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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Anyone who knows me knows that I love my dogs. I got my first puppy, Dionysus, when I had about 2½ years sober. I had moved into a little efficiency apartment in the Heights area of Houston. I was struggling with loneliness and isolation after sober living. One day, a friend in the program posted on Facebook that his dog had a litter. He lived close by, and impulsively I thought, “Well, I’ll just drive by and look.” When I picked up the first puppy, she wriggled and squirmed. The second, a shockingly tiny thing with big, fluffy ears promptly fell asleep in my arms. I fell in love instantly. I took her home that day and never looked back.
So today, I bring you: Three Life Lessons I Learned from my Dogs.
1. Forgiveness: It is embarrassing to say, but I seemingly made it to adulthood with fully grasping the concept of unconditional love and forgiveness. I just didn’t get it. Instead, I judged people. I held them to impossible standards. When they inevitably let me down, I walked away. I rationalized my behavior in the spirit of self-preservation, without ever understanding the chaos and hurt I left in my wake.
I still had not learned this lesson when I got Dio. I stayed home for the first couple of days I had her, but eventually I had to return to work. I was a waiter, so my shifts were relatively short, and yet, almost every day, I would come home to some sort of puppy induced damage. She chewed through my cable wires, speaker wires, multiple pairs of shoes, my couch cushions, and my linoleum floor. One day she even ate the side of my door. I tried to protect my belongings. I bought her chew toys and bones to no avail. Every single day, as I assessed the new and totally incomprehensible form of destruction, I would become angry. “Dang it, Dio!” I’d say as I stomped my foot. Dio would sense my frustration and momentarily hang her head. And then, much to my surprise, I would instantly forgive her. She, in turn, would instantly forgive me. One day, I realized that there was nothing Dio could ever do that would cause me to stop loving her. She taught me how to love unconditionally.
2. Acceptance: My little apartment had floor to ceiling windows in the front of the apartment. It was one of the original reasons I got the apartment. But at the time, I had not envisioned owning a puppy. Now, had the windows been a normal height, my tiny Dachshund would never have been able to bark at the mailman, the neighbor’s cat, my landlord, bicyclists, walkers, or the kids who lived across the street
The barking was frustrating; I won’t lie. It tended to happen the most just as I was lying down for a nap, and as much as I went “Dio! Shush!” she did not listen to me. Do you know why? Because she is a dog. And dogs bark at things. It is in their nature to do so. So, on some level I had to let Dio be Dio, an insanely protective, vicious, barking attack puppy.
Alcoholics are like that too. We have a shared bond of insecurity and fear, bad judgment and self-centeredness. These shared characteristics are what make us relate so well to each other, and yet, when I see them in you, it drives me crazy. Just sit through a whole meeting for once, dang it! No crosstalk. You can go an hour without smoking. Stop smacking your gum. No need to curse. Eventually, though, I learned that my taking your inventory is not going to do me or you any good. Regardless of how much I wish you would, you will not listen to me. Most often, the life lessons we learn are a direct result of our own personal experience, not things told to us by other insanely controlling people. I learned to let addicts be addicts too.
3. Responsibility: Every family sitcom over the span of television has had the episode where Little Johnny brings home a dog. He wants to keep it. The parents have the inevitable conversation about how owning a dog will teach Little Johnny responsibility.
Dogs require a tremendous about of time and money. Before we go any further, let me tell you that I am not coming at this one from a place of moral superiority. My love for my puppies is equally matched by my procrastination. Even as I type this, I know I am a month overdue for their vet appointment.
There is something about a dog, though, that will eventually warm the heart of even the most cold-hearted, miserly, and selfish addict. Anyone who has a problem sharing their resources should get a pet that requires much from them. Having dogs has taught me that my time and money do not always belong to me. I have cute, lovable, little furry beings that are totally reliant on me for food, health, and safety.
