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.

AA’s All Over This One

Bookmark IV

“We can laugh at those who think spirituality is the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength,” (Big Book 68).

I was in conversation with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. Her father passed away last week, and though I should have been the one to call her, she called me. She called me, not to receive strength but to give it. She called to offer me hope. My parents are of an age that hospital visits are becoming more frequent. While understandable, and on some level expected, it is none-the-less emotional business when we are faced with our parents’ mortality. My friend reached out to me in the spirit of offering hope to say, that when the worst does happen, it will be okay, “Because AA is all over this one.”

“AA is all over this one.” I thought about that simple sentence for all of yesterday and most of today, because, here is the thing, my friend did not really explain what she meant by that sentence. But here is the other thing, she didn’t have to.

I often think back to a conversation I had with my parents about ten years ago. I had just moved from Boston back to Houston. I was sitting on the couch in tears over my inability to handle life. It wasn’t the big things like death that had be so beaten down. No, forget about the life altering changes. I had no idea how people managed the small, everyday things. I didn’t understand how people had jobs and paid bills and cleaned houses and washed clothes. At the end, I needed a cocktail just to go to the grocery store. Life was one continual tidal wave of chaos. I couldn’t deal with people or responsibility or sunny days. I couldn’t deal with laughter.

I really like the concept that AA is not about the not drinking. I mean it is. First we have to put down the bottle. But it’s the everything else that really messes us up. Causes and conditions.

I’ve thought a lot about whether one can be sober through means other than AA. I mean not me, but someone out there has stayed sober through church, Bikram yoga, horse therapy, or cross addiction. I had a friend once that was sober through good, old-fashioned willpower. She told me, she wasn’t like me. She didn’t need AA to say sober. What I didn’t say, what I should have said, is I don’t need AA to stay sober either. I went to a meeting today, but had I not gone, I’m 99.9% sure I would still be sober. AA doesn’t keep me sober. It keeps me sane. It keeps me happy. My fear is not that I will stop going to AA and drink. My fear is that I will stop going to AA and become unhappy and fearful and crazy, and then I will drink.

What my friend didn’t realize then, still probably doesn’t realize now, is AA doesn’t make us weak. Dependence on the group, the program, has made me everything I am today: it’s given me the courage to write, to be myself, to have faith, to be a daughter and a friend. AA has taught me how to have priorities and do laundry. It’s taught me how to get the stickers renewed on my car.

I think anyone that has given recovery a real shot knows what it is like to have the strength through the program. Alone I am but just one individual plodding along in life. But as a group, I have a wealth of strength and support from which to draw.

Yep, AA’s all over this one.

 

Willing to go to Any Length

Here in Houston, as I assume in most cities, “How it Works” is read at the beginning of meetings. Over time, a particular line from this passage has wormed its way into my inner thoughts. “If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it…”(Big Book 58). While I have vague recollections of being asked the corollary question, “Are you willing to go to any length?” early in my sobriety, I have not had the question posed to me in a very long time. A little more than a year ago, I started asking it of myself.

Am I willing to go to any length? I think back to Bill’s now famous trip to Akron, Ohio. His business meeting had not gone as planned. At one end of the hotel hallway was a bar, the other a payphone. He picks up the phone and starts flipping through the phonebook, calling strangers, clergymen, at random to find a drunk to talk to. Can you imagine what this sounded like? “Hello. My name is Bill. I am an alcoholic visiting from New York. Do you know of any other alcoholics that I might be able to speak to?” What do you think the people on the other line thought? I surmise they probably thought he was drunk right there on the phone. It sounds like a drunk idea, talking to another alcoholic. I wonder how many numbers he had to dial before he got ahold of Henrietta Seiberling. I have thought more than once that the phone calls in and of themselves were probably enough to keep him sober. How many times does a man have to proclaim his own fallibility to a stranger before he realizes a drink is probably not a good idea? He could have stopped right there. Then where would we all be?

I think of the men going into Townes Hospital. I think of the famous picture “Man on the Bed” by Robert M. I test myself some days. Am I now or was I ever willing to go to Ben Taub, walk up to the ER nurse, and politely inquire as to whether there were any alcoholics with whom I could have a conversation. Whenever I contemplate such actions, and whether or not I would be willing to follow in those same steps, I get a little uncomfortable and squirmy.

Cause the truth is, I ignore phone calls. And Last Sunday, when the leader of a meeting asked for potential sponsors to raise their hand to the new man, I kept my hands folded in my lap. On Tuesday, on my way to my usual 10 PM lead, I complained to myself the entire drive there. I went to some length, sure. According to Google Maps, I went precisely 9.9 miles. But is that any length?

I am so lucky that I live in a place and time where AA is so readily available. I don’t have to call up ministers at random and ask for alcoholics. I don’t have to walk into Ben Taub to find an alcoholic because the Parc and the Right Step and any number of rehabs have nightly meetings. But I should probably pick up a phone if one calls me, right? So what does any length look like today? 90 in 90? Written daily tenth step? I don’t know.

So, I throw down the gauntlet. I ask you. What’s the most extraordinary action you have taken in the past month to support your own sobriety? What does any length look like today? Leave your comment anonymously here or post it on Facebook. Maybe you will inspire the rest of us.

