportunities and time. I never thought of the sober artist as the creative one. That it would be my sober life that was the exciting, daring, fulfilling one.

Everyday I wake up, there is a change to do something spectacular. ( I usually just end up at work, but there’s always that chance). When the book says, “You will gain a new freedom and a new happiness,” I get that. I am no longer held by the confines of the bar stool or liquor bottle. My brain does not hurt. My mind is not hazy. I have passion and ambition and love. If you are sober and stupid, boring and glum, then you’re doing it wrong.

Is AA a Cult?

Radio Cartoon

I had a casual conversation last week with a guy who had five days. The new man was questioning whether or not AA was a cult. This fear felt familiar and comforting and sad all at the same time. I have to admit, before I got sober, I too voiced this concern. I even went so far as to look up definitions of the word cult and apply them to areas of AA as evidence.

I think this fear from newly sober people is a legitimate one on some level. Looking back, I’ve come to the decision that the this problem stemmed from my self-awareness that I was not like everyone else. Even though I tried to act and look like everyone else, I felt like an outcast. I desperately wanted to fit in. I changed my personality and hobbies to reflect whoever I happened to be around at the time. But the harder I worked at being normal, the more different I felt. Normal people didn’t have to work so hard at being normal, they were just normal naturally.

As my behavior grew more self-destructive, the more isolated I became. Friends and family wanted me to change again, but this time I knew change was a euphemism for “Stop drinking.” I ended up in a place where I simultaneously wanted to desperately fit in and be wildly anti-social.

Hence, when I found AA, and when I heard the casual “Keep coming back” and “Welcome, glad you’re here,” I was immediately distrustful. I wanted to stop drinking, but I wasn’t sold on AA. Maybe I just wanted to taper off or cut back. And even though I no longer had any conception of who I was, I knew one thing; I wasn’t going to be who you thought I should be. And I surely wasn’t going to become some goody-goody religious fanatic, so you can forget that.

The Twelve and Twelve addresses this logic when it states, “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?” (36). I think this was my great fear. I didn’t want to become sober only to become a robot. The Twelve and Twelve continues on to say that a paradox exists in the idea that the more we depend on AA or God, the more independent we actually become.

I have found this to be true. It is only through my recovery and the taking of inventory that I have been able to assess who I am as an individual. I remember having about nine months and driving down the freeway. I was listening to country music on the radio. I knew all the words to whatever song to was, and yet I remember thinking, “Wow! This is a terrible song.” And then I remember immediately thinking, “Wait, do I like country music? Of all the music out there, this is what I am choosing to listen to? Do I like this?” I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if I really liked country music.

The truth of the matter is AA could care less what kind of music I listen to. AA is not interested in what church I go to or even if I go to church. AA doesn’t care what I look like, what color I am, or what I choose to wear. I can choose to put a dollar in the basket or not. I can choose to talk or not. Work the steps or not. And only I decide of I am going to stay or not.

With that said, I think I’ll keep coming back.

 

The Raze

The Raze

I have an amazing life. I know this. I have a ton to be grateful for. And yet, probably not a week goes by that I do not want to raze it to the ground. Demolish it. Set it on fire with a blowtorch and simply walk away. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to drink. I just want to run away. I want to travel the country and see mountains and large trees and waves of grain and big skies. I want to experience the Grand Canyon.

This is not a new feeling. I have had a version of this fantasy for most of my life. When I was younger, I thought of myself as Bohemian. I remember having a personal philosophy that I would never buy anything of value that I could not fit in a suitcase. For most of my adult existence, that has remained largely true. I never really seemed to ever own anything of value. I never had a job that wasn’t like any other job out there. I never had a relationship that required much from me.

When I got sober, my lifestyle remained true to form. I lost most of my belongings during my sobering up, so the only things that were left were the very most important things of the no things to begin with. At eighteen months, I got my first apartment. I owned an air mattress and a computer precariously perched atop a box. Then I got a bed and a used sofa. And a desk… And a puppy. Its here, with the puppy, that things start to become awkward. Cause I can’t put Dio in a suitcase. I see homeless people with dogs sometimes, but they’re always kinda big, guard dog looking dogs. They’re definitely not long haired, prissy Dachshunds that prefer to be carried.

Then the family came back. That’s good. I walked away once before. I lived; they lived. But now they’re older and I’m older and I like them. They make running away more difficult. It’s not a deal breaker, but I would miss them.

And then I did what the unthinking runner does, I got the second puppy. Now, if one is going to run away, and if one ferocious attack puppy is bad enough, a second and even more skittish Maltese puppy is not the way to go. Ggggrrrrrrrr…

Okay, so it’s me and two puppies in a dented Hyundai traveling across the country. It’s tight, but they’re pretty good in the car. Dio sits in my lap. I don’t know if that’s legal. And I’m always scared to tell other dog people that is how we roll because I don’t want the doggie seatbelt lecture. Anywho, we could make do.

But the worst of it is, I fell in love. And that is no bueno for a runner. For the longest time, I thought I could leave. I threatened to leave. Convinced myself I could leave. But no. I really love him and could not imagine not seeing his beautiful face every day. Sigh.

Okay. Me, two dogs, and my man in my dented Hyundai all running away together. But my sister gave me these really awesome chairs from her living room. They’re perfect. So comfortable. The best chairs I’ve ever owned. It’s a shame to leave ‘em. So, we’ll strap them to the roof. Good. We’re all set. Me, my two dogs, and my man all running away in my dented Hyundai with two chairs strapped to the roof.