I remember the old Sandra Bullock movie, 28 Days, when they tell her to get a plant. If she could make it a year without the plant dying, she could get a dog. If the dog made it a year without dying, then she could get a relationship. The movie is terrible, but the sentiment is good.
Learning to be a contributing member of society requires one to give of themselves. Sometimes this is difficult. Other people’s character defects can grind on us. Our own behaviors can push people away. But a dog’s loyalty rings true. My sobriety today has been improved by the forgiveness and character of my fierce, little puppies.
It’s 1935. A man stands in the wood paneled, dimly lit hallway of an Akron hotel. The man stands there, with his hand in his pockets. The jingling of the coins against one another reminds him of his hotel bill. He does not know how he is going to pay it. He’s busted. The business he had traveled to Ohio to conduct has fallen through. One more hope; one more disappointment.
His wife, back home in New York, has been hoping that this newest opportunity would come to something, anything. In the last years, she has been working at a department store. The hours are long, and the work is hard. He has let her down again.
But she doesn’t know yet. Alone, depressed, hopeless, full of self-pity, he hears the sound of the barroom. The man looks down the hallway. From the far end, a golden light emanates from the doorway. From it he can hear the tinkling of glassware and the slightly too boisterous laughter that stems from such places.
This man has been sober for six months, but now old thoughts turned anew begin to crowd his head. They are the thoughts that after six months, maybe he could take a couple of drinks. They are the thoughts of being a foreign city and that no one knows he is an alcoholic. And maybe just maybe, he could compose himself like a gentleman. All he needs is a few moments to forget his worries, take on a new persona, and talk to a stranger as if they were long lost war buddies. Yes, a few moments is all he needs to feel normal and carefree again.
But the man does not follow his desire. He turns away, and walks slowly in the other direction towards the telephone booth. Maybe he will call his wife. And there, next to the booth, hangs a glass case with the obligatory phone numbers that one always sees but never calls. Listed are the police department and hospitals and clergy. Calmly, the man picks up the phone and began dialing one of the clergymen at random.
I sometimes wonder what it must have felt like to be the only person in AA.
No book. No meeting. No coffeepot.
Just one man.
In a hallway.
I question the fragility of life when so much rests on one man deciding whether to turn right or turn left.
One decision. One turn.
And I wonder of all the other people in recovery who turned the wrong way. I wonder what might have happened if they had turned the other way.
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.
Happy Monday! My plan for today was a post regarding the seventh tradition and how I have been long struggling with the idea of self support vs. envy, when it occurred to me that for all my thoughts regarding the seventh tradition, I have never once read it. I know, I know, so alcoholic-y of me. But have you ever read it? Because of that, I felt any discussion regarding the seventh tradition without at first reading the actual tradition was moot. Additionally, for all the self-identification I have experienced while reading Bill’s writings, he has never once made me laugh. So, today, a little variation from my usual styled post: the Seventh Tradition, straight up from the Twelve and Twelve. I hope it makes you smile. AGK
“Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”
SELF-SUPPORTING alcoholics? Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet we find that’s what we have to be. This principle is telling evidence of the profound change that A.A. has wrought in all of us. Everybody knows that active alcoholics scream that they have no troubles money can’t cure. Always, we’ve had our hands out. Time out of mind we’ve been dependent upon somebody, usually money-wise. When a society composed entirely of alcoholics says it’s going to pay its bills, that’s really news.
Probably no A.A. Tradition had the labor pains this one did. In early times, we were all broke. When you add to this the habitual supposition that people ought to give money to alcoholics trying to stay sober, it can be understood why we thought we deserved a pile of folding money. What great things A.A. would be able to do with it! But oddly enough, people who had money thought otherwise. They figured that it was high time we now—sober—paid our own way. So our Fellowship stayed poor because it had to.
