If I want to go trolling for a resentment, I spend some time on Facebook. Acquaintances, old high school friends, people I met that time at that place and then never spoke to again, people I assumed were of sound mind when I sent/ accepted the “friend request” will eventually post something that makes me sit up a little straighter, cock my head to one side, and query to myself, “Really?” I think this is where not talking about outside matters in meetings really hinders my ability to discern the average AA crazy from the absolutely-out-of-their- f-ing-gourd crazy.
But I digress. I was mildly minding my own business, voyeuristically peeking in on other people’s worlds last week on Facebook, when I saw a friend had posted a comment about another anonymous person. The diatribe, and a diatribe it was, was about how the anonymous guy had cried while oversharing in a meeting thus making my friend uncomfortable. He posted that one is always supposed to share in generalities in meetings, not specifics. Now, there were many parts of this comment that infuriated me (besides the fact that I totally believe in specific sharing, cause I need to how someone can lose a job, lose a man, get a promotion, get a man, and still not drink).
But what most irritated me was the judgement. By and large, we are a room of thieves, liars, cheaters, brawlers, users, abusers, instigators, runners, petty crooks, and substantial crooks. We done things that would make people cringe. Then we sober up a few years and suddenly, an overshare causes us to rise from the gutter and to declare our stance regarding AA sharing etiquette. I mean really, who was this guy, a person in recovery, to judge another person in recovery? Patience and tolerance is our f-ing code or did he miss that part?! Harrumph with an arm crossed, foot stamp!
And then a new thought occurred to me, a second thought, elusive at first but coming into ever sharper focus. I sat back. I don’t like the comment of a person in recovery as he commented about the share of another person in recovery? Wait a minute… yes, no, yes, wait… I, a person in recovery, is judging the share of another person in recovery as he judges the share of another person in recovery.
And then I had one of those moments of quiet.
Next week is the AA International Convention in Atlanta. I’ll be there. If you are going, give a shout out.
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I’m not an expert on AA history, but I’ve seen the movies and read some of the books. In the mid to late 1950s, Bill W. experimented with LSD. Bill originally sought a remedy for his depression. After a few treatments, though, he came to think that LSD may prove a valuable tool in creating spiritual experiences in people who had otherwise struggled to connect to a higher power.
In the fifties, LSD was still legal and Bill took his “treatments” in a hospital. Even so, in 1958, Bill W. resigned his position in New York over his position regarding LSD. He always maintained that it was scientific research and not a relapse. He would never pick up a new desire chip.
I think this is an awkward part of AAs collective history, a time we don’t often talk about. Bill’s use of LSD blurs the line of acceptable use of medication for psychiatric purposes. But that is not the point of this blog. Since there is no answer, I’d rather not engage in that particular discussion. As my friend reminded me, “To thine own self be true.”
What this reverie did spark in me though, was a curiosity regarding who Bill talked to before undergoing these experiments. Did he have friends who he confided in before acting? I wonder if any of Bill’s friends told him they thought LSD might not be a good idea, or if when these concerns were voiced, if Bill actually heard any of them. I wonder whether or not Bill would have undertaken his experiments into the psychedelic if Dr. Bob had still been alive. I wonder what Bob would have said? I struggle to think, as by all accounts he was the more sedate and rational of the two men, that Bob would have thought LSD was a good idea.
The Big Book says, “We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world,” (73-74). But I wonder if honesty is enough, if talking is enough, or if we also don’t need to listen.
I had a conversation a couple of nights ago with one of my good friends. It was about nothing of consequence, but as I finished, my friend politely and lovingly told me that she thought I was wrong. After she finished, it occurred to me that I had not really expected a contrary opinion. I had asked, of course, for advice, but I didn’t really expect to hear it. It gave me pause.
I think one of the misfortunes of AAs is with time we begin to think that we grow in sanity. When we hear people with thirty years speak in meetings, we are less apt to call them out than the man with thirty days. The book also tells us, “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which use to baffle is baffle us,” (84). We begin to trust this intuition, running less and less by other people first.
