Alcoholics Anonymous: We Surely have no Monopoly

Recovery Options“Love and tolerance of others is our code” (Big Book 84).

I am not a very lovely and tolerant person. I’m just not. I try my darnedest, but… no. Quiet, though, I have improved upon. Pausing when agitated. Walking away. Not engaging. This morning, though, I woke up to yet another email explaining to me the fallibility of AA. Ugh. When I posted last week that this conversation bores me, a man called me a coward. He said that since his opinion differed with mine, I was scared to acknowledge him. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am sorry he feels spurned or neglected or failed or whatever it is by AA. I know such feelings exist. I just… I don’t know what to say about it.

I know there is a lot of hostility towards AA out there. And I know some people feel the need to express their dissatisfaction, but let me set something straight, once and for all. This is my blog. I write it. I draw the pictures. Its about my life, my perceptions, my recovery. I make no bones about it. I’ve have my reasons for breaking my anonymity. I wrote about them in in my post Part Three: Why I Write about my Alcoholism: (https://annkroger.com/2014/09/26/part-three-why-i-write-about-my-alcoholism/) But this, this is not a Celebrate Recovery blog. It is not a SMART Recovery Blog. This is not by the sheer force of willpower blog. And I do not feel in the spirit of equanimity that I have to give equal time to any of them because my blog is not about the many forms of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. It’s about my recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. And I’ve chosen AA.

With that said, I have never once said any other approach does not work. I never would. I have no basis on which to judge anything. I have not looked into them. I do not know what their methods are. I do not know what they teach. I’m not a coward; I’m just busy. I have two jobs, two dogs, this blog, my art, a family, a wedding to plan, and a fiancé who just had open-heart surgery. I have neither the time nor the interest to participate in a discussion that affects my life in no way whatsoever.

Furthermore, I find it odd that anyone would even engage in that discussion. The Big Book tells us, “In all probability, we shall never be able to touch more than a fair fraction of the alcohol problem in all its ramifications. Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly,” (xxi). I have a more than a couple friends in Celebrate Recovery. I have friends in SMART recovery. I, as well as most of my friends, engage or have engaged in some form of therapy/ psychoanalysis. Many AAs are on some kind of medication for anxiety or depression or any number of things. AA says some of us may need outside help. It encourages hospitalization when needed.

Well… the sun is nice and high. I’ve had a cup of coffee. Writing this has cleared my mind and my mood has drastically improved. So, here is what we’ll do. I will make a one-time offer. If you send me an email at agkroger@gmail.com summarizing your program of recovery, regardless of what it is, I will post it. Explain the program’s advantages or why you like it. Whatever you want. I would prefer it if you did not criticize other programs, but simple tell us about yours. I will not edit it. I will not voice an opinion. If you want to send original artwork, I will post that as well. This is your chance to voice whatever it is you want about whatever it is you are doing.

I will accept emails until hmmmm… April 5th and I will post the blog on April 12th. I hope everyone has a great day.

Lydia: Day 27

An Alcoholics Last Resort

Lydia did not know how it had happened. Well, she knew how it had happened, and yet she did not know how it happened. She knew the steps, knew the exact actions that led to her lying in a crumpled mass on the kitchen floor. What she did not know was how a seemingly innocent day could turn so quickly into a nightmare…

As part of her general dissatisfaction with her life, Lydia had started to methodically clean out the large house in Memorial. It had begun innocently enough on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. She had spent the morning reading and sipping tea, but then she turned a little restless, walking from room to room.

She eventually found herself standing in the doorway of her master closet. Once a room of pride, a space that spoke of indulgence and luxury, Lydia now looked upon the space as a choke around her neck. The designer clothes, the pristinely laid Choos and Louboutins, the large purses displayed as works of art, seemed not a reflection of affluence and ease, but a mausoleum dedicated to a former life of indulgence and superficiality. The sight disturbed her. Many of the clothes no longer even fit on her recently acquired fuller body frame, and yet there they hung.

Slowly, and with a feeling of grateful remorse to a past life, she carefully folded and packed away shirts after pants after skirts after cocktail dresses after ball gowns of clothes, once lovingly purchased and adored.

When Lydia finished her room, she moved on to her son’s and then her daughter’s. With each macramé school project and participation trophy, with each seashelled vacation souvenir and mother’s day card, a fond memory was ignited, appreciated, and then quietly closed. The items she did not feel were worthy of keeping, she threw away with no regret. With each passing garbage bag, she felt lighter, freer. The nicer items, the things she thought the kids might honestly want, Lydia set aside in one of two piles. If they wanted them, they would have to come get them. But her and Henry’s house, her house, would no longer be the exoskeleton of a time past. Lydia was living day by day, step by step, and all she wanted was for her surroundings to reflect her new founded simplicity.