There was another reason for our collective poverty. It was soon apparent that while alcoholics would spend lavishly on Twelfth Step cases, they had a terrific aversion to dropping money into a meeting-place hat for group purposes. We were astounded to find that we were as tight as the bark on a tree. So A.A., the movement, started and stayed broke, while its individual members waxed prosperous.
Alcoholics are certainly all-or-nothing people. Our reactions to money prove this. As A.A. emerged from its infancy into adolescence, we swung from the idea that we needed vast sums of money to the notion that A.A. shouldn’t have any. On every lip were the words “You can’t mix A.A. and money. We shall have to separate the spiritual from the material.” We took this violent new tack because here and there members had tried to make money out of their A.A. connections, and we feared we’d be exploited. Now and then, grateful benefactors had endowed clubhouses, and as result there was sometimes outside interference in our affairs. We had been presented with a hospital, and almost immediately the donor’s son became its principal patient and would-be manager. One A.A. group was given five thousand dollars to do with what it would. The hassle over that chunk of money played havoc for years. Frightened by these complications, some groups refused to have a cent in their treasuries.
Despite these misgivings, we had to recognize the fact that A.A. had to function. Meeting places cost something. To save whole areas from turmoil, small offices had to be set up, telephones installed, and a few full-time secretaries hired. Over many protests, these things were accomplished. We saw that if they weren’t, the man coming in the door couldn’t get a break. These simple services would require small sums of money which we could and would pay ourselves. At last the pendulum stopped swinging and pointed straight at Tradition Seven as it reads today.
In this connection, Bill likes to tell the following pointed story. He explains that when Jack Alexander’s Saturday Evening Post piece broke in 1941, thousands of frantic letters from distraught alcoholics and their families hit the Foundation
letterbox in New York. “Our office staff,” Bill says, “consisted of two people: one devoted secretary and myself. How could this landslide of appeals be met? We’d
have to have some more full-time help, that was sure. So we asked the A.A. groups for voluntary contributions. Would they send us a dollar a member a year? Otherwise this heartbreaking mail would have to go unanswered.
“To my surprise, the response of the groups was slow. I got mighty sore about it. Looking at this avalanche of mail one morning at the office, I paced up and down ranting how irresponsible and tightwad my fellow members were. Just then an old acquaintance stuck a tousled and aching head in the door. He was our prize slippee. I could see he had an awful hangover. Remembering some of my own, my heart filled with pity. I motioned him to my inside cubicle and produced a five-dollar bill. As my total income was thirty dollars a week at the time, this was a fairly large donation. Lois really needed the money for groceries, but that didn’t stop me. The intense relief on my friend’s face warmed my heart. I felt especially virtuous as I thought of all the ex-drunks who wouldn’t even send the Foundation a dollar apiece, and here I was gladly making a five-dollar investment to fix a hangover.
“The meeting that night was at New York’s old 24th Street Clubhouse. During the intermission, the treasurer gave a timid talk on how broke the club was. (That was in the period when you couldn’t mix money and A.A.) But finally he said it—the landlord would put us out if we didn’t pay up. He concluded his remarks by saying, ‘Now boys, please go heavier on the hat tonight, will you?’
“I heard all this quite plainly, as I was piously trying to convert a newcomer who sat next to me. The hat came in my direction, and I reached into my pocket. Still working on my prospect, I fumbled and came up with a fifty-cent piece. Somehow it looked like a very big coin. Hastily, I dropped it back and fished out a dime, which clinked thinly as I dropped it in the hat. Hats never got folding money in those days.
“Then I woke up. I who had boasted my generosity that morning was treating my own club worse than the distant alcoholics who had forgotten to send the Foundation their dollars. I realized that my five-dollar gift to the slippee was an ego-feeding proposition, bad for him and bad for me. There was a place in A.A. where spirituality and money would mix, and that was in the hat!”
There is another story about money. One night in 1948, the trustees of the Foundation were having their quarterly meeting. The agenda discussion included a very important question. A certain lady had died. When her will was read, it was discovered she had left Alcoholics Anonymous in trust with the Alcoholic Foundation a sum of ten thousand dollars. The question was: Should A.A. take the gift?
