I’m the Earth in my Own Life

It’s is pretty common in AA to hear that newcomers should make a list of all the things they want out of their first year. The bearers of this advice often follow it by adding that whatever is on said list will surely be gotten and surpassed. Whenever I hear that advice, though, I wonder if it is wise. I’m not sure. I’m not passing judgment. I really do not know. There seems to be something so contrary to asking an alcoholic to dream, to make lists, to plan for the future. It feels like setting one up for resentment. On the other hand, the books tell me that my imagination will be fired at last, and truthfully, lately it does feel like my imagination is on fire. I want to do more, dream more, aspire more.

So, here is my question: Are only people in their first year allowed to make lists or can anyone do it?

I was so tempted by the idea of the list, I figured it was worth the inevitable resentment when none of it came true. But an interesting thing happened as I started to write it… The list changed. What should have been Number One on the list success and financial security, but it wasn’t. It was my sobriety.

  1. Sobriety. So, I know sobriety has to be Number One on the list. It might be a formality. It feels like a formality. I roll my eyes as I write it. “Of course she would put sobriety Number One. What a goody two-shoes. We all know that if this were a real list, a million dollars and a book contact would be at Number One.” Okay, you make a point. But this is a real list, not a fantastical monkey paw list. Furthermore, I fear the moment I take my sobriety for granted. The moment I begin to believe my own mind and the crazy it produces, I am in severe trouble.

 

So, then I thought, well, success would be Number Two, except it wasn’t again. Number Two was to be a better person.

  1. Be a better person. This, of course, holds hands with Number One. I have to grow spiritually to remain sober. The Big Book tells me that. It goes beyond that though. I legitimately want to be a better person. I like to think of myself as a cynic. I question most everything. I’m judgmental and competitive and a little mean. I don’t like Pollyannas. I want to be brazen and bold, not sweet or kind. But in my heart, when I am lying in bed late at night, I think about what it must feel like to have patience and love and tolerance in one’s heart instead of dripping black goo. So, Number Two is to figure out how to simultaneously be a badass and nice.

 

  1. I want my family to be well.

And then I had this weird memory from my very early sobriety. I haven’t shared it in a long time. I was sitting outside chain-smoking with my friend Baughbee who also had maybe thirty or sixty days. He was a little bit older, gray around the temples, but somehow we had formed a fast and true friendship. One day, we got started on the conversation of how Galileo realized the sun did not go around the moon. I have no memory of how it started, just that it happened.

What I do remember doing was turning to Bobby and in one enormous breath exclaiming,

“What if I am Earth? What if I am not the center of my own universe? What if all this time, I thought I was the center, but I am not. What if I am really just Earth orbiting three revolutions away? And what if the Sun is actually God or AA or a higher power. And that is the true center of my life? In my own life. In my own life, what if I am not the most important thing in my life? What then? What then…? And I think it was Copernicus.”

There was a long silence. Baughbee looked over at me. I think he thought I was crazy. But now, seven years later, it turns out I was right. I am not the most important thing in my own life. AA is, sobriety is the sun. It is from this warmth that all the other things spring forth. And then there is spirituality. And the health of my family. I am Earth afterall. And so, what then? What, nothing. It’s just fine. I am sitting here in the calm of the early morning on Labor Day weekend. Bob is asleep. The puppies are asleep. And life is good. I don’t need everything to revolve around me. I just need it to revolve, to keep going. And if the top three things on my list continue to be taken care of when I turn eight, well, that would be nice too.

Happy Labor Day.

And yes, it was Copernicus.

 

Hide Less. Seek More.

***This Friday’s post was not written by me, but by a very dear friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous. I hope you will take a minute and leave a comment either below or on Facebook to encourage her to keep writing, as you have so generously encouraged me. Thank you. ***

Hide Less. Seek More.

By: Anonymous

My mouth feels like cotton, my glasses are lopsided on my face, and my body aches.  I squint in the dark to look up and see wood. I roll slightly to my left and feel rough carpet on my cheek. That is when I realize I have fallen asleep under my desk at work…again. I lost count of the times I have done this recently. I call my mom right before I do. She lovely tells me that I should not sleep at work. I hang up the phone, shut my door, turn off the lights; and crawl. I crawl into a small space, the space where your feet rest under a desk. My u-shaped cherry wood desk hugs me like a warm blanket. My eyes shut as I black-out into a sleep.

