I am Responsible

A little before Christmas, I wrote a post, Only God and Santa can Create AA Miracles, about a young outdoorsman who would occasion visit my homegroup. I wrote about the outdoorsman in that way that while I felt his homelessness was tragic, that is was just a matter of time before his miracle was to happen too. I can read the goodwill in my own words, that feeling of sentimentality that only comes in the night during winter.

Sometimes, though, those miracles do not come. Last week, the young outdoorsman’s body was found in a local park.

I think his death has had a serious impact on our little corner of the recovery world. I know his death has profoundly impacted me. I keep trying to think of what we could have said, what we could have done that might have averted this tragedy. I want to reach out to his family and hug them and reassure them and tell them I don’t think there was anything we could have done. And yet, in my heart I know I’m wrong. There is always more we could do.

I wrote my post in December. Now it is May, and I regret it. I regret suggesting that only God and Santa can create AA miracles because that is not good enough. It removes the responsible of the program off my shoulders and on to something/someone else. And that is not what we are taught.For That I am Responsible.

What we are taught is: I am Responsible.  When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there.  And for that:  I am responsible.

AA.org goes on to quote Bill W. “‘The first concern of AA members should be with problem drinkers the movement is still unable to reach,’ Bill said. He estimated that there are 20 million alcoholics in the world today, five million in the U.S. alone. ‘Some cannot be reached because they are not hurt enough, others because they are hurt too much,’ he declared. ‘Many sufferers have mental and emotional complications that seem to foreclose their chances. Yet it would be conservative to estimate that at any particular time there are four million alcoholics in the world who are able, ready and willing to get well if only they knew how. When we remember that in the 30 years of AA’s existence we have reached less than ten per cent of those who might have been willing to approach us, we begin to get an idea of the immensity of our task and of the responsibilities with which we will always be confronted.'”

There are only two sober high schools (Archway and Three Oaks) in all of Houston. The rate of addiction, especially in the youngest members of our society, is disastrous. Their brains are not fully developed enough to make the logical and sound choices that they might have otherwise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Nine percent of 8th graders, 23.5 percent of 10th graders, and 37.4 percent of 12th graders reported past-month use of alcohol… 19.4 percent reported binge drinking.” Although these numbers are lower than in previous years, they still warrant serious attention considering the US department of Health and Human services in their article, “Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue,” states “Young people who begin drinking before the age if 15 have a 40-percent higher risk for developing alcohol abuse or alcoholism some time in their lives than those who wait until age 21 to begin drinking.”

According to HISD in the 2014-2015 school year, there were 46,559 enrolled high school students (In just HISD, not counting Spring Branch, Katy, Spring, Cy Fair, et cetera). If 23.5 percent of these 46,559 (15 being the average age for a 9th-10 grader) drank in the last month, then reason would go to show that 10,941 currently enrolled HISD high schoolers are at a higher chance of developing alcohol abuse or addiction in their later years. 11,000 students. And we have 2 sober high schools.

Yes, there’s more than we can do. We can stop stigmatizing alcohol and drug addiction as a character flaw and instead embrace the years of scientific research that show addiction as a chemical imbalance. We can stop suggesting the the asking of help is somehow a weakness, or that social services is beneath us. We can slow the funding of the criminalization of this disease and instead move funding into rehabilitation, social services, and schools. Yes, there is always more that we can do

That young outdoorsman, we failed him. Now, what are we going to do about it?

Its my responsibility. It’s your responsibility too.

 

Please contact your local school board about funding for local sober high schools.

Cy Fair ISD: (281) 897-4000

HISD: (713) 556-6121

Katy ISD: 281-396-6000

Spring Branch ISD:713-464-1511

 

I would like people to know that there is a vigil on Sunday for the outdoorsman as well as a GOFUNDME to help defray the cost of his funeral. I struggle with the concept of anonymity in this case. Ultimately, with the help of my support group, I am going to err on nondisclosure. If you would like more information, please email me. Until then.

Running Away

Humility Car** The post today was originally set aside to be posts from others regarding alternatives to AA, but I did not receive a single email or response. It saddens me somehow. But alas, I’ll get over it. At least my sobriety is in tact. Go to a meeting. Go to another meeting. Don’t drink in between. Have a good week. **

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.”

Will Write for Food

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Boy Whistling in the Dark

Boy Whistling in the DarkI have decided to take a little vacation from my blog as I work a bit on Lydia. I hope you will enjoy this reprint of a post I wrote last fall. It was one of my favorites. I hope you have a great weekend. AGK

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.

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What’s the Scariest Thing You Could Do?

Danger, Alcoholics, DangerSaturday was my sobriety birthday. I turned eight. Sobriety birthdays are an interesting time. As anyone who has celebrated one knows, it’s a time of reflection. This doesn’t happen with belly button birthdays; no one ever says, “I wonder where I was thirty-eight years ago at this time?” But sobriety birthdays are so precisely counted from one specific date that one cannot help but define one’s life by it. Very rarely in one’s life can a person say, “On this date, my life changed.”