So, it was with some confusion that it was a simple sweatshirt that had paralyzed Lydia that Sunday evening. A sweatshirt. Any other day, she might have simply folded it and placed it in his dresser drawer. Old, frayed around the edges, but perfectly worn in. When she and Henry first started dating, Lydia had confiscated the sweatshirt as a form of territorial display. She would wear it up to the hospital and kiss him in full view of the nurse’s station. Not usually a woman prone to jealousy, she knew from her own stay in the hospital that Henry was often sought out and flirted with. Lydia was not going to let him fall through her fingers. She was determined to fight for him, fight for him in the best way she knew how, in his Colombia sweatshirt and a tight pair of jeans.

But it was in that moment, in the moment when she raised the sweatshirt up to her nose to inhale his scent that she realized she had not fought for him. She had given him away, pushed him aside as she reached for another bottle. She blamed him. She accused him of desertion, but really, she the one that deserted him. She may have physically been there, but her mind was always fighting and struggling somewhere else. In her heart, in that moment, she could not blame him for leaving.

She looked up and straight into the sideboard mirror. The reflection startled her, for the woman who stared back was not the woman she had expected to see. She had looked in mirrors; she had to have. Always a woman properly put together, Lydia had spent hours applying make-up and coifing her perfectly styled hair. So, she must have look. But had she really looked? Lydia moved closer to the mirror, placed her hand against the cool glass. There, staring back at her was not the dignified and beautiful woman she envisioned, but an aged woman, worn and creased. Her hair, thought by her to be golden and lustrous, was a dried and brittled bleach. Her face was puffy and yet somehow simultaneously drawn. There were circles under her eyes. Her skin had a yellowed hue, the color of prolonged sickness and self-tanner. Instead of cathartic recovery gravitating through her arterial system, a wave of bile, anger, self-loathing, disgust, and hated swelled up from her stomach.

Without warning alcoholic desire screamed at her. It knocked her body backwards with a physicality that forced her to break eye contact with the mirror. Suddenly clinging at the neck of her t-shirt, she couldn’t breathe. She doubled over, trying to catch her breath. After a few seconds, Lydia looked up and ran from the room, the sweatshirt lying on the ground.

She sprinted down the sweeping spiral staircase to the living room. When she got there, she looked wildly around. Think, think. The bar wouldn’t have anything. She had cleaned it out. Think, think. The cabinet above the refrigerator! Lydia pulled over a counter stool and stood on it to reach one of her most favorite hiding places. None. The pool house! Lydia ran to the guest quarters and pulled open the refrigerator, once stocked for parties, only to find it barren. The outdoor kitchen. No.

Panic overcame her as she ran back to the house and furiously started pulling out drawers and looking in behind furniture. She couldn’t have gotten it all. She must have forgotten something, overlooked something, anything. Lydia ran to the kitchen. Sherry, cooking wine, something. Lydia spotted the bottle of vanilla extract. She grabbed it off the shelf. She held it tight in her palm and looked down at it. 35% alcohol. It would work. It would quiet the thoughts until she could get to the store. And then it clicked. In a moment of realization, Lydia realized she was of the variety of alcoholic that would drink vanilla extract. She closed her fingers around the bottle and sank to the kitchen floor.

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

Sobering Up a Horse Thief

Horse Thief

In the past week, I was confronted with two particularly acute displays of the alcoholic mind at work. While both incidents initially inspired a fairly strong emotional response from me, a little sleep and some separation from the tantrums have allowed me to see the outbursts for what they really are: alcoholic cries for attention and control.

As anyone in AA knows, the disease of addiction is three fold. There is a physical component- From the moment my brain registers the intake of a foreign chemical inside my body, it instantly demands more. But there are two more elusive parts to alcoholism. These are the emotional and spiritual aspects of the disease. I think the spiritual and emotional bankruptcies are the parts of the disease that most alcoholics like to disregard in the misguided attempt at supposed normalcy. I’ve come to the conclusion though, as have most of the AAs I know, that that alcoholic’s shared psychological defectives and behaviors are a very real manifestation of our disease.