I have always relished in the relief and safety of a quiet, dark, small; space. I became disappointed when someone found me when I played the game hide-and-seek as a child. I was suddenly jolted out of my peaceful space with a loud voice screaming, “I found you!” I continued to hide in many variations of emotionally, physically, and spiritually destruction well into my adulthood. Drinking was the best hide-and-seek game for me. I would hide my feelings and emotions with each sip of a drink I took. On a good night, I “found” an attractive, young, confident, social butterfly. On a bad night, I “found” myself at 2:00am chugging the last of my double-fisted drinks before walking out of the bar.

The bad nights were more frequent, I couldn’t get drunk enough to find that attractive, young, confident, social butterfly again. Years after chasing that person, I got sober through the rooms of AA. The phrases I heard in my first meeting, “There is nothing that a drink won’t make worse” and “It will change and get different” stuck with me for the next several years. My sponsors always encouraged me to accept service commitments when I was asked to tell my story or chair a meeting. When asked, I was always to say yes. They explained the importance of that side of the triangle, the service side that keeps us in the middle. When I asked what was so great about being in the middle, they said, “Because when your ass falls off, someone will be there to catch it.”

As I crawl from under the desk, I fix my glasses, turn on the lights, and get on the internet. My ass fell off so long ago I can’t even tell you when it did. I have decided my black-out sleeps are not enough to escape my sober pain. Blackness is oozing from my rotting soul into my throat and out of my pores. I have decided I’m going to drink. Like a good alcoholic, I look for a place where I can go out with a bang. No sir, I’m not going to be one of those people who go out on a sip of beer and then come back in the next day. What a waste of a relapse. I find a very expensive out of town hotel with a swim-up bar. I am excited about the prospect of swimming up to a bar. That giddy feeling sweeps over me the same feeling I used to get years ago on a Friday night. My mouse hovers over the calendar to book the room for this Saturday. My stomach drops, I know deep in my heart this is the time I should pick up the phone and call someone. I don’t. I cry. I cry for the lost sober person I desperately want to find. I cry for the sober people I cut out of my life. I cry for the drunken butterfly.

At that moment, my phone rings. I answer irritated that someone is interrupting my drinking plans but curious enough to pick up the phone from this person in the middle of a work day. The person calling wanted to know if I could tell my story this Saturday. A yes came out of my mouth without thinking. Because I had been practicing it for a while with service commitments, it was second nature even in my darkness. I stayed sober for the next 48 hours, asking for the Spirit I had turned my back on to come back into my life and remove my obsession to drink. Just for today, I was not going to drink. Or book the hotel room.

It is Saturday night. I take a shower, something that I have not been doing daily. I go to paint my face with make-up to hide my darkness, but it takes too much energy and I leave barefaced. There are a lot of people in the room and I am not feeling sober even though I physically have not taken a drink. I feel like a fraud, all these people in this room and I’m going to talk about how great sobriety has been the past several years and how wonderful my life is, even though I am dying on the inside. The lights go down, the spotlight comes on, and I feel safe in the quiet, dark, large; space. I am not alone and I can tell my truth. “Hi, I am an alcoholic and today I am grateful to be here. Thank you to the person who asked me to tell my story, I was booking a hotel with a swim up bar and had decided to drink when she called and saved my life. Only an alcoholic would think about a swim-up bar in January.” The crowd laughed and I knew I was home and ready to begin my honest journey up toward the light, away from the darkness.

 

About the author: The author remains sober to this day without sleeping under the desk at work. Through a heap load of spiritual, emotional, and physical crawling over the next 18 months; the author is walking again hand in hand with the Spirit, one day at a time.

 

 

 

Me Agnostic

I was recently told this: “I know they have agnostic and atheist meetings, but if you ain’t talking about God, you ain’t in an AA meeting. You’re in something else.”

The force of the comment literally made me take a step back. The purveyor of such words was a woman with more years of sobriety than I have existence on this planet. She didn’t know me from Adam. I’m sure she meant no real offense, and yet… I was rendered speechless. Out of nothing more than pure respect, I muttered something along the lines of “You may be right,” and extricated myself right out of the conversation. But inwardly, I feel confused and uncomfortable.

Have you ever a conversation that when it was over, you wish you could rewind to say what you should have said to begin with? So here it goes…

Excuse me, ma’am. I don’t believe in God. I haven’t since I was about nineteen. A series of rational circumstances led me to this decision. I did not make it impetuously. I neither evaded nor ignored the question of God existence but indeed thought long and hard about it. Nor am I angry with God. (Contrary to what Bill writes in “We Agnostics,” those who truly do not believe in God cannot be angry with him. For one to be angry with God, then one would necessarily have to first admit that God exists as a thing to be angry with.) I simply do not believe in an almighty creator of heaven and earth or a cosmic watchmaker or any sort of divine entity that watches over me in any significant way. I do not have faith.