But then there is another side, I alluded to it a couple of weeks ago in one of my drawings. A man is sitting in a chair. Underneath, it says, “Five minutes after the miracle,” and the man is thinking, “Now what?” I think that is what a lot of sobriety really is: the “now what” part. For our first couple of years maybe, we are adjusting to our new lifestyles. I do not care what they experts say, it takes more than 28 days to rewire a habit that one has had for decades. It takes time and patience. We go to meetings. We get sober jobs. We become accountable and responsible. And slowly we get better.

Then what do we do? I think I have really floundered in this realm. I think that if down in the pit of our stomachs each man and woman has some sort of conception of God, I think deep down in each one of us there is also a dream unrealized.

I’ve told this story before, but last year on a retreat, I realized I was not living my life with principles in all my affairs if I was not practicing courage with my future. I had always wanted to write, but never really felt I had any support in following this endeavor. I think most people chalk it up to a good hobby or a noble pastime, but not something one attacks as one might attack business school or another more reputable occupation. Last April 8, I came home from the retreat and before I could change my mind, I started this blog. It was the scariest thing I could have ever imagined.

I will tell you, if you think of the scariest thing you could do and then do it, it changes you.

If you had asked me eleven months ago, what I expected from this experiment, I’m not sure I could have articulated it any more than, “Fear.” I wanted to get over the fear. Fear of failure. Fear of judgment. I think a lot of us have dreams, but then alcoholism and drug addiction get in the way of them. And then recovery gets in the way of them. And living amends. And jobs. And then families. And then justification and realization and the “I’ll do it over summer” or when the kids graduate or when I retire. Last year, I just didn’t want to do that anymore. I didn’t want to get any older still holding on to the regret of dreams unrealized.

Eight years ago, the very scariest thing I could have done was walk into an AA meeting and ask for help. It took an unbelievable amount of courage.

It is time to move on. There’s new fears to conquer. And that is what I am sitting here thinking about: what is the scariest thing I can do this year. And then how am I going to do it? That is my birthday present to me, cause I didn’t get sober to sit in the back of the room.

I don’t know what your scariest thing is, but I hope when you’re driving home tonight or cooking dinner, you think about it. And then I hope sometime before your next birthday, you do it. It’ll change you.

Driving the Road of Happy Destiny

Humility CarI have a love/hate relationship with my car. Before I got sober, I needed a car. I was looking at used cars, but couldn’t settle on one. For the price I wanted to pay, all the Hondas and Toyotas had high millage and no warranty. One day, I was talking to my brother. He said, “If I were you, I would go down to the Hyundai dealership and buy their cheapest new car.” I went down there that day, and did exactly that. I came away with a little black Hyundai Elantra complete with tape deck and cloth seats. (Yes, I have a tape deck in my car.)

My first couple of years owning the car was a bit rough. I’d never learned how to take care of anything, so oil changes, stickers, tires, all fell by the wayside. And yet the car kept going. I dented it a couple of times (once sober, once not so much). I broke the cover off of the vanity mirror. I lost my floor mats. My seatbelt jammed. I blew the speakers. And still it goes. Now the paint is flaking off, I have the beginnings of a hole in my floorboard, and my headlights seem to go out with surprising regularity. And still it goes.

And that’s the problem. Eleven years later, it still goes. No matter where I am or what parking lot I am in, I look around. My car is inevitably the worst looking car in the lot. I know because I look a lot. I size my car up against all the pretty, undented cars with paint so glossy it reflects the world back upon itself. It has become an obsession of mine. I look for the worse off cars too, and when I occasionally spot one, I fight off the urge to write a pithy, little note saying, “It’ll be okay, Life’ll get better.”

But then, I love my car. It is an awesome, little machine. When I could not afford for that car to break down, it didn’t. I remember taking a friend to Ben Taub psychiatric unit and driving that car home in the foggy, early morning calm of the desolate Sam Houston Tollroad, never being so grateful to be sober. I remember the first time my love came over in torn jeans to fix the thermostat. Some mornings, when I turn over the engine and it starts right away, I pat my car on the dashboard and say encouraging words.

And the truth is the only reason not to love  is because I feel like it is some sort of reflection of my place in society, or even worse, of my place in recovery. I feel like more established people or saner people have nicer, shinier things. So, its not that I am uncomfortable with my car, I am uncomfortable about what you think my car says about me. And that’s crazy! Its like not only do I think you think about me at all, but that you think about my car and what you think my car says about me. To get a new car would, on some level, acknowledge and validate that part of myself that places value not only in the material world, but on what I fear others might think of me. And that’s really awkward.

Over time, my car has become less a method of transportation and more an extension of my journey into my disease and back out again. And now I find myself, like The Giving Tree, learning a new lesson. Now I am learning the lesson of humility and gratitude. A lesson about outer beauty versus inner awesomeness. A lesson about dedication and perseverance and loyalty.

So, yes, I love my car… even if the window doesn’t always want to roll down.

