Let Go Absolutely

Let Go AbsolutelyIt is fairly rare that someone says something new in a meeting that I have not heard before, but this is exactly what recently happened. The observation came from a line in “How it Works.” “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely” (58). The gentleman in the meeting said that his old ideas included a sense of worthlessness, of insecurity, and feelings of less than.

Even though I generally zone out as “How it Works” is read, for the past week, I have thought about little else. I have always thought those lines had to do with drinking, about my old thoughts with alcohol, about the thoughts of whether or not I could ever drink like a lady. Never once had I considered all the other old ideas I had been holding on to. Now I can think of little else.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving. Letting go of old ideas also means letting go of the family that exists only in my imagination. My family is not the Norman Rockwell idealized greater version of ourselves. We are messy and dysfunctional and alcoholic and brilliant and interesting and funny. My family loves with a big heart, yet shows it in ways that are often misguided and uncomfortable. We think we know what we do not know. Words and deeds, meant to help, often lead to hurt feelings, arguments, and the taking of sides.

I think on some level we all suffer from this misconception of what families and the holidays are suppose to be rather than what they are. There seems to be a certain level or denial or delusion that comes with the holiday season. We gift wrap hurt and cover it with large bows of dysfunction because anything less would be to acknowledge that life is not perfect. “Just smile through it and whatever you do, don’t drink.”

This Thanksgiving, though, my love and I did something totally different. Instead of the traditional meal with family, we went to a friend’s house. While the food was incredible, it was the people that softened me. My friend and her husband are both in the program. And so is her family. And so are our friends. Throughout the day, the program was not sidestepped, but embraced. Gratitude was on everybody’s lips and in their hearts.

I really do not think I have ever had a better Thanksgiving, and yet, it didn’t feel like a “real” Thanksgiving. So, even though I had an amazing day, there is a little asterisks by it as if to say, “Really fantastic runner-up Thanksgiving.”

And that is the idea I need to let go of absolutely.

Measuring my insides by other people’s outsides is bad enough; measuring them to my own expectations is a nightmare. If my life or my holiday season does not go the way that I plan it or wish it does not make my life any lesser than it would be otherwise. It does not speak to some sort of failure. Those are the ideas that exist only in my head. Those are the thoughts of envy and fear. They are the ideas of some insane form of unattainable perfection. They are the thoughts that will get me nil results because they do not amount to anything of value.

What does give me results, what does add value to my life are the same things that give me results and value the rest of the year: AA, my higher power, the steps, service. Those are the ideas worth holding on to. When I can stay in the moment and purely appreciate the people and love that continually show up for me, I realize I am so incredibly blessed. It is that feeling of gratitude that I need to carry forward into the remainder of this season.

If You are Sober and Stupid, Boring and Glum, Then You’re Doing it Wrong.

Studio 54 Cartoon

Some of my most favorites lines in the big book are, “For most normal folks, drinking means conviviality, companionship and colorful imagination… am I to be consigned to a life where I shall be stupid, boring, and glum?” (BB 151-152).

Let me start off by saying that I was born in a nice part of Houston, complete with bike trails and trees. My mom took me to church and sometimes bought me an ice cream cone after (Bubblegum of they had it; turtle if they didn’t). I had tons of books and art supplies and after school activities. My parents stressed good grades and participation on sports teams.

So, where I got this notion of drinking, I have no idea. No, no, not the notion of should I drink or why I drank. I got that. I mean the notion that alcoholics and drug addicts are brazen intellectuals and glamourous artists, pushing past the lines of conventionality into oblivion, the notion that alcohol and drugs allow one to experience life on a heightened, more surreal plane.

I decided that my perception of drinking is based not on the reality but fantasy. James Dean. James Bond. Hemingway on the Champs-Elysees. Andy Warhol at Studio 54. Hunter S. Thompson’s Las Vegas, “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls…Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can, (Fear and Loathing). The realization that all my drug fantasies exist in an era before I was even cognizant of what drugs were, is only further evidence that I have invented my own duel existence.