I know people find God in the program, but I am not one of those people. And yet, here I sit with a few days under my belt, proof that belief in any higher power is good enough. The Big Book says, “We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men” (Page 46).

I honestly feel that if AAs are going to walk in the footprints of God, then they also should not make too hard terms. You should not degrade my beliefs just because they do not align with yours. How I read those last sentences is, “To us, Alcoholics Anonymous is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek recovery. It is open, we believe, to all men.”

And ma’am, with all due respect to your very many, hard fought years, I show you this, a letter from Bill, published in the Grapevine…

“We still make no contact at depth with those suffering the dilemma of no faith. Certainly none are more sensitive to spiritual cocksureness, pride and aggression than they are. I am sure this is something we too often forget. In AA’s first years I all but ruined the whole undertaking with this sort of unconscious arrogance. God as I understood him had to be for everybody. Sometimes my aggression was subtle and sometimes it was crude. But either way it was damaging- perhaps fatally so- to numbers of nonbelievers… Boasting of my faith, I had forgotten my ideals,” (The Best of Bill From the Grapevine, 1962).

I am not sure if these lines were Bill’s way of making amends for some of the things he wrote in his early sobriety, but I like to think so. I remember early on a guy telling me that if I didn’t believe in God, it was okay, because I would by my first birthday. I more recently had a friend of many years look me in the eyes and correct my nonbelief. It’s really gutsy to tell another person what they believe in.

So, please. Please do not tell me what you think I need to, should, could, possibly, maybe, believe in. Do not tell me to put my cigarettes under my bed so I am forced to get on my knees and pray, just for a couple of weeks or so. And please, do not tell me if I attend an agnostic or atheist meeting that I am not in AA. Because I’m pretty sure I am. I earned my seat just as surely as you have earned yours. I would never dare tell you what I think you should believe in. All I ask is for the same consideration.

 

A Bit of Good and Bad

Driving into work today, I found myself making what could only be called an anti-gratitude list. As I inched along in rush hours traffic, I began making a mental list of all the things that make me crazy. It started out, not as one would imagine, because of the other drivers on I-10. No, what started this fiasco was my irritation at other AAs when they complain of bad driving in Houston in Step Six meetings. First, I am not a good driver, so this always makes me uncomfortable. I want to raise my hand and say, “Oh, was that you in the red Toyota? Whoops. Sorry about that.” But secondly, I cannot imagine a world in which an alcoholic’s worst character defect is exasperation at other drivers. I don’t have to see the fourth step to know that that ain’t true.

My mind goes a million miles a minute and can invent all sorts of things to be bent out of shape over. Was she just looking at me? Oh, no he didn’t just crosstalk at me. On Tuesday, I led my homegroup’s 10 PM meeting. I finished the opening, Step Ten. The first guy I called on, looks up and asks, “Was there a topic?”

“Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. AA and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here” (Big Book 417).

I like the line that says, “I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point out.” People around me know, I get really crotchety. As soon as the meeting lets out, I have an opinion about something. It’s not pretty. And it always makes me self-conscience as well. Was my share too long or esoteric? Off topic or crazy? And my criticism is not just limited to meetings. Its touches everything and everyone around me.

With that said, I don’t want to be that person anymore. Its taken me a while, but I am finally beginning to understand what it means to want to be rid of character defects. Before, I wanted to rid myself of laziness or procrastination, and those are still important. But what I want today feels deeper. I want to be a better person. A kinder person. I want to see the positive in people and in the world instead of the negative. Being able to see flaws does not make me smarter or more intuitive. It makes me mean. “There is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us.” That is what the book tells me. And that is what experience tells me. So that, is what I should remember. And that is what I should practice.

Has to be Smashed

For the past few years, maybe because I am a writer at heart, I tend to adopt themes that represent my current mindset in my recovery. (Or maybe they adopt me. Wink.) For two or three months, it feels as if most everything I am feeling or thinking somehow revolves around one central idea. Last spring, I started tossing around the idea of character development, specifically the top of page 72 in the Twelve and Twelve. The end result of that period of exploration ultimately became this blog. I realized if I am to practice principles in all my affairs then I needed to practice courage by following my dreams.