 

 

The Boy Whistling in the Dark

Last week, a friend of mine decided that after five years of sobriety that she was not an alcoholic after all, and if she just stay away from the drugs, she could successfully drink. Her friend, a girl with eighteen months, asked with all earnestness, “Why? After all these years?” I responded without much ado or forethought, “She wasn’t happy with her sobriety.” My answer came so smoothly, resounded with so much simplicity and wisdom, I surprised even me. I thought… Man, I’m goooooood.

Only later that evening, lying awake in bed, did I realize I was not the recovered guru I momentarily thought I was. All I did was reiterate one of my favorite passages in the Big Book. “We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety” (Big Book, page 152).

I often refer back to the boy whistling in the dark. He has become a working part of my recovery, a part of my daily tenth step, a way to spot check my emotional sobriety. Am I, today, a girl whistling in the dark? If I could have half a dozen drinks and get away with it, would I?

Some days, the answer comes a bit slower. I have to think deeper. What does that mean, half a dozen drinks? Does that mean just once? One time, I get half a dozen drinks? What if I want seven or ten or a baker’s dozen? Do shots count? And then I have to smile. My alcoholism is so deeply rooted inside me that if I were to take half a dozen drinks, I would want more, more and more often. I know this. I’m so alcoholic that even in my hypothetical world, I am trying to nudge my way into more.

The reason I do not take half a dozen drinks has nothing to do with whether or not I would get away with it. I certainly didn’t care too much about getting into trouble when I was drinking. And I think that those closest to me can attest that sobriety has done little to damper my defiance.

For years, I wanted my brain to shut off. To be quiet. To stop the harassment that existed in my own mind. It felt like a whirlwind of hate and disgust. I used drinking to accomplish this end. Then one day, my drinking quit quieting the voices and instead added to it. My inability to exist within my own body perpetuated and exacerbated the cesspool which was my mind. With the vicious nature of this circular thinking, I find it a miracle that anyone stops drinking even for five minutes.

I do not take half a dozen drinks because I do not want to have to spend my life trying to figure out how to get the next half dozen. The question is not, could I outwit and shuck and jive my way back to inebriation, the questions is why would I ever want to? The consequence of not half a dozen drinks, but of the very first sip of the very first one, is the madness of my own mind slamming into me with the force of a bulldozer. I am confident about this. The alternative to sobriety is insanity.

So, tonight, as I lay my head down on my pillow, I will know I am not the boy whistling in the dark inwardly hoping to take half a dozen drinks. I am the girl whistling in the sunlight of the spirit as she trudges down the road of happy destinies. May God bless me and keep me until then.

What is a Riddle that has no Answer?

Over time, Lydia became used to the hospital. From her bed, she could map the very slight difference in the movement of the sun outside her window as fall started to settle in on Houston. As the days got shorter, Lydia continued to heal. Shortly, she would be able to go home. But go home to what? That is what Lydia most often pondered. It was too late for her to go back to school. The semester was well under way. It didn’t matter much anyways. Lydia knew she would not return. It was not just that she had been in an accident, or that she had lost her best friend. As bad as that was, there was another, unspoken, unarticulated wound. But Lydia could feel it festering inside her.

The things that had at one time seemed important, no longer did. Sororities, clothes, classes, boys, all seemed so flimsy to her. What was the point if one day we all just died anyways? Tragedies happen everyday. You go for a check-up and it turns out you have cancer. You’re sitting at your office desk, when all of a sudden an acute pain grips your chest. Or you’re driving down a two lane highway when you get T-boned by a truck driving too fast… For the first time in her life, Lydia knew what it was like to fear.

The thought of going home, though the practical decision, only made her shake her head. There was no way. There was no way that Lydia could go back to her childhood bedroom and resume her same life. She had seen too much, aged too quickly. The cuteness of her previous life seemed so naive and hopeful, trite and useless. She knew her mother, a lethal mixture of boundless optimism and passive aggressive tendencies, would only further exacerbate the issues. Besides, there were too many memories of Tuck lingering there.

Lydia did not know what to do. She couldn’t stay where she was, and she couldn’t go back to where she had come.

And with that, Lydia opened her book and read.

What do you Throw When you don’t know How to Cry?

Lydia tossed in bed, trying, willing herself to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, Tuck visited her. Tuck smiling, laughing, holding her hand. Tuck in agony, crying, immovable. All she wanted was to sleep, to turn off her brain. She turned onto her back and stared at the white blankness of the ceiling. The rhythmic white noise of the respirators heightened the sense of silence and lead Lydia even further down the path of solitude.

Lydia sat up, spun around, and exasperatingly punched her flat hospital pillow. Her fist barely lifted from the pillow before it found contact again. And again. Fury suddenly filled Lydia and exploded from her body in a fit of rage. She punched because Tuck died. She punched because life was unfair. She punched because those that visited deposited their trinkets and baubles and left to go back to their hinged lives. Lydia was furious and angry and pissed off. And fucking trapped in this bed in this place with these fucking ridiculous stuffed animals and cards and flowers. Lydia grabbed a fuzzy brown bear holding a heart and viciously tore at its arms and legs. With all her might, she threw the stuffed animal across the room and barely missed the trashcan. She grabbed another one and threw it. Then another one. And then a vase of flowers.