The reality is, that’s not the way my drinking looked at all. There was no step and repeat in front of the Marshall House. I was a writer that never wrote. A schemer. A dreamer. I was neither glamourous nor charming. At best I was a bar fly and at worst a depressed, isolated drunk.

I am lucky that I am able to realize that my fantasies of drinking and drugging are a fictitious twist of my imagination. That’s not the case with many. There is a guy I hear that speaks of waxing poetically as he drinks. He doesn’t get it. There is a girl who, while she is at meeting, laments about the friends she is missing; maybe she doesn’t have to give them up after all. She doesn’t get it either.

When I got sober, I thought I would never again go out dancing, see a concert, or have sex. I never thought I would have interesting friends hell bent on making up for lost opportunities and time. I never thought of the sober artist as the creative one. That it would be my sober life that was the exciting, daring, fulfilling one.

Everyday I wake up, there is a change to do something spectacular. ( I usually just end up at work, but there’s always that chance). When the book says, “You will gain a new freedom and a new happiness,” I get that. I am no longer held by the confines of the bar stool or liquor bottle. My brain does not hurt. My mind is not hazy. I have passion and ambition and love. If you are sober and stupid, boring and glum, then you’re doing it wrong.

Meditation Hesitation

Meditation Comic

 

This is how my Friday night tends to go.

Me: “What’s the meeting topic tonight?”

Him: “Meditation.”

Me: “Awww, man. Let’s just skip.”

Three hours later…

Me: “ I really enjoyed meditating. How come we don’t go every week?”

Repeat every seven days.

I’m gonna be totally honest. Of all the things I’ve heard in meetings over the years, the one that really still burns me up today is, “You know, if you aren’t meditating, you aren’t practicing the twelve steps.” What makes it all the worse is I like the girl who says it. I trust her and her recovery. There are few things as frustrating as hearing that one has a gap in one’s recovery from a person one actually respects. It makes them harder to blow off. Harder… but not impossible.

I think the fear is this- For my entire life, my brain has been in overdrive. It goes and goes and goes. I jumps from one idea to another to another in record time, so that often by the time my friend and I are finishing one conversation, I’m already three conversations in the future. For years, I drank to dull this process, to slow my mind, to relax, take the edge off. And it worked for a long time. Then then it stopped working.

When I made it into the rooms, my brain went into an extreme Back to the Future kind of overdrive. I could not stop thinking, feeling, experiencing, fearing. It was so uncomfortable. Exciting at times, cool, fun, but also terrifying. I always seemed to be walking a fine line between delight and delirium. When I stopped shaking long enough to listen, I heard other AAs had the same problem. “My mind is like a dangerous part of town. I never go there alone,” and “I came for my drinking and stayed for my thinking,” and “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body” (BB 23). There was no way I was going to sit in a room and meditate. I was too scared of my own thoughts.

This mentality has not changed much, if any, with time. The idea that I would just exist, to be without distraction, seems like a really terrible idea. It’s like how the Big Book speaks about alcohol; “I recoil” at the idea of thinking in silence.

So, what do I do? I think about meditating. I think about not meditating. I’ve talked to my sponsors about meditating. I’ve talked to them about not meditating. I’ve asked other people how they meditate. I’ve done the “sitting in morning traffic meditation.” I’ve done the “meditation is listening during a meeting” thing. I’ve rationalized, justified, and ignored. What I’ve never done is actually meditate…Until recently.

On Friday night, on my side of town, there is a 9:30 candlelight meeting. I’ve always gone to candlelight meetings. I prefer them. When we first started going to this particular meeting, though, I was immediately like- nope, no way, cause in this meeting, they meditate. Not every week. But enough to make me look around for something else.

But now, and this is really awkward, I’ve sat through a handful of these meetings. And I think I like them. I don’t wanna say for sure I like them, because that would make me wrong about this meditation thing all along. But maybe, kinda, sorta, I like meditation. Contrary to what I would have thought, my brain does not rev up, but actually quiets down. I find that the nights I attend this meeting, I walk away relaxed and more peaceful. And I always end up thinking, “I should do this more often. I wonder if there is a mediation I can follow online. (Cause you know there is. Everything is online.)

