A New Freedom and a New Happiness

The Promises

**This week’s post is written by my pen-pal Nichole Barry-Kroger. Although we share a last name, and though I now think of her as a sister, we are not actually related. Nichole is currently serving an eighteen month prison sentence in a South Dakota women’s facility for driving while intoxicated.**

For a long time, I thought the promises in the Big Book were something that didn’t apply to a person like me. I just didn’t ever look forward to them happening to me because I, of course, must be unique. My past has been full of people who had regularly told me I was useless, stupid, fat, ugly, and the list goes on. My self-esteem was drug down so low that I thought it could happen for everyone else, but not for someone as stupid as myself.

Now, I sit here in prison at the age of 39, not even feeling sorry for myself anymore. While I was awaiting sentencing, I was in an outpatient treatment, aftercare, got a sponsor, had a recovery coach, went to three meetings a week, and got involved in church again.

These were all great things for me because I can cope a lot better with my situation now. I would be lost and possibly using if I hadn’t done all of these things. I have twenty-eight months clean and sober as of right now. I sometimes look back and wish I could have done all of these things before it came to all of this, but this is what it took, I suppose. Of course, I get down and sad, and sometimes really lonely for my family, but it passes.

I know I have a great and bright future, and my family is anxious for me to come home. In the Big Book, on page 83, it says, “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.” I used to wonder what that would even feel like, but now, even in prison, I can feel that. I actually feel happiness and hopeful for once in my life.

Sure, I still have the promises coming true because it doesn’t just happen all at once. I still regret the past sometimes and feel guilt over it, but I don’t want to get drunk over it. I still fear people sometimes and economic insecurity, but time will get me over these things with God and AA. I look forward to helping others with these same problems and being useful again in our AA and church communities. Even from prison, I can see that the AA promises are coming true for me, and they can for anyone if you put the work in.

God is definitely doing for me what I could not do for myself!

 

The Impact of Grammar on Recovery

The Gift of DesperationSometimes, my mind wanders during a meeting into a whole other area of thought. This happened recently in a meeting about resting on one’s laurels. I have been hearing this topic a lot lately, and inevitably someone always says, “I got the gift of desperation.” I think I ponder individual words on a level most people do not. I presume it is what makes me a great English teacher, if at times a somewhat irritating friend and wife. (What do you mean I am mostly kind-hearted!??) I digress.

In the past, when confronted with the “gift of desperation,” I have been caught up with the word “gift” and all that connotes. But today a new thought occurred to me as I lost track of the meeting, and that was the word “got,” more specifically, about the simple past tense of the word “got.”

English is an odd language. It stands out form other languages because its root is the Germanic language. When German warriors invaded England in the 7th century, they brought with them their language. Four hundred years later, Britain was attacked and held by a section of France called Normandy. Consequently, the English language went through a radicalization process changing largely into what might be considered a French/German hybrid or a Latin/German hybrid since French was originally an offshoot of Latin. The grammar system by which English is based reflects this Latin influence.

English has a variety of tenses that all define or denote a different place in time in which an action, the verb, takes place. Did something happen in the past? Did something happen in the past and finished before another thing in the past happened? Or did it happen in the past and is still happening today? It is very precise. And maybe exactly because of this precision, in conjunction with the lack of grammar taught in schools today, these tenses have fallen out of favor. People do not know how to use them, or if they do use them in academic or business environments, they do not use them in common speaking. Instead, people tend to fall back on the so-called “simple” tenses, favoring context to convey time.

This is not unheard of in other languages. In fact, many non-Latin influenced languages have much simpler forms of verb tenses. Some languages, Mandarin being the most widely spoken, have no tenses at all.

And then all this thought reminded me of a Ted Talk I heard about the philosophical, economic, and medical consequences of tenses on cultures.

Keith Chen speaks that cultures with future tenses allow people to distance themselves from the future, unlike the cultures who do not differentiate the present from the future. Subconsciously, languages that differentiate the future have cultures that save less money and have less impulse control because they seem unaffected by the actions of today, but rather set off into the distant future.

I cannot help but wonder how language we use in recovery affects our recovery. We speak of a daily reprieve and a “spiritual bank” from which to draw, but Chen might argue we do not fully and consciously understand how the repercussions of our past acts, and the acts we perform today, have on our future.

“I got the gift of desperation.” Grammatically, it would mean that I got it, but no longer have it. Maybe, a better way by which to speak of it would be the present perfect progressive tense indicating an action continuing from the past into the present and possible into the future. “I have been receiving the gift of desperation.” Not an over and done task, but a continuing act.