I really do not understand why a part of me is always trying to flee. I mean, I know the AA answers. I know that I am restless and discontent, that my insatiable need for more everything constantly pushes me in to a state of ingratitude, that I am “A victim of the delusion that [I] can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if [I] only manage well,” (BB 61). But somehow, in this moment, the answers sound hallow. I feel like it is not enough to simply say, I feel this way because I am an alcoholic.

And yet, I have nothing else. I think it is a really awkward moment in the life of an alcoholic when they have no proper answers for why they do the things they do. Why does the guy who has everything to lose, drink anyways? Why does the girl who has already done everything she said she’d never do, continue to do it? Why do I, who finally has everything she’s always wanted, have reoccurring fantasies of walking away?

I think the baffling thing about this disease is even the people experiencing it find it hard to articulate the fears, obsessions, the frantic search for happiness in things that exist outside of our own souls. If I only go there, do that, buy this, then I will be happy.

Last night, I had a moment of pure happiness. I was here, in my living room, in one of the big over-sized chairs my sister gave me. One of the puppies was in my lap, the other not far from me. I watched as my love put away the evening dishes. And I thought: Wow, life is tremendously good. I have everything I could possibly every want. I have peace.

And I think that about the best an alcoholic can wish for. I don’t think just because one gets sober and works the steps, that life necessarily becomes easy or sane. But I do think we can occasionally have these moments of perfect serenity and calm, when everything just seems right and easy and good.

One of my very favorite AA sayings comes from a man from a local club. I heard it in one of the first meetings I ever attended and it resonated so deeply, I never forgot it. “I didn’t get in trouble every time I was drinking, but every time I was in trouble, I was drinking.”

To that, I would like to add this, “I haven’t been at peace the entire time I have been sober, but the only times I have ever felt peace, I was sober.”

 

Six Months Later

Dogs blog

There is an odd feeling of anticipation as I type this, an awkward mix of pride and embarrassment that has caused me to simultaneously have a smile and a stomachache. Yesterday, was the six month anniversary of this blog. I know; it’s insane. If this blog were in sobriety, it would be walking up for its blue chip. It would have successfully transitioned from rehab to IOP to a halfway house. The blog could chair a meeting, have a job, and if it were doing a step a month, be smack dab in the middle of its character defects.

On April 6, I was headed up to the annual women’s retreat I attend. (Yes, the same retreat, I wrote of in Monday’s blog.) I had just come off a terribly difficult and arduous year. I was depressed and floundering. I really did not want to go. I remember trying to figure out some way to back out, but my recovery simply wouldn’t let me. I knew I had to go, no matter what.

Towards the end of the weekend, a dear friend came up to me and very casually said, “I think you should start a blog.” Without a blink of an eye, I said no. I did not want to start a blog. Blogging is not real writing. I want to be Hemingway or Faulkner, not a blogger. (This is one of those times where I can see my alcoholism for the delusion that it is. Leave it to a girl who cannot even bear to show her writing to others to look down on a totally legitimate form of expression because it doesn’t jive with how she thinks Hemingway would have gone about it. Jeez Louise.)

That night, as I laid in bed, a singular thought kept eating away at the base of my skull. I got out of bed and began to write in the same fashion that I always write: alone in a quiet room, in a diary no one would ever see. A forth step, a written tenth, another attempt to put pen to paper in order to quiet the crazy. A piece of paper that would be thrown away in some not too distant future.

But this time, as I looked down on that paper, I realized the only reason I had for not showing my writing was fear. For as long as I kept my dream close to my chest, as long as I did not breathe a word of it, or show it to anybody, then that dream was safe. My dream would be safe from the cynics and the naysayers, from the realists and the defeatists. I realized something else too though. As long as I never pursued my dream, it would only ever remain a dream. My dream would never become my reality.

The Ninth Step Promises tell us, “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly know that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves,” (Big Book 84). And at that moment, I was filled with peace. It is hard to articulate, but it felt like an enormous release of air from my chest. I just knew my friend was right, and I intuitively knew how to handle it. I had to show my writing, not in the distant future, not somewhere down the line, but now, immediately. That night I came home and started this blog.

These last six months have not been easy. I am still plagued by an incredible amount of fear and self-doubt. At any given time, I can convince myself that any number of my friends are encouraging me like a naïve cousin. “Pretty girl, she’ll realize soon enough.” Sigh.

But there are good days too. There are the days when I realize it does not matter if anyone actually reads or not because it is not the about a number or a reward, but the active practicing of courage and perseverance, and accountability. It’s about suiting up.

It is easy to reflect back on my sobriety and say: Without AA, I would not be alive. I would not have dependable friends or a remarkable man. But I also know that without AA, I never would have had the courage to write or the fortitude to post. I would not have been able to withstand the criticism or abandoned myself to a process that has no definitive ending. It’s saccharine to say, but I know it is true. AA put the right person in my path, with exactly the suggestion I needed to hear, at a time when I could hear it. And then gave me strength and courage to actually follow through.

The Big Book says, “Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead.” (152). Yep, that’s about right.

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Thank you to everyone who has read, subscribed to, commented, re-posted, shared, or otherwise supported this endeavor over the past six months.  You’re continued support means an enormous amount to me. Thank you, Lisa.