I am grateful that I have people in my life that love me enough to tell me when I am wrong or otherwise straying from the path. And if I ever try to rationalize the use of psychedelics in order to produce spiritual experiences, and if I cannot hear the craziness in my own words, I only hope I can still hear the sanity in theirs.
I am a little all over the place today. One part exhausted and sad, one part full of hope and gratitude. I think this is pretty common, this mixture of emotions and the contemplation of which emotion to indulge. I started down this embattled path a few months ago and now, as the rain lifts and the city begins to dry out, I feel the sun on my shoulders for the first time in a long time.
Outside the Temple to Apollo at Delphi is the ancient Greek inscription, “Know thyself.” Over the centuries, people have argued as to the meaning of those simple words. Some believe it is a warning to those who enter the temple that they should know their place in society, specifically that they are not gods. Others think it is an intellectual pursuit, the idea that the meaning of life is to decipher one’s own existence. Both sound equally plausible in the light of AA.
I don’t know what I take it to mean. I’ve been pondering it for a few weeks now. Hubris, excessive pride, is said to be the only sin unpardonable by God. The reason for this is simultaneously deceptively complex and beautifully simple, a mandala of the mind. If one has the pride of a God, the belief that one is God, in command of one’s own life, then one cannot also possess the humility to ask forgiveness. And God, seemingly, does not grant forgiveness to those who do not seek it. The warning at Delphi, if a warning it may be, reminds people that they are not in control of their own lives.
But it is the other “Know thyself” that I keep thinking about. I am continually astonished that the longer I stay sober, the less confident I am that I have any real idea of who I am. My brother gave me a book some years ago, Moviegoer by Walker Percy. In the beginning, the main character is getting dressed in the morning. As he picks up his belonging off his dresser to place in his pockets, he starts to question what they say about him. His questioning continues as he boards the bus. He wonders if the other people on the bus know themselves and their beliefs or if they simply go along, never pausing long enough to ask. “What is the nature of the search? you ask. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
So, as the dusk of the day wraps in around me, that’s where I am, caught in the awkward space between confusion and hope. I know there are questions. I know I have internal struggles. I have no answers. But I do know I am happy that I am sober. I am equally thrilled that being sober allows me the opportunity to even ask the questions and feel the emotions that for years I numbed. So, if the journey of life is to know I am not God and that I have no real control on my existence, then so be it. And if the meaning of life is continued growth and understanding of just who I am as an individual… well, then at least the subject matter is one that I like.
I am getting married next winter. With this marriage comes this feeling of quiet exhaling, of a tremendous weight off my shoulders as I no longer have to traverse this scary world alone. Now, finally, there is someone who can help shoulder my burdens and my dreams. He can support me.
At least, that is what I tell myself. But that is not the whole truth. The reality is what I want, what I truly want, is to lay it all on him: our wedding, my going to graduate school, my aspirations of becoming a writer. Everything. All of it. I want to say, “Make this happen for me, please. Buy me a house and pay for my school. I love you. Kisses.” And with a wave of my hand, as with a fairy Godmother, I send my love out into the world to do for me what I should be doing for myself.
If you had asked me at any previous time in my life if I thought it was the husband’s obligation to financially support his wife, I would have adamantly said, “No.” I would have continued on to say that marriage is a partnership and that both people need to contribute to its success, financial or otherwise. And then, for good measure, I would probably bring out some statistic about the benefits of Sweden’s liberal paternity leave laws.
But the truth is, the thing I did not know about myself, is that another contrary answer secretly laid dormant in my soul. It’s the societal message that I possess, a desire for my man to be the bread earner and the bacon bringer homer. I’m additionally learning that my Cold War Era ideology plays directly into my alcoholism, my need to be coddled. I am ashamed to admit it, but I did not know. With eight years of sobriety I am still learning about myself. And in fact the only way I know it at all is because when I stomp my foot and demand like Veruca Salt, it does not sound like this… “I want to earn the money to buy us a house!”
It is here, at this point, a few weeks ago that I started pondering the seventh tradition. “Self-supporting alcoholics? Who ever heard of such a thing? … Everyone knows that active alcoholics scream that they have no troubles money can’t cure. Always, we’ve had our hand out. Time out of mind we’ve been dependent upon somebody, usually money-wise,” (Twelve and Twelve 160).