Or maybe better yet, no tenses at all. Yesterday, I have the gift of desperation. Today, I have the gift of desperation. Tomorrow, I have the gift of desperation.

Yesterday, I recover. Today, I recover. Tomorrow, I recover.

Differentiate the True from the False

People Pleaser

It is pretty rare whenever I am in a meeting and the topic is not one I have already heard a hundred times. I am not disparaging the tried and true meeting topics; they’re classic for a reason, but whenever I hear a new one, my ears perk up just a little bit. I listen closer and think a little harder. Recently, I was in one of these meetings. The topic was, “Things people told you about yourself, things that were not true, that you believed.”

Many moons ago, when I lived in Boston, I had a friend who was studying criminal justice. This required her to take a variety of psychology and sociology classes, the kind of classes that makes one feel like they are experts in topics in which they really have zero understanding. One night we were talking, and in one of those moments of clarity, I said to her, “I think I am an alcoholic.”

My friend looked at me quizzically, paused, and in all earnestness said, “No, you are just a problem drinker.”

“Aha!” I thought, “I am a problem drinker!” And although deep down I knew it was not true, I clung to that idea for the next several years of my life.

Problem drinker… I don’t even know what that means.

The absurdity of the thing is, I always believed other people’s interpretations of me, good and bad. When I was told I didn’t have standards, when I was told that a degree in English was a waste of money, when I was told I wasn’t pretty because I weighed too much… all that. I believed all that. And a part of me still does.

“… [Alcoholics] cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false,” (Big Book xxviii).

I do not know why we are so bound to believe other people’s interpretations of ourselves, even over our own instinctual understanding of our own natures.

I have another memory, and that is the memory of when I first started this blog. I did not know what I was going to write about or how the blog would manifest. I just knew I needed to do it. I began to trust my own instinct rather than the words of others. For the first time in my life, I felt I was walking down the right path. I felt aligned and good. I felt like I was doing exactly what I was always meant to be doing.

The steps and recovery, the honesty I have with the women in my life, the ability to process, to meditate, to think, and to slow down have given me the ability to begin the process of knowing my true self- not the self that other people would like to believe I am, nor the person I wish I was, but my actual self.

And as awkward as it may be to admit… it’s been a real pleasure getting to know her.

Resting on One’s Laurels

Resting on One's LaurelsA few months ago, I was walking on the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, with my husband. We had had a long day playing and decided to take a leisurely stroll as the sun began to set. All around us, giggling children ran around with buckets trying to catch hermit crabs. It was an idealistic moment, one of those times each year that fortifies one until one can get back to the sound and the feel of the ocean or the mountains or the plains.

As we walked, Bob occasionally stopped and looked out towards the ocean. He is a person prone to quiet contemplation, so I choose not to disturb him. But each time he paused, it forced me to pause. Amid our romantic and serene surroundings, I found myself torn between stopping for him and walking on for me. I started to become agitated. So, walk on I did. After a few minutes, I looked back. The sun had set and night had closed in on the beach. I had lost my love.

It occurred to me that night that relationships in recovery are often like that fateful walk on the beach. Two people may meet at the same place. They might start walking in the same direction at the same pace, but eventually, one of them is going to take a pause. Maybe life has become too busy or meetings no longer hold the same appeal. Maybe one of the partners has disengaged from their sponsor.

When that happens, when one lags behind spiritually, the other partner is then forced into making a decision. Either the partner also lags, or else they move forward, going out to meetings, staying accountable to their recovery, and risking outgrowing their partner.

I don’t really have an answer. What I do know is “We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough” (Big Book 82), and “More sobriety brought about by the admission of alcoholism and by the attendance at a few meetings is a very good indeed, but it is bound to be a far cry from permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life… Nothing short of continuous action upon these as a way of life can bring the much-desired results” (Twelve and Twelve 39-40).

So, I ask of you, the readers. How do you traverse this minefield of relationshipal disasterness? How do you keep accountable to each other without being enmeshed in each other’s program? If water finds its own level, how do you keep in homeostasis?

If you have any thoughts on what works ( or what doesn’t work), we would love to hear your comments. You can post anonymously on WordPress, or you can email and I will copy and paste your comment onto the blog without your name. We look forward to hearing from you.

Step Five: The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

I recently lead a meeting on the following topic, and was asked to turn the prompt into a short piece for a recovery blog. The following observations and inquiries are based on my first-hand experience and work with my own recovery through AA. While this is grounded in the 12 Steps and the approved literature, I am not attempting to amend any AA text or practices.