Lately though, my mind keeps returning to the idea of denial. This has not only been reflected in the choices of those close to me in the program, but choices by my family members, and indeed with myself. The power of the human mind to forget, ignore, rationalize, justify, and delude is astonishing. One some level, I think it might be one of the most fascinatingly interesting aspects of the alcoholic mind. How do we not see? Or if we see, how do we ignore?

While speaking with a friend last week, I had one of those oddly random memory flashbacks to my drinking days. It occurred perhaps ten years ago, not long after I had moved from Boston to Houston. I was at a local sports bar. Neon lights reflected in sticky veneer. Country music blared a little too loudly from a jukebox as if at any moment a rousing crowd of patrons would suddenly appear to two-step around the scattered pool tables and “Golden Tee” machine. I remember both my hands clasping a Guinness as I sobbed and hic-upped a longing to be “normal.” I remember saying it over and over again, a mantra to my alcoholism. It is one of those memories, that while tragic and tragically depressing, actually brings a hint of a smile to my lips. How ridiculous was I?

I am of the variety of alcoholic that believes I was genetically predetermined to have an acute and profound reaction to chemical brain stimulation. In addition to my predilection for alcohol, I possess a plethora of emotional and psychological baggage that will tell me at any given moment that while I may exist in this world, I am not of this world. My whole life, I have felt that I am an oddity. A tomboy with a speech impediment. An awkward teenager with a pocket full of secrets. A disillusioned adult with a drive towards escapism and obscurity. I have always been too overweight, too liberal, too outspoken. I don’t wear makeup. I do wear glasses. I shop almost exclusively at Old Navy and thrift stores and the back of Teresa P.’s closet.

The last thing I wanted added onto my list was anything even remotely close to straight edge, pious, abstemious, holy, or self-righteous. I wanted to be funny and light and awesome.

Only when I sobered up, when I stopped singularly focusing on myself, did I realize everyone is a bit weird. We all carry around a knapsack of strange and questionable qualities that help define us and differentiate us from others. What makes me abnormal is not my differences, but that my alcoholic perception tells me these differences are a negative thing.

“The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed,” (Big Book, 30). See? It’s not just the delusion that I might be able to drink like other people, but the delusion that I act, feel, or look like other people, that has to be smashed too. I can’t live my life judging myself by the actions and appearance of other people, because I’m not other people.

Every day I stay sober, I love myself just a smidge more, for I have learned it is neither the clothes nor the make-up that determine my self-worth. No, what defines me today is not what is on the outside, but what lives in my soul: service, friendship, honesty, gratitude, and love. (And maybe, just maybe, a little bit of fun, light, and awesomeness too!)

 

 

13 Years and 1500 Miles

Hello, Everyone. Whenever something interesting happens in recovery, because of recovery, I always like to take a minute and recognize it. I thought I would share this story with you.

Last week, I heard friend of mine decided she was no longer an alcoholic, and as long as she stayed away from the drugs, she could successfully drink. This depth of self-deception is so common in recovery, it would be ludicrous, if it weren’t also so deadly. It’s so common, in fact, that this same friend’s first sponsor also fell victim to this delusion of drinking like a gentleman. My friend and I spent untold hours swinging on an old porch swing, smoking cigarettes against the backdrop of Houston sunsets, talking of the obsession of some to drug addicts to drink. She swore up and down that she would never forget she was an alcoholic first. And yet, just a year later, she did just that.

Some people may try to stay in contact, remain friends, with those that go back out. I have no interest in doing that. We are people who normally would not mix that find solace in our recovery. Without the recovery to talk about, I am not sure what is left. I don’t want to be friends today with any drug addict that is not trying to clean house, help others, trust God. Do what you want to do, there is no anger or hurt. I’m just not going to sign off on your behavior. Find someone else to do that.

So, I’ve lost a friend to this disease.

Then, a few days later, I was walking out the door to a local 9:30 meeting when my phone alerted me to a comment on my blog (If you click the “Shotgun Writing” tab and scroll down to the bottom, you will see it). Rebecca was my roommate when I lived in Boston. I was in a terrible place in my disease. I was envious of her. She was vibrant, and lovely, and intelligent, and amazing (And she still is). Our friendship dissolved one night when my barbed tongue spat opinions that I had no right to voice. I said things that one cannot simply take back the next day. She was hurt and angry, and I could not/cannot blame her. My behavior was atrocious.