All I want for Christmas…

Peace TreeI work with a lot of kids. Lately, I have been asking each one of them, “What do you want for Christmas?” The answers are as expected. One student wanted a video game. Another wanted Legos. It got me to thinking, what do I want for Christmas? I think there are obvious answers. I want my honey to be well. I want financial security. Those, I think, are legitimate wants. I do not think anyone would begrudge me of them. And yet, there is something else I want altogether.

Lately, if I sit real still and just be, I have these moments of perfect serenity and gratitude. I do not know why they started happening; but I first started noticing them in the morning. I have two puppies who sleep with me. And lately, one of them has taken to waking me up in the morning with a little nudge. She is not obtrusive. She is not licking me. It’s more of a calm query. Are you awake yet? Sweet like. And if I move to pet her, the other puppy will look up to see how awake I am, and like a snooze button, curls back up against me for a few more minutes of sleep. I spend my first few moments of the day in a warm bed with two quiet and thoughtful puppies. And I am happy.

But then they started happening more often. Last night, my honey and I went to our usually late night meeting. Afterwards, we stopped by Starbucks and got a cappuccino and spent an hour driving around the city looking at Christmas lights. We drove through River Oaks and into Memorial, listening to Christmas carols on the freeway, turning off the Christmas carols when Jingle Bell Rock came on, and then turning them back on again. In this moment when I didn’t need anything else to be different in the world. It was perfect, just as it was. I had a friend whom I love, good conversation over a cup of hot coffee, and peace.

So, what do I want for Christmas? I want more of that. I know it does not come from a store. Amazon does not sell it. I cannot stick a bow on it. But it does seem I can ask for it. It feels that if I silently ask for the moment to continue, and if I stay real still, and if I just appreciate the beauty of the moment as it is without allowing any thoughts of judgment or criticism to slip in… the moment of peace stretches out in front of me. That quiet is priceless.

Here’s wishing you and your family and friends a peaceful Christmas filled with quiet appreciation.

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Matching Calamity with Recovery

Matching Calamity with Serenity

I have come to the conclusion that good students make bad AAs. No, this has nothing to do with intelligence. I think super smart people are often terrible students. I am talking about the front row sitters with their hand in the air, apple for the teacher type students. Here is my thought: there are the answers that are right and there are answers that are truthful. And those aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Last week, my love needed a heart catheterization. While the procedure is fairly routine, it feels scary. It feels like something that should not be done. I was calm when we heard the news, calm on the way to the hospital, calm checking him in. The cath was to take a few hours. I had my Big Book. And I won’t lie, I started writing my blog entry right there, right up in my own head: matching calamity with serenity. Ahhhh….

And then I got to the waiting room. As I entered the room, I immediately assessed the situation. The room was smaller than my bedroom, with chairs lined around the periphrases. There were no windows. The air hung heavy with smells of people and food and hospital. Two ladies were simultaneously talking on their phones in different languages. The TV, set to a local morning news show, added another certain comedic element as I imagine the beautiful people laughing along from the safety of their kitchens. I had no choice but to enter, to follow my love to two seats in the corner. Because it was my job. Because it is what we do. But right before the door shut behind us, I felt my serenity say, “No way, I’m not doing this. Meet you at Starbucks.”

A short time later, they called my love away to be prepped. They told me to continue to wait and I could see him before the procedure. I waited in the room with no air until I could not handle it anymore, and then I decided I was just gonna have to wait in the hallway. I honestly picked what I thought was the least obtrusive spot and sat down. It was about three minutes later that a man told me I would have to move, that I would have to wait in the room with the teenagers engaged in hilarity and the sunny talk show hosts and the smells. And that’s when I started to cry.

I know what the correct answer is. I remember doing my first 1st step. My sponsor made me do worksheets. One of the questions was, “What are you powerless against?” I didn’t understand the question, but I knew the correct answer had to do with alcohol. So, I answered it alcohol and she said “Good,” and we moved on. Because I never asked, I never understood there was a deeper question and a more profound answer.

It was not until I stopped answering correctly and instead answering honestly, that I felt recovery. Over time, I have learned that AA is not about memorizing the Big Book or sounding good in meetings. It is about humility and time and quiet. It wasn’t until I asked for help, that I got it. It wasn’t until I admitted that I had no conception of powerlessness, did I begin to regain my strength.

So, instead of writing the “right” blog about matching serenity with calamity, I write this honest one: I did not match calamity with serenity. I was not the embodiment of stoicism nor grace. I cried and then wiped my nose on my sleeve.

But after I cried, I washed my face and bought a cup of coffee. And then I walked into the “Spiritual Care” office and spent some time talking to a chaplain. He was kind and reassuring. He said he didn’t know if AA existed in the hospital, but he would be sure to find out. And he did.

I left the hospital that day, not secure in the knowledge that I have reached total spiritual enlightenment, but that I never necessarily have to. I never have to be a beacon of independent strength because I’m never alone. I didn’t match serenity with calamity. But I matched egotism with humility. And together, we matched calamity with recovery. And today, that’s good enough.