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.

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.

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.

Meditation Hesitation

Meditation Comic

 

This is how my Friday night tends to go.

Me: “What’s the meeting topic tonight?”

Him: “Meditation.”

Me: “Awww, man. Let’s just skip.”

Three hours later…

Me: “ I really enjoyed meditating. How come we don’t go every week?”

Repeat every seven days.

I’m gonna be totally honest. Of all the things I’ve heard in meetings over the years, the one that really still burns me up today is, “You know, if you aren’t meditating, you aren’t practicing the twelve steps.” What makes it all the worse is I like the girl who says it. I trust her and her recovery. There are few things as frustrating as hearing that one has a gap in one’s recovery from a person one actually respects. It makes them harder to blow off. Harder… but not impossible.

I think the fear is this- For my entire life, my brain has been in overdrive. It goes and goes and goes. I jumps from one idea to another to another in record time, so that often by the time my friend and I are finishing one conversation, I’m already three conversations in the future. For years, I drank to dull this process, to slow my mind, to relax, take the edge off. And it worked for a long time. Then then it stopped working.

When I made it into the rooms, my brain went into an extreme Back to the Future kind of overdrive. I could not stop thinking, feeling, experiencing, fearing. It was so uncomfortable. Exciting at times, cool, fun, but also terrifying. I always seemed to be walking a fine line between delight and delirium. When I stopped shaking long enough to listen, I heard other AAs had the same problem. “My mind is like a dangerous part of town. I never go there alone,” and “I came for my drinking and stayed for my thinking,” and “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body” (BB 23). There was no way I was going to sit in a room and meditate. I was too scared of my own thoughts.

This mentality has not changed much, if any, with time. The idea that I would just exist, to be without distraction, seems like a really terrible idea. It’s like how the Big Book speaks about alcohol; “I recoil” at the idea of thinking in silence.

So, what do I do? I think about meditating. I think about not meditating. I’ve talked to my sponsors about meditating. I’ve talked to them about not meditating. I’ve asked other people how they meditate. I’ve done the “sitting in morning traffic meditation.” I’ve done the “meditation is listening during a meeting” thing. I’ve rationalized, justified, and ignored. What I’ve never done is actually meditate…Until recently.

On Friday night, on my side of town, there is a 9:30 candlelight meeting. I’ve always gone to candlelight meetings. I prefer them. When we first started going to this particular meeting, though, I was immediately like- nope, no way, cause in this meeting, they meditate. Not every week. But enough to make me look around for something else.

But now, and this is really awkward, I’ve sat through a handful of these meetings. And I think I like them. I don’t wanna say for sure I like them, because that would make me wrong about this meditation thing all along. But maybe, kinda, sorta, I like meditation. Contrary to what I would have thought, my brain does not rev up, but actually quiets down. I find that the nights I attend this meeting, I walk away relaxed and more peaceful. And I always end up thinking, “I should do this more often. I wonder if there is a mediation I can follow online. (Cause you know there is. Everything is online.)

But then I don’t do it. Cause it still seems weird and scary and awkward. Anywho… (Take a deep breath), I’m gonna do it. I am going to, for the sake of experimentation only, find a guided mediation online and hold myself accountable to doing it every morning for ten minutes for the next two weeks. I can do two weeks, right? Right.

So, there it is: my two-week experiment with meditation. If you want to do it with me, I would love to hear from you. How much contempt prior to investigation do you have? Has it been easy or difficult to commit to the process? Why? For those of you still dubious about meditation, I am with you in spirit. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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.