The “We” Part, Revisited

My WeI occasionally tell my students that we all have gaps in our education, things we misunderstood or never really grasped to begin with. Sometimes, we don’t even know we have it wrong. One night in college, I was up late studying biology. I was all alone. It was quiet. Something was not quite right. No one was around to ask, so I just kept staring at the textbook, flipping pages, staring again. According to my book, atoms made up cells, but that couldn’t be right. Cells, I knew, made up material things like people and trees, whereas atoms made up chemicals like oxygen and hydrogen. Yep. That’s what I thought. Sometimes, I tell my students, we just miss obvious things.

Last weekend, I went to my annual women’s retreat. It’s one of my very favorite weekends of the entire year. As usual, I heard many insights into recovery that resonated with me. One, though, (maybe because I fear everyone but me already knows it) has been keeping me up at night.

I have always thought I understood the necessity of the “we” portion of the program. When I was drinking, I felt isolated and alone. Towards the end, I didn’t speak to anyone that was not absolutely necessary: my boss, maybe the check-out person at the liquor store. I know I didn’t have any “real” conversations. The fact that I was chronically and fatally depressed or that my life was a shambles, was never openly admitted, not that I even had someone to tell had I wanted to. When I finally found recovery, I clung to the group, hanging on for dear life. I stuck to the middle of the herd, found a home group, got a sponsor I could be accountable and honest with, performed service work, went on twelve step calls. I did all that things one does when they are trying not to spin off the side of the record.

Last weekend, though, a friend altered my perception of the “we” part of the program. She said something in just the way to tweak it in my mind and bring about a new realization. My friend was re-working her steps. She had done her fourth step inventory, but had yet to meet up with her sponsor. But she had years of sobriety. She had some independence in the issue, so she went ahead and filled out the fourth column. She knew her part and could see the pattern of behaviors. And yet, she had no relief. The thoughts and emotions were still with her, rummaging around in her mind.

My friend realized that relief does not come from the act of writing the fourth step, but of speaking the fifth step. As she put it, until the words were actually spoken, the thoughts still took home in her mind.

Only after she spoke did I realize that my intellectual mind had always supposed something happened with the admission of resentments and faults to ourselves. One would think that simply the admission of transgressions to ourselves would give us something, some kind of relief. But it doesn’t. Half measures avail us nothing. It seems so obvious. I’ve heard it a million times. We admitted we were powerless…We came to believe… our wills and our lives… etc.

The “we” part is not a piece of the program, a part of it that encompasses the social or service portion of the steps. Over here are the meetings and service, and over there are the steps. They do not exist simultaneously but separate. No, the “we” makes up all the other stuff. The “we” is the atom and the steps are the cells. It is the core, the essential, the thing from which all the other stuff is made.

I think missing the group is why people who separate from the program, who think the lessons that they have learned in AA can carry back into the real world without the support of their fellows, never seem to hang on. It seems as if they should. I believe them when they say they have every intention of hanging on. But without the sponsor, without the group, without the speaking of the words aloud to another person, there is no connection and no relief, and therefore, no recovery.

 

 

The Path

Turning Over a New Leaf

I know I haven’t met you yet,

But I’m positive when I do,

We will greet each other like old friends.

I’ll extend my hand to you.

 

But until that future time comes,

I can only wish you well.

Cause the road you travel down

Is a solitary hell.

 

Littered with tears and pity,

Shame and sorrow at your side,

You keep trying the same old game again.

The Devil’s in your pride.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 So, keep walking down that path you made.

Walk it all alone.

Because you need to fully feel,

The existence you have sown.

 

But when you reach the point,

Of choosing life or death.

I hope you will reach out for help

With surrendered breath.

 

For though I walk another path

Your history rings true.

To the very path I used to walk,

Because I was once just like you.

Matching Calamity with Recovery

Matching Calamity with Serenity

I have come to the conclusion that good students make bad AAs. No, this has nothing to do with intelligence. I think super smart people are often terrible students. I am talking about the front row sitters with their hand in the air, apple for the teacher type students. Here is my thought: there are the answers that are right and there are answers that are truthful. And those aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Last week, my love needed a heart catheterization. While the procedure is fairly routine, it feels scary. It feels like something that should not be done. I was calm when we heard the news, calm on the way to the hospital, calm checking him in. The cath was to take a few hours. I had my Big Book. And I won’t lie, I started writing my blog entry right there, right up in my own head: matching calamity with serenity. Ahhhh….

And then I got to the waiting room. As I entered the room, I immediately assessed the situation. The room was smaller than my bedroom, with chairs lined around the periphrases. There were no windows. The air hung heavy with smells of people and food and hospital. Two ladies were simultaneously talking on their phones in different languages. The TV, set to a local morning news show, added another certain comedic element as I imagine the beautiful people laughing along from the safety of their kitchens. I had no choice but to enter, to follow my love to two seats in the corner. Because it was my job. Because it is what we do. But right before the door shut behind us, I felt my serenity say, “No way, I’m not doing this. Meet you at Starbucks.”

A short time later, they called my love away to be prepped. They told me to continue to wait and I could see him before the procedure. I waited in the room with no air until I could not handle it anymore, and then I decided I was just gonna have to wait in the hallway. I honestly picked what I thought was the least obtrusive spot and sat down. It was about three minutes later that a man told me I would have to move, that I would have to wait in the room with the teenagers engaged in hilarity and the sunny talk show hosts and the smells. And that’s when I started to cry.