But then I don’t do it. Cause it still seems weird and scary and awkward. Anywho… (Take a deep breath), I’m gonna do it. I am going to, for the sake of experimentation only, find a guided mediation online and hold myself accountable to doing it every morning for ten minutes for the next two weeks. I can do two weeks, right? Right.

So, there it is: my two-week experiment with meditation. If you want to do it with me, I would love to hear from you. How much contempt prior to investigation do you have? Has it been easy or difficult to commit to the process? Why? For those of you still dubious about meditation, I am with you in spirit. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Is AA a Cult?

Radio Cartoon

I had a casual conversation last week with a guy who had five days. The new man was questioning whether or not AA was a cult. This fear felt familiar and comforting and sad all at the same time. I have to admit, before I got sober, I too voiced this concern. I even went so far as to look up definitions of the word cult and apply them to areas of AA as evidence.

I think this fear from newly sober people is a legitimate one on some level. Looking back, I’ve come to the decision that the this problem stemmed from my self-awareness that I was not like everyone else. Even though I tried to act and look like everyone else, I felt like an outcast. I desperately wanted to fit in. I changed my personality and hobbies to reflect whoever I happened to be around at the time. But the harder I worked at being normal, the more different I felt. Normal people didn’t have to work so hard at being normal, they were just normal naturally.

As my behavior grew more self-destructive, the more isolated I became. Friends and family wanted me to change again, but this time I knew change was a euphemism for “Stop drinking.” I ended up in a place where I simultaneously wanted to desperately fit in and be wildly anti-social.

Hence, when I found AA, and when I heard the casual “Keep coming back” and “Welcome, glad you’re here,” I was immediately distrustful. I wanted to stop drinking, but I wasn’t sold on AA. Maybe I just wanted to taper off or cut back. And even though I no longer had any conception of who I was, I knew one thing; I wasn’t going to be who you thought I should be. And I surely wasn’t going to become some goody-goody religious fanatic, so you can forget that.

The Twelve and Twelve addresses this logic when it states, “Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity, If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me?” (36). I think this was my great fear. I didn’t want to become sober only to become a robot. The Twelve and Twelve continues on to say that a paradox exists in the idea that the more we depend on AA or God, the more independent we actually become.

I have found this to be true. It is only through my recovery and the taking of inventory that I have been able to assess who I am as an individual. I remember having about nine months and driving down the freeway. I was listening to country music on the radio. I knew all the words to whatever song to was, and yet I remember thinking, “Wow! This is a terrible song.” And then I remember immediately thinking, “Wait, do I like country music? Of all the music out there, this is what I am choosing to listen to? Do I like this?” I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if I really liked country music.

The truth of the matter is AA could care less what kind of music I listen to. AA is not interested in what church I go to or even if I go to church. AA doesn’t care what I look like, what color I am, or what I choose to wear. I can choose to put a dollar in the basket or not. I can choose to talk or not. Work the steps or not. And only I decide of I am going to stay or not.

With that said, I think I’ll keep coming back.

 

Six Months Later

Dogs blog

There is an odd feeling of anticipation as I type this, an awkward mix of pride and embarrassment that has caused me to simultaneously have a smile and a stomachache. Yesterday, was the six month anniversary of this blog. I know; it’s insane. If this blog were in sobriety, it would be walking up for its blue chip. It would have successfully transitioned from rehab to IOP to a halfway house. The blog could chair a meeting, have a job, and if it were doing a step a month, be smack dab in the middle of its character defects.

On April 6, I was headed up to the annual women’s retreat I attend. (Yes, the same retreat, I wrote of in Monday’s blog.) I had just come off a terribly difficult and arduous year. I was depressed and floundering. I really did not want to go. I remember trying to figure out some way to back out, but my recovery simply wouldn’t let me. I knew I had to go, no matter what.

