Sometimes, 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.
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.
“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).
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.
After some conversation yesterday, I learned that not one person had any idea what my cartoon was about. So today, I tried to clarify. (PS- The silver thing is suppose to be a doorknob.) (PPS- I think if one has to explain a cartoon, it might not be that successful ) 🙂