Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Earlier this week, I was in conversation with one of my students about class presentations. She was telling me how little she liked getting up in front of people. I confided in her that I, too, hate standing up in front of people. She was surprised by my words because I am sure lectures seems to her, as it seems to me, a major component of my job.

IDr Jekyll and Mr Hyde have a ton of social anxiety. I have told this to many people over my lifetime, but it always seems to be discounted with a wave of the hand and a, “But you’re so outgoing.” But its true. Somewhere along the way, I think I just got good at faking it. In fact, I think alcoholics are good at faking all sorts of things: our lives, our feelings, our personalities.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “Here is the fellow who has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (21).

Robert Louis Stevensons’ Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was publish in London in 1868. Dr. Jekyll (who for most of my life I thought was the bad guy because his name reminds me of jackal) is actually the good guy. As a character, Jekyll is well liked and successful. The problem is that there is a sort of stain on his soul- the kind of thing that makes him crave to do less than noble deeds. Jekyll fears that if he indulges this baser portion of his personality, someone will figure out. He will ruin his reputation. Thus, he creates a transformation potion. When he takes said elixir,  Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde.

Unfortunately, as with life, after Jekyll takes the potion a few unforeseen consequences happen. First, Jekyll doesn’t realize the extent of the monster he would become- a man whose bad acts become increasingly more sinister up to and including murder. Second, Jekyll doesn’t anticipate that he would be unable to stop himself from changing. Initially, Jekyll cannot stop transforming due to an mental obsession on his part to be Hyde- a constant thinking followed by an eventual lack of willpower and an indulgence. But after a while, the transformations happen even when Jekyll doesn’t want them to, and even more importantly, without ever taking a single sip of the potion. By the end of the novel, the transformations are complete and involuntary. Knowing he will soon turn into Mr. Hyde permanently, Dr. Jekyll commits suicide.

I feel that recently I have become increasingly isolationist. I didn’t really intend for it to happen. My husband and I moved away from our homegroup and friends, and then we got married. Meetings turned from a jaunt across the street to a long drive, a need to make the time count by seeing friends and family, eating dinner, shopping, and suddenly my meeting becomes a day or a night out. And as I entered grad school, the nights out became less frequent. It became easier and more productive to stay home and work. It became easier and more comfortable.

I don’t think that the story of Jekyll and Hyde only refers to the more literary metaphor of a man who drinks and changes, becoming an uglier version on himself with greater frequency until he kills himself- though this is the reference the Big Book is clearly making. But I think this Jekyll and Hyde transformation can happen when we are not drinking too. I can see how someone can make the voluntary decision to stay home or to engage in character defects. At first its just an occasional thing but then the occasional becomes routine. Before we know it, its just who we are. Involuntary. The transformation is complete.

I think that is the real lesson of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think in society we mostly talk about Jekyll and Hyde as if they are two people, but they’re not. Hyde was always a part of Jekyll’s being. Jekyll just stopped listening to his conscience. He stopped fighting the fight.

The Facebook Resentment

Ann G. Kroger Celebrate Pride 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.

 

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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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Seventh Tradition: Part Deux

Hobo CurrencyI 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.

 

 

The Flip Side (or The Show Running the Actor)

You Spot It, You Got It

On Thursday, I wrote about actor running the whole show. I’m writing about it again because I’m still living in it. I know some of you can relate. Just because I have identified the character defect doesn’t mean the defect and the accompanying anger magically go away. No, no sometimes it takes a little more work. Sometimes, I have to process it a little bit longer.

So, here is where we are at… I occasionally have the mentality that I know what’s best for all those around me. It’s for the best! I am looking out for them. I am being gracious with my help. I am being generous with my time and energy to help you; the least you could do is accept it. I don’t even really need a thank you. I just need you to do it because I am tired of hearing this same complaint or maybe I am just tired of having to witness the general disaster you have made out of your life.

But there is another side to this coin.

There is something really awkward about engaging in a character defect while someone is engaging in theirs. For instance, I get really angry when people talk on their phone while driving. The freeways in Houston are bad enough without the additional distraction of phones. And yet, there are some days when I have to make a call, and while I am driving is the most convenient time to do it. I get self-conscious about holding the phone up to my ear because I know the person driving behind me can see it. I know they are cursing me. And yet…

It’s the alcoholic double standard. I don’t want anyone messing with my life for any reason what-so-ever. I do not want any judgment or criticism. In fact, I would really like it if you just stood over there, off to the side a little ways. I’ll call you over when I’m ready to see you.

And yet, I am more than happy to stick my pudgy little fingers into whatever pie you happen to have going on. I remember a friend having a slight disciplinary problem with her daughter. In the scheme of life, it was nothing. A little backtalk, normal for any kid, but the kind of thing a parent worries about lest it snowballs. Anywho, she and her husband had a plan. Upon hearing said plan, I thought, “That’s never going to work.” Now, I don’t have kids. I do not know the first thing about the stresses of being a parent. I can’t even properly train my dogs. And yet…

The book tells me that when I try to control and manipulate, other people rebel. I know that to be true because when other people try to control and manipulate me, even when they are doing it to help me fix the general disaster I have made of my life, I rebel. It’s a deal breaker. And that’s my lesson. It’s a cycle. It’s a reverse. It is so simple, they even teach it to little kids. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I shouldn’t manipulate because I do not like being manipulated. I shouldn’t control because I do not like being controlled. And I certainly shouldn’t assume I know how other people are feeling because I am quite certain no one knows what’s going on inside me.

Letting people be is a difficult thing, especially when I only have good intentions. But the road others have to walk down, the lessons they have to learn, are not for me to decide for them. What I need to do is turn the mirror back around on myself and think about the lessons that I need to learn. There are enough things wrong with my life and with my relationships, to keep me busy for eternity.