When I read it, I started laughing. How true it was! My whole life I have been financially dependent on others even as I claimed independence. I’ve never been fiscally responsible a day in my life. And if I cannot afford a house or graduate school, then I have no one to blame but myself. My dreams and aspirations should not be the financial obligation of anyone else, not even my soon-to-be husband, because it is not good for me. Additionally, I don’t want the easier gift of dreams attained under character defects, without having to work for them. That’s not who I want to be.
Much of my life in sobriety has been learning to “differentiate the true from the false,” the person I am versus the person I have told myself I am (Big Book xxviii). Then, armed with that knowledge, deciding who I wish to become.
Who I want to be is strong and assured and self-supporting.
So, one by one, I take my dreams and my burdens back from my love, and carry them myself, to build them or do with them as I please. And then, maybe, without his having to work to fulfill my dreams, maybe he can fulfill his own.
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.
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.
** 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.”
Ever since high school, from the moment I understood I had no one with whom I could confide in except the written page, I wanted to be a writer. Over time, I grew confident in my ability. I knew I had it within me. My problem was I also had burgeoning alcoholism in me too.
The disease of alcoholism is rich in complexity. It pulls us from under while supplying us with visions of glory. It destroys dreams while simultaneously building up the nothingness of accomplishment. It was in this fog that I practice my craft. I spent many years writing my nights away. All those pages, though, were nothing more than laments on my dissatisfaction with life, a young girl’s struggle for place. It never amounted to anything more than a binder full of drunken, self-pitying ramblings not worthy of reading.
Ironically, when I finally got sober, I found I could not write. The mere thought of writing made my mouth water. If I sat down at the keyboard, I found my hand involuntarily reaching for the tumbler of vodka that was not there. The sensation was so upsetting, I eventually turned off the computer for good and walked away. I thought that if a sacrifice of sobriety was that I could not write, then that was a price I was willing to pay. After all, neither the writing nor the drinking had ever amounted to anything of value.
It would be years before I wrote again.
Last year, I found I was still claustrophobic with fear. I had a dream, but I lacked the courage to follow that dream. I feared my writing was nothing more than alcohol induced delusions. I feared that even if I did write, no one would read it. I feared that if they did read it, people would not like it. I thought I would suffer backlash from my job, from my students, and yes, from AAs for breaking my anonymity.
What I learned was that my fears were largely unfounded. I learned that most people, maybe out of sheer respect for the human condition, are really quite kind to those who try. Negative criticism has been rare, while positive support has been vocal. Additionally, my AA community has really embraced my blog. One alcoholic friend recently told me that while her and my beliefs are on opposite side of the faith spectrum, my interpretation of the Big Book was worthy of being read. And then there was the day when one of my high school students came up to me after class and told me he found my blog. As my eyes filled with tears, he whispered, “You are helping people.”
And now, my yearlong experiment in myself is drawing to a close. For some time, I have been contemplating what my next steps should be. But in my heart, I know. I am ready to suffer the criticism of professionals. It is time to take a deep breath and send my stories out into the world.
So… it is with a trepidation that I have decided to pass the metaphorical hobo hat; I’ve decided to add a place to make donations to my blog via PayPal. I realize the potential non-existence that could easily occur as a result of asking alcoholics to part with their money, but I figured it is worth a shot. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned what can happen when I simply have the humility to ask. My hope is that with enough small donations, I will be support myself long enough to begin piecing Lydia into an actual collection of short stories or maybe even a novel.
If you have read my blog over the past year and liked it (or even if you didn’t like it, but you read it anyways) maybe you could consider tipping the author a dollar or two or ten. I would really appreciate it.
P.S. Even if you don’t contribute, I hope you still will continue to read and comment. It makes me happy.
P.P.S. If you make a donation or twenty dollars or more and let me know through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Facebook, I’ll draw you in hobo form and mail it to you. (Or if you live in Houston and are one of the ones who clamor for it, I will make you a jar of my green salsa.)