Towards the end of the weekend, a dear friend came up to me and very casually said, “I think you should start a blog.” Without a blink of an eye, I said no. I did not want to start a blog. Blogging is not real writing. I want to be Hemingway or Faulkner, not a blogger. (This is one of those times where I can see my alcoholism for the delusion that it is. Leave it to a girl who cannot even bear to show her writing to others to look down on a totally legitimate form of expression because it doesn’t jive with how she thinks Hemingway would have gone about it. Jeez Louise.)

That night, as I laid in bed, a singular thought kept eating away at the base of my skull. I got out of bed and began to write in the same fashion that I always write: alone in a quiet room, in a diary no one would ever see. A forth step, a written tenth, another attempt to put pen to paper in order to quiet the crazy. A piece of paper that would be thrown away in some not too distant future.

But this time, as I looked down on that paper, I realized the only reason I had for not showing my writing was fear. For as long as I kept my dream close to my chest, as long as I did not breathe a word of it, or show it to anybody, then that dream was safe. My dream would be safe from the cynics and the naysayers, from the realists and the defeatists. I realized something else too though. As long as I never pursued my dream, it would only ever remain a dream. My dream would never become my reality.

The Ninth Step Promises tell us, “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly know that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves,” (Big Book 84). And at that moment, I was filled with peace. It is hard to articulate, but it felt like an enormous release of air from my chest. I just knew my friend was right, and I intuitively knew how to handle it. I had to show my writing, not in the distant future, not somewhere down the line, but now, immediately. That night I came home and started this blog.

These last six months have not been easy. I am still plagued by an incredible amount of fear and self-doubt. At any given time, I can convince myself that any number of my friends are encouraging me like a naïve cousin. “Pretty girl, she’ll realize soon enough.” Sigh.

But there are good days too. There are the days when I realize it does not matter if anyone actually reads or not because it is not the about a number or a reward, but the active practicing of courage and perseverance, and accountability. It’s about suiting up.

It is easy to reflect back on my sobriety and say: Without AA, I would not be alive. I would not have dependable friends or a remarkable man. But I also know that without AA, I never would have had the courage to write or the fortitude to post. I would not have been able to withstand the criticism or abandoned myself to a process that has no definitive ending. It’s saccharine to say, but I know it is true. AA put the right person in my path, with exactly the suggestion I needed to hear, at a time when I could hear it. And then gave me strength and courage to actually follow through.

The Big Book says, “Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead.” (152). Yep, that’s about right.

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Thank you to everyone who has read, subscribed to, commented, re-posted, shared, or otherwise supported this endeavor over the past six months.  You’re continued support means an enormous amount to me. Thank you, Lisa.

My AA Crush

snails

I ran into one of my AA crushes this week. I just turned around, and there she was. Wow. I should tell you this woman has no idea I crush on her. In fact, she would consider us friends.

I first met my crush when I had just a few months sober. I remember being introduced to her because I was like, “There is NO way that girl is an alcoholic.” She was, and still is, extraordinarily pretty with the kind of smile that lights up a room. Additionally, she had all the accoutrements that I wanted: friends, respect, an apartment in a non ghetto part of Houston. She had a career and a man and a dent free car. When she came around, I got a little giddy. When she spoke, I clung to every word. When she started acknowledging me, I was so proud. I wanted everyone to know I was sane enough or something enough to elicit the conversation of my fated guru. “Look everyone! Look who’s talking to moi!”

One of the character flaws that AAs have in common is a tendency to judge those around us. I think it stems from the idea that while in our diseases, we scrutinized others to see if they were really keeping it together, or if they were just better at hiding their skeletons.

When we get into the rooms, that behavior continues. We are told, “If you want what we have, do what we do.” I think most people crush on their sponsors. Sometimes, though, I think the crush just might be a person from across the meeting whose shares you love almost as much as her purse.

But here is the thing, you have to get to know your crush. You have to ask them out to coffee. You have to have a heart to heart. Because crushes are just that, a fictitious infatuation. There is no substance to it. Its just a person across the room with thirty years who doesn’t look like a jackass in those barefoot sneaker things that have all the toes.