Insights into Step Five

By: Bailey Bunge

Exact Wrongs to Nature

Step 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous charges us to, “Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” So what exactly is Step 5 asking us to do? In order to better understand this instruction, I referred to the definition of the word “nature.” According to www.merriam-webster.com, “nature” is defined in part, as it relates to this context as:

1a:  the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing: essence

b:  disposition, temperament

4:  the physical constitution or drives of an organism

Step 5 is asking us to understand the exact nature, the inherent character, the basic constitution, of our wrongs in order to accept, own, and eventually, correct them. There is a powerful difference between making a laundry list of transgressions or character defects and understanding what drives them.

Starting on page 55 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we receive instruction that it is only through full disclosure, complete honesty, and absolute thoroughness that we will successfully attempt Step 5. We are being asked for much more than a mere tally sheet. When we truly search for the exact nature of our wrongs, we are gifted so much more than a checklist. We begin to understand our “destructive obsessions,” (Twelve and Twelve 57) which is the first step to repairing them. In this we begin to tear down the wall of isolation and set about becoming who God would have us be. “To those who have made progress in AA, it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. Therefore, our first practical move towards humility must consist of recognizing our deficiencies. No defect can be corrected unless we clearly see what it is.” (Twelve and Twelve 58) The inventory list we make in Step 4 is the recognition of our deficiencies. Understanding their exact nature helps us correct them. Here is an example:

Step 4 Inventory
Resentment: Cause: Affects: My Part
My husband We fight all the time Personal relationship Trying to control him

 

When we go back to look for our part and add column 4, we identify the character defect “controlling.” Now that we are armed with this bit of self-truth, the cause can move from “We fight all the time. He never does what I want him to,” to an understanding of the exact nature of this character defect. It might look more accurately like, “My trouble lies in trying to control him using manipulation, bribery, punishment, to coerce him into acting as I desire.” Understanding the function of our defects gives us the freedom to grow past them. Being aware of this behavior, we can work to amend it, as we move into a beautiful life, full of progress, not perfection.

Wife or No Wife

By: Anonymous

“Some of us have taken very hard knocks to learn this truth: Job or no job- wife or no wife—we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on God” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous 98).

Cake or No Cake

The above statement is a powerful reminder to me that despite my material and external gains or losses, I simply did not stop drinking. I often would attend church services on Sunday, getting drunk at church brunch afterwards. By Monday, I would be in a state of confusion on where my spiritual juice went that I had received at church. It was covered by alcohol. I still was not putting a dependence on God, even when I desired to seek God. Naturally, I stopped going to church. God was not there. Ironically, many years later, my first AA meeting was in that very same church. I picked up my one and only desire chip there 8 years ago.

Hard knocks.  No one told me that hard knocks were going to cease when I got sober.  I was often told “It will get better” and “Things will change and get different.” I remember being over a year sober when I screamed in frustration at someone and said, “What is ‘It,’ that gets better?!” The person calmly looked at me and said, “You; you get better.” Lightbulb on.

I did get better. I worked the steps, sought outside help, worked with a sponsor, attended meetings, worked with others, and changed my behaviors, actions, and playgrounds. Hard knocks of life still occurred as they always will. No one is immune to this. How I handle the hard knocks is what the major difference between the sober alcoholic I am today and the drunk alcoholic I was.

“It is only when boy meets girl on A.A. campus…,” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions 119). I’m not sure when someone stole my 12 & 12 and inserted this page, but I surely do not recall reading it on any previous occasion. It is underlined, so I am sure a sponsor pointed it out at some point.

I found love on A.A. campus. Then after 6-years of dating, relationship, and marriage, I woke up on January 27, 2016, to my love being done with the marriage. 3 days later, she was gone and all of her belongings were in the spare room. 7 days later, all of our finances were untangled, and by Valentine’s Day every essence of our marriage and her presence was gone. 2 weeks. 2 weeks to undo 6-years. In many ways, I am grateful it was quick. In another way, I feel like I’m living out a bad nightmare that I must surely wake from soon.

I found myself thinking about that statement “wife or no wife.” I know with every fiber in my body that no matter what, I don’t drink. “Job or no job- wife or no wife,” I simply do not pick up a drink, and I put my dependence on God. This is not a new solution that applies for divorce, death, or any other hard knock. The solution and design for living is exactly the same as it was in the beginning. However this time, I had 8-years’ worth of spiritual tools at my feet to pick up. I talk about my feelings (argh), feel my feelings (double argh), meditate, journal, listen to music, read the literature, and pray. Then, I work the steps, seek outside help, meet with a sponsor, attend meetings, do service work, and change my behaviors, actions, and playgrounds. And it works.  It really does….If you work it.