But somehow she came across my blog. And decided to say hello. At first I was embarrassed. I have blown my anonymity all over the internet, but as soon as someone else validated it, I was uncomfortable. I have to be honest, I really wanted to delete the message. But something told me, my intuitive voice I guess, that running from the message was not what I am about today. So, I commented back. A day later, Rebecca email me. And we’ve talked every day since then. It has been amazing reuniting with someone whom I cherished when I lived in Boston.

So, that is my story. I lost one friend to this disease, but then another walked back into my life. Life works in mysterious ways. When I get down about the long odds, the heartbreak, the broken families, the erratic behavior, the poverty, institutions, insanity, and death that permeate the AA culture, I sometimes forget that families also heal, sanity is fostered, love occurs, and relationships (even those separated by 13 years and 1500 miles) are mended. As long as I stay sober, there is always a chance.

 

What is a Riddle that has no Answer?

Over time, Lydia became used to the hospital. From her bed, she could map the very slight difference in the movement of the sun outside her window as fall started to settle in on Houston. As the days got shorter, Lydia continued to heal. Shortly, she would be able to go home. But go home to what? That is what Lydia most often pondered. It was too late for her to go back to school. The semester was well under way. It didn’t matter much anyways. Lydia knew she would not return. It was not just that she had been in an accident, or that she had lost her best friend. As bad as that was, there was another, unspoken, unarticulated wound. But Lydia could feel it festering inside her.

The things that had at one time seemed important, no longer did. Sororities, clothes, classes, boys, all seemed so flimsy to her. What was the point if one day we all just died anyways? Tragedies happen everyday. You go for a check-up and it turns out you have cancer. You’re sitting at your office desk, when all of a sudden an acute pain grips your chest. Or you’re driving down a two lane highway when you get T-boned by a truck driving too fast… For the first time in her life, Lydia knew what it was like to fear.

The thought of going home, though the practical decision, only made her shake her head. There was no way. There was no way that Lydia could go back to her childhood bedroom and resume her same life. She had seen too much, aged too quickly. The cuteness of her previous life seemed so naive and hopeful, trite and useless. She knew her mother, a lethal mixture of boundless optimism and passive aggressive tendencies, would only further exacerbate the issues. Besides, there were too many memories of Tuck lingering there.

Lydia did not know what to do. She couldn’t stay where she was, and she couldn’t go back to where she had come.

And with that, Lydia opened her book and read.

Another Endless Day

 

Lydia stared out the window of her hospital room and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared at her hands on top of her hospital blanket and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared out the window of her hospital room and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared at a magazine and thought of Tuck…

 

Lydia stared out the window of her hospital room and thought of Tuck…

 

 

What do Buy when you don’t know What to Say?

People come and go from her room. First her parents, then a myriad of friends. They all bring things, flowers and balloons and stuffed animals, material things that are supposed to relate some sort of thought, but only further accentuate that no one really knows what to say.

Ricochet

Tuck pulled the black BMW out of Jamaica Beach and on to the two-lane road leading back towards Galveston. Lydia rolled down the window. She wanted to feel the warm salt air tousle her hair and kiss her face. She leaned back in the leather seat and stared through margarita eyes at the canopy of stars above. The entirety of the moment washed over her. The love of a true friend, George Strait’s soft croon of Amarillo, the smooth rhythm of the wheels on the pavement. The day of sun and the night of tequila felt like a warm blanket tucking her in. Lydia looked one last time at the stars above as she gave her body permission to drift off to sleep.

Out of tranquility, the world erupted with the pained screeching of metal against metal. Lydia was thrown forward. She slammed against the dashboard as her head careened into the windshield. Her vision exploded with fireworks. Lydia tried to raise her arms to cover her head. Pain screamed through her body. The world spun for a few more seconds then came to an abrupt and disquieting stop. Lydia took a breath and then another one. She raised her head to look around. She could taste blood in her mouth and feel glass in her hair.

Slowly, she attempted to crawl off the floorboard of the passenger side and pull herself onto the seat. Her right shoulder roared in pain. She let out a scream.

Lydia looked over at Tuck. He sat erect in his seat, his eyes partially closed. “Help me, Tuck,” Lydia whispered. Tuck’s head barely shifted as he tried to look at her.

From the glow of a nearby streetlight, Lydia could see tears running down his cheeks, “I can’t.” Lydia looked closer. In the blackness of the shadows, she could see dark liquid oozing out from Tuck head.

Forgetting her own pain, Lydia launched herