A Disease of Perception

The HoboatorHouston has its own wrestling TV show called Reality of Wrestling. I am going to give Booker T. a plug because if you have not seen it, you should. It’s on at 1 AM Saturday night/Sunday morning on channel 57 (The Cube). It’s super awesome, old school wrestling in the overly dramatic, absurd kind of way. For the past few months, my sweetie and I have started a new routine. We attend our usual 10 o’clock candlelight meeting, go out to dinner, and then come home in time for wrestling. Though I cannot believe how lame we are, what I really cannot believe is how much I like it.

My sponsee and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about the idea that addiction is a disease of perception. I’ve never really been a happy person. I’m more the glass half empty, life has no meaning kinda girl. But I crave happiness. I desire it. I search for it like an explorer looking for El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth. For years, I traversed the bar scene, drinking and talking. I met not so interesting people. I played jukeboxes and shot pool. I skipped lines and got after-hours pulls.

Looking back, though, what’s incredibly awkward is I do not think I had a moment of pure joy the entire time I was out there. I thought I did. I thought I was having fun, because in some messed up sense it was fun, compared to the rest of my life. On my happiness scale of one to ten, I continually fell around a 2; I was genuinely unhappy. I then go out and drink, some gross boy flirts with me, tells me I’m pretty, and suddenly I’m like a 4. But I am never really happy; I’m just better than I was. I had mistaken happiness.

What the steps of AA do is alter my perception of my life through gradual acts that help change my perception of myself. Simple things: I look at my past acts, things I have done that have hurt others and try to rectify them. I look at the parts of my character that I do not like and try to engage new and better habits. It is cognitive therapy at its finest. “… huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them” (Big Book 27).

One of my favorite AAs in the world said something once that continues to resonate with me over time. He said, “I use to pray to God to make me a better dresser. But God did one better, he made me not care.” That is the emotional displacement that occurred as a result of the steps. Those are the parts of AA that make me say, “Oh, yeah. That’s right. Better dressing isn’t that important to me. Good character is.”

AA didn’t make me thin or tan or an optimist. What AA has done is help continually correct my faulty perception that being those attributes are going to make me happy. What the steps have done, what acting myself into right behavior has done, is improve, not my perceived life, but my genuine life. So today, on my happiness scale, I run about a six, but six is better than four. And the happiness I spent years looking for…? Well, I found it on my sofa, in my pajamas, watching ridiculously awesome wrestling.

Which Person are You?

Program of ActionIts 4:17 in the morning. I’ve opened my blinds to look out onto the calm of the apartment complex. It is quiet. No dogs barking, no children playing. Just the steady hum of passing cars from the freeway.

I am struggling this morning.

Not with drinking. I don’t want to drink. I am struggling with something else. Anger, maybe. Disappointment. Sadness.

My love had open-heart surgery a few days ago. He had a bad heart valve that had to be replaced. It’s about as serious of an operation as one can get. It requires stopping the heart for several hours, cutting into it, replacing the valve with one from a pig, sewing up the heart, and then hoping it starts again. The operation takes about ten hours start to finish. It is terrifying and painful. But my love, he did wonderfully. He came back to me.

No, my lost emotion does not lie with my love, who is hopefully sleeping even as I am awake. No, I am filled with alternating rage and sadness at the people who I thought would show up that haven’t. The friends, the family, who I expected would be there with cards or love or something, a smile perhaps. I am angry with the ones that are absent. The ones that have abandoned him as he would never abandon them. I want to call them at four in the morning,  as they sleep in their warm beds and scream at them. I want to ask them if their heart is beating strong, if they can breathe. I want to tell them they are bad people.

I sigh, for I know what they will say, even without them having to say it. They will say they didn’t know. Or they would say they didn’t want to bother us. They will have a justification, a reason, unwilling or unable to admit that they are failures at compassion.

So, I sit here, angry, remembering all the things they AA has taught me over the years. And what I keep remembering is the line in the Twelve and Twelve that tells me, “We had refused to learn the very hard lesson that overdependence upon people is unsuccessful because all people are fallible, and even the best of them will sometimes let us down,” (Page 115). People will let me down, and it is in that moment, the moment of perfect abandonment that I need to be able to turn to my higher power in order to find a renewed source of strength and power to continue forward.

I know other things too. I know that if I am angry, there must be something wrong with me. I cannot help but think of all the times I have failed someone else, the times when I did not show. The excuses I do not need to hear because they come from within me; they are the excuses I have used when others needed me.

Today, I am learning that the offer of help is different from the action of help. I am learning that a text is not the same thing as a phone call is not the same thing as getting in the car and driving. I am learning that “Let me know if you need anything,” sounds different than, “If you want company, I can bring ice cream.” I am learning that sometimes when a person says they are okay, they are not.

I have learned from the ones who have failed us and from the ones who have shown up.  For the one who never came, there was the one I could not turn away. For the one who disappeared, there was another who sat with him so I could regain some sanity. There was the one that played with the dogs and the one who answered the phone. And then there was the friend and family who took off from work to sit with me for an entire day in the waiting room.

I think when this is over, I will have learned a lot about who I am and how strong I can be. But I think I will also learn how I need to rely on others. And I will learn how to be reliable for others. I will re-evaluate the person I am. I will make the conscious decision to be a person who shows up. I will make the decision  to become the person I wish to be. I will reposition myself away from the false friends and closer to the true ones. I will pay attention, so I can better differentiate when people say they are okay and when they actually are okay. And then, I will not wait for them to call me and ask for help.

I think at the end of the day, it is not just my love who will come out of this experience with a better heart.