My trying to figure out my alcoholism is much like the causality dilemma of the chicken or the egg. Was I born genetically prone to alcoholism and developed the emotional and corollary psychological issues? Or did my reaction to my psychological issues result in my dependence upon escape? Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters which came first. Years of selfish behavior, putting our drinking before any and all others, daily participation in the process of demoralization and self-loathing has a lasting effect on the alcoholic. The idea that we, people who have such a capacity for caring, can also be the catalyst for so much hurt, leaves a profound scar on our emotional psyche. We have an uncontrollable need to dominate and manipulate all those around us, sure that if they only did what we thought was right, our life would finally meet our satisfaction. When they do not or when life inevitably fails to meet our preconceived expectations, we get angry. We eventually end up isolating, locking ourselves up in our houses so no one can see our growing insanity and self-destruction.

I like the statement, sober up a horse thief and all you have is a sober horse thief. It cuts to the chase. And yet, I think it is time to call it for what it is. Sober up a psychologically unstable, selfish, hurtful, dominating, manipulative, angry, isolating, self-destructive alcoholic and what you get is a psychologically unstable, selfish, hurtful, dominating, manipulative, angry, isolating, self-destructive person.

And that is what AA attempts to address. AA truly is not about the not drinking. It is about squaring one shoulders to all the years of bad acts. It is about taking responsibility. And then working daily to not repeat mistakes or fall back on the old behaviors of harmful and callous words or deeds.

This week, when confronted with these incidents of rampant alcoholic nuttiness, I wanted to respond. But then I remembered my old sponsors advice, “Do not engage.” I do not need to match crazy for crazy. I do not need to be brought down to the level of poorly chosen words and bad timing. I do not need to hurt others. Those are the acts of yesterday. I am in today.

Today when I am hurt, I call sober people and go to meetings and work with others. That does not come natural. I was taught that in the rooms. I learned that from the steps. Today, I rise above my lesser self. And tonight, I will sleep easy.

The Spiritual Tools are Laid at my Feet. Now if I Just Picked Them up.

Spiritual ToolsHere’s how it went down: First we got in an argument. Not a real argument, a baby one. A spat. The kind of argument a couple has when they’ve been together for a while and one of them, namely him, thinks he is being funny and the other one, namely me, doesn’t. And so I walked away.

But then, shoot, I needed to remind him to do something, so I texted him. No response. So, I texted him again, nice this time, please and thank you. Still no response. I texted him a third time, a little huff in this text. Silence. Here is where most people would stop, thinking that maybe he just needed a little time to himself, but not I. I texted him again. Indignant and self-righteous. And again. Self-pity. As I look back over the texts, I can see the downward spiral of alcoholic thinking from sanity to anger to self-aggrandized woe is me.

Three hours later, his text messages started rolling in. “Hey. I haven’t heard from you all day and then a few minutes ago, I got a whole bunch of texts.” And “I’m sorry.” And the kicker… “I called the guy. I sent you an email telling you everything he said.” Turns out the cell phone system was down. He hadn’t receive any of my text messages over the course of the whole day.

“It is plain to see that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while… we began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill,” (BB 66).

“The wrong-doings of others, fancied or real.”

I cannot even begin to tell you how vivid my imagination is. It will highjack my thoughts in an instant. To prove it, I spent the entire day obsessed at something that existed only in my mind. By the time I realized my mistake, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I had, in fact, completely squandered my day.

An any given point in those eight hours, I could have written a quick gratitude list of all the things he does for me. I could have meditated. I could have done a spot check inventory. I could have simply given him the benefit of the doubt. If he needed space, I should have given it to him. If I was worried, I should have called him, like big people do, instead of continuing to text. If I didn’t want to call him, I could have called a friend or read the book. The friend would have told me I was being crazy. The book would have reinforced it.

AA has given me the tools to deal with life, but I have to be willing to pick them up and use them. The Big Book tells me, “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it,” (83). I cannot find acceptance through osmosis. I cannot retain sanity through blind wishing. I have to work towards it.

Luckily, I did no lasting damage to my relationship. We mended fences quickly and moved on. But my crazy has left a lasting impression on me. It was a reminder, a little nudge, that I will never be so sane that I do not have to work this program. And thank goodness for that.

Third Day of Sobriety

Obsession

Usually, even the worst of us can stay off the drink for a day or two if we are seriously motivated by the adequate amount of force and calamity. The real trouble often begins around day three when the brain starts to convince one that maybe they have made too big a deal over whatever currently has them in a knot. I can stop. It ain’t no thing. I bet I could have one beer or two. Everything will be okay.

********************************************************************************************************************************

Lydia was conscience of being awake long before any move was made to get up out of bed. Instead, she laid there in the semi darkness of the curtained bedroom and tried to assess her physical and mental state of being.