I know what the correct answer is. I remember doing my first 1st step. My sponsor made me do worksheets. One of the questions was, “What are you powerless against?” I didn’t understand the question, but I knew the correct answer had to do with alcohol. So, I answered it alcohol and she said “Good,” and we moved on. Because I never asked, I never understood there was a deeper question and a more profound answer.

It was not until I stopped answering correctly and instead answering honestly, that I felt recovery. Over time, I have learned that AA is not about memorizing the Big Book or sounding good in meetings. It is about humility and time and quiet. It wasn’t until I asked for help, that I got it. It wasn’t until I admitted that I had no conception of powerlessness, did I begin to regain my strength.

So, instead of writing the “right” blog about matching serenity with calamity, I write this honest one: I did not match calamity with serenity. I was not the embodiment of stoicism nor grace. I cried and then wiped my nose on my sleeve.

But after I cried, I washed my face and bought a cup of coffee. And then I walked into the “Spiritual Care” office and spent some time talking to a chaplain. He was kind and reassuring. He said he didn’t know if AA existed in the hospital, but he would be sure to find out. And he did.

I left the hospital that day, not secure in the knowledge that I have reached total spiritual enlightenment, but that I never necessarily have to. I never have to be a beacon of independent strength because I’m never alone. I didn’t match serenity with calamity. But I matched egotism with humility. And together, we matched calamity with recovery. And today, that’s good enough.

5 Ways for AAs to Stay Sane Over the Holidays

Thanksgiving Desire Chip II

A man I have come to respect, George G., always says, “Alcoholism is a threefold disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” It makes me smile just thinking about it. Next week is Thanksgiving and it officially marks the beginning of yet another holiday season. The holidays are a stress-filled time with obstacles and pitfalls. In light of that, I decided to take a moment to write down some of the suggestions I have received over the years on how to remain sane over the holidays!

1. Read the Big Book: I had a sponsor who told me that every time, before walking into my parent’s house, I was to read page 66-67. It works. “We realized that the people who had wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like the symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves were sick too. We asked God to help is show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.’”

The Sick Man’s Prayer reminds me that I never know exactly what I going on in the mind of anyone else. I have had times when I became angry or said hurtful and intolerant things because I was the one in distress. Oftentimes, it had nothing to do with the other person. They just happened to be in the direct line of fire. I try to keep this very thought in mind during stressful times. If something is directed at me, I think, “Is that a valid complaint?” If not, I do my best to let it go, and turn my thoughts and my hands to service. Which brings us to Number 2…

2. Be of Service: Being of service sounds like drudgery. I tend to think of it more like helping out, being a good sister and aunt. I always try to do something that is helpful. There are a lot of members of my family. Sometimes we are like a tornado. I try to lessen the blow of family gatherings by helping cook or washing dishes. Sometimes my service work is simply playing with my nieces or nephews so that my siblings can have a moment of quiet (that’s the best kind of service because it’s also the funnest!)

Being of service allows for two things. First, it makes me feel good about myself, like I generally made a positive contribution to the gathering. (Something that was not always true in the past.) Second, I feel like if I have to make a quick escape or if I inadvertently say something inappropriate, it gets tempered. “Did you hear what she said?” “No, but did you taste those mash potatoes she made? Yum…”

3. The Car: When I first got sober, I was prone to anxiety attacks. It felt like the room was suddenly closing in and I could not breathe. I learned the only way to end these attacks was to leave, sometimes unceremoniously. First, always drive yourself. Do not be beholden to someone else and their time frames. If you gotta go, then go.

Additionally, my parents have a long driveway only one car width thick. On more than one occasion, I got blocked in. Nothing is worse than needing to leave and having to ask three other people to move their cars to get out. Not only does this make one’s leaving largely conspicuous, there is the additional stress of interrupting conversations and waiting for people to find keys and then while one is finding their keys, another decides to use the restroom… Just park in the street. This same system is also true for valet parking. Nothing is more irritating than having to make mindless conversation with a stranger as you are waiting for a valet to finish his smoke break. Park your car yourself.

4. Just leave: You know, I make this mistake all the time. I want to leave, but I feel guilty, so I stay. As my impatience and anxiety rise (as it always does) the party becomes increasingly more uncomfortable.

Leave the party. If you think you may be too uncomfortable with the whole, “I’m an alcoholic in the midst of an anxiety attack (or craving) and must leave immediately” excuse, come up with a few other’s in advance. Sometimes, beforehand, I say I already have another engagement. “I have to be somewhere at seven.” Then, if I end up staying later, I say, “Well, I was having such a good time, I called and told them I would be late.” This has the additional pleasure of making the host feel happy that their party is such a huge success.

5. Go to a Holiday Meetings: One of the things about Christmas is that everywhere I look, people have more presents, more fun, more everything than me. Even the glow from the Christmas lights makes everyone better looking than me. Envy is a killer, man. It’s useless and pointless.

Because of this, I always try to make it to a meeting on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s. Once again, there are a couple of different benefits to the holiday meeting. First, I think it is important for someone to be there to unlock the door and help the newly sober man or woman make it through his/her first holiday season. Second, this service works in the same vein as sponsorship. By being around the new man during the holidays, I gain gratitude for all that I have rather than wallowing in envy and self-pity.

My list is my no means exhaustive. These are just the ones I have personally come to live by. I know there are a ton more suggestions out there and I would like to hear them. If you want to contribute to the discussion, please post your comment below or email me at agkroger@gmail.com. I am more than happy to keep your suggestion anonymous.

I hope everyone has a sober and safe Thanksgiving!

AGK