What a debate we had on that one! The Foundation was really hard up just then; the groups weren’t sending in enough for the support of the office; we had been tossing in all the book income and even that hadn’t been enough. The reserve was melting like snow in springtime. We needed that ten thousand dollars. “Maybe,” some said, “the groups will never fully support the office. We can’t let it shut down; it’s far too vital. Yes, let’s take the money. Let’s take all such donations in the future. We’re going to need them.”
Then came the opposition. They pointed out that the Foundation board already knew of a total of half a million dollars set aside for A.A. in the wills of people still alive. Heaven only knew how much there was we hadn’t heard about. If outside donations weren’t declined, absolutely cut off, then the Foundation would one day become rich. Moreover, at the slightest intimation to the general public from our trustees that we needed money, we could become immensely rich. Compared to this prospect, the ten thousand dollars under consideration wasn’t much, but like the alcoholic’s first drink it would, if taken, inevitably set up a disastrous chain reaction. Where would that land us? Whoever pays the piper is apt to call the tune, and if the A.A. Foundation obtained money from outside sources, its trustees might be tempted to run things without reference to the wishes of A.A. as a whole. Relieved of responsibility, every alcoholic would shrug and say, “Oh, the Foundation is wealthy—why should I bother?” The pressure of that fat treasury would surely tempt the board to invent all kinds of schemes to do good with such funds, and so divert A.A. from its primary purpose. The moment that happened, our Fellowship’s confidence would be shaken. The board would be isolated, and would fall under heavy attack of criticism from both A.A. and the public. These were the possibilities, pro and con.
Then our trustees wrote a bright page of A.A. history. They declared for the principle that A.A. must always stay poor. Bare running expenses plus a prudent reserve would henceforth be the Foundation’s financial policy. Difficult as it was, they officially declined that ten thousand dollars, and adopted a formal, airtight resolution that all such future gifts would be similarly declined. At that moment, we
believe, the principle of corporate poverty was firmly and finally embedded in A.A. tradition.
When these facts were printed, there was a profound reaction. To people familiar with endless drives for charitable funds, A.A. presented a strange and refreshing spectacle. Approving editorials here and abroad generated a wave of
confidence in the integrity of Alcoholics Anonymous. They pointed out that the irresponsible had become responsible, and that by making financial independence part of its tradition, Alcoholics Anonymous had revived an ideal that its era had almost forgotten.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote of walking down the sidewalk, thinking for myself, “Just for today.” It started me down that path of thinking about the other clichés we often find on the walls of the meetings. Anyone who has studied rhetoric for more than a couple of days can tell you that the purpose of the cliché is to wheedle its way inside the brain. Successful clichés are unforgettable, if annoying. “All’s fair in love and war,” and “The early bird gets the worm.”
I have no balance in my life today. I’ve been working too hard. I think, I am not going to drink tonight, so I afford myself another opportunity to work rather than go to a meeting. Consequently, I know my spiritual condition has taken a hit. I can’t help but sit here and be reminded, “Whatever I place first before my recovery is sure to be the first thing I lose.”
I know other clichés too. I know that “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us” (Twelve and Twelve 90). And I know, “We need not be discouraged when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” And I know “Faith without works is dead” (Big Book 76).
Every once and a while, I have found myself lost in thought, looking at the cliché’s on the wall. In the past, I’ve discounted them as little more than what passes for decoration in AA, but as I sit here in the moment, I have grown in appreciation over the humble cliché and its pithy outlook on recovery. So, today, I’m gonna add the cliché to the “Spiritual toolbox laid at my feet.”
As for the rest, “I’m all right, all ready,” because “Any day I go to bed sober is a good day.” And tomorrow, I’ll “Clean house, trust God and help others.” Afterall, “It works if you work it.”
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