Over the years , I’ve gotten to know my crush. We have participated in service work together, and in the process, have managed to get to know one another. As if would turn out, my crush, my
girl on the pedestal is very normal. No, no, I know what you are thinking, but it’s true. In fact, one might even venture to say she is a teeny, tiny bit alcoholic-y. Maybe just a smidgeon of perfectionism lingers under her surface which causes her to be the most minutest bit controlling. And possibly, though I’ll deny it if I’m asked, she might have slightly unreasonable expectations. Gasp. Swoon.

I think we have to learn that our crushes are not superhuman AA gurus but people. I’ll see it in meetings when the guy with thirty years says something totally crazy train that leaves everyone scratching their heads. I’ve heard people say, “But he has so much time. How can he be crazy?” He’s crazy because he’s alcoholic. The book tells me I have “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition,” (BB 85). In my mind, that means today I may be sane, but tomorrow I may be crazy. Sometimes, I have many crazy days in a row. Then I share and the girl next to me elbows her friend and does the finger twirl to the head. Time and security and cars do not make us sane. They make us people with time, security, and cars. Sanity makes us sane. Working the steps makes us sane.

So, yeah, I saw my crush a few days ago. I walked up to her, said hello. We hugged and talked for a few minutes. She asked about my writing. I asked about her family. And I departed.

As I walked out into the hot, sunny Houston day, I smiled. But I smile because I know my crush is over. I realized this week that I saw my friend for who she really is and not who I wanted her to be. I smiled because although my guru is still beautiful and successful and kind and awesome, she is now also a person.

AA’s All Over This One

Bookmark IV

“We can laugh at those who think spirituality is the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength,” (Big Book 68).

I was in conversation with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. Her father passed away last week, and though I should have been the one to call her, she called me. She called me, not to receive strength but to give it. She called to offer me hope. My parents are of an age that hospital visits are becoming more frequent. While understandable, and on some level expected, it is none-the-less emotional business when we are faced with our parents’ mortality. My friend reached out to me in the spirit of offering hope to say, that when the worst does happen, it will be okay, “Because AA is all over this one.”

“AA is all over this one.” I thought about that simple sentence for all of yesterday and most of today, because, here is the thing, my friend did not really explain what she meant by that sentence. But here is the other thing, she didn’t have to.

I often think back to a conversation I had with my parents about ten years ago. I had just moved from Boston back to Houston. I was sitting on the couch in tears over my inability to handle life. It wasn’t the big things like death that had be so beaten down. No, forget about the life altering changes. I had no idea how people managed the small, everyday things. I didn’t understand how people had jobs and paid bills and cleaned houses and washed clothes. At the end, I needed a cocktail just to go to the grocery store. Life was one continual tidal wave of chaos. I couldn’t deal with people or responsibility or sunny days. I couldn’t deal with laughter.

I really like the concept that AA is not about the not drinking. I mean it is. First we have to put down the bottle. But it’s the everything else that really messes us up. Causes and conditions.

I’ve thought a lot about whether one can be sober through means other than AA. I mean not me, but someone out there has stayed sober through church, Bikram yoga, horse therapy, or cross addiction. I had a friend once that was sober through good, old-fashioned willpower. She told me, she wasn’t like me. She didn’t need AA to say sober. What I didn’t say, what I should have said, is I don’t need AA to stay sober either. I went to a meeting today, but had I not gone, I’m 99.9% sure I would still be sober. AA doesn’t keep me sober. It keeps me sane. It keeps me happy. My fear is not that I will stop going to AA and drink. My fear is that I will stop going to AA and become unhappy and fearful and crazy, and then I will drink.

What my friend didn’t realize then, still probably doesn’t realize now, is AA doesn’t make us weak. Dependence on the group, the program, has made me everything I am today: it’s given me the courage to write, to be myself, to have faith, to be a daughter and a friend. AA has taught me how to have priorities and do laundry. It’s taught me how to get the stickers renewed on my car.

I think anyone that has given recovery a real shot knows what it is like to have the strength through the program. Alone I am but just one individual plodding along in life. But as a group, I have a wealth of strength and support from which to draw.

Yep, AA’s all over this one.