The rhythmic beating of her heart seemed to pulsate throughout her body. She sensed she could feel the blood running through her arteries and back again. Next Lydia moved on to her stomach. She had eaten too much last night. In the mood to ride the wave of hunger, Lydia gorged on junk food and ice cream. It had made her feel better in the moment, but as the laid down to sleep, her stomach, unused to such sustenance, surged and gurgled. But by morning, everything seemed to be quiet again. With her eyes still closed, Lydia promised to take it easy with the food today.

As to her mental state, Lydia did not want to get out of bed. She had an odd sense of energy running through her, and yet simultaneously, she was so exhausted, she thought she could easy melt back into sleep. She had only fallen asleep a few short hours ago after hours of trying. Stress, fear, questions, had raced in her mind for an unendurable length of time. Having awoken to a sense of calm, Lydia was unwilling to let go even as her body was aching for movement and a shower. Lydia opened one eye, then the other, as the realization slowly started coming into focus. She couldn’t quite think through the thought. It was still fuzzy and out of focus. And yet there it was.

Her body seemed to be resisting the choices her mind was making. Was her whole life an ongoing battle between the desires of her mind and the reality of her body? How could that be? Weren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t the body support the mind? Wasn’t the mind the superior entity?

With a shake of her head, Lydia dislodged the thought and moved off towards the shower.

 

As she pulled into the mall parking lot, Lydia realized going to the meeting was a little easier than the day before and a lot earlier than the day before that. She was starting to get a feel for the layout of the club. She was starting to recognize some of the faces. If it wasn’t home exactly, at least it wasn’t terrifying.

Lydia ordered a hot tea and made for the meeting room. She was a few minutes early, and the room was empty. Lydia had realized over the last couple of days that people tended to walk through the door just as the meeting was starting. Lydia walked over to the large poster on the wall labeled, “The Twelve Steps.”

“Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“Powerless over alcohol.” Lydia knew from endless TV shows and movie, from culture, that admission of the problem was the first step. But it looked different in this format. Powerless. It sounded so much more ominous and permanent and old fashioned than a simple, “Admitted we occasionally drank too much” or “Admitted we sometimes got a little out of control.” Lydia wasn’t even sure if she knew what that word mean. Powerless. Lydia kept rolling the word around in her mouth, tasting it on the tip of her tongue. Lydia was conscious to pick a seat for the meeting that had a full view of the steps. She took a sip of her hot tea. Powerless.

No Matter What

Tidal Wave

I remember watching John Cusack’s movie 2012 a few years ago. I don’t exactly remember the plot, but I do remember at some point, a giant tidal wave is about to engulf a cruise ship. The captain of the ship, a man depicted to have some length of sobriety, takes a drink in the last moments of his life. I thought a lot about that drink over the course of the day. Later that night, I went to a meeting and questioned my sobriety: if death were an absolute certainty, would I drink? In response, two of my dearest friends told me it was time to join the “No Matter What” club. No matter what happens today, I will not drink. No matter what. There is no caveat if something happens to a parent or a loved one. If the man leaves. If the job is lost. If the tidal wave bears down.

I think in early sobriety, we can sidestep the idea of being sober forever. Although we sometimes minimize it by saying just, “Put the plug in the jug,” setting aside a drink for a day or two or eight is extremely difficult.Thinking about never having the crutch of alcohol ever again was, for me, really and incredibly terrifying. As a person who drank every day, I had zero conception how not to drink. I needed the option to drink again. I needed the freedom to say, “If I want to drink tomorrow, I will drink tomorrow, but I will stay sober today.” For the first two years of my sobriety, every morning in the shower I would say, “Today, I am not going to drink,” like a mantra. Some days, I sat on the floor of my shower and cried. Some days I screamed in rage at God. But every day, I said, “My name is Ann and I am an alcoholic. And today, I am not going to drink.” And it worked.

But at some point, when the boot of alcohol what removed from my throat, my life just became more life-ish. Small and large events happened that made me want to disappear for a little bit, a few hours. I craved a little escape, a break, a time out. And that is when the not drinking actually became harder.

When AAs talk about the first year as a gift, that is what they are talking about. It’s one thing not to drink when the chips are down and I’m facing an eviction and I have zero friends and no job. It’s another thing to not drink when I’m all alone at night and there’s every reason in the world to drink and no one to stop me. It’s been in those dark hours that I’ve held on to my sobriety with both hands and the idea of “No Matter What.”

I’ve come to the realization over the years that the conscience decision to not drink regardless of any situation is the great determinant between those that stay sober for the duration and those who do not. I think at some point in our sobriety, we have to look in the mirror, look ourselves in the eye, and make the resolution to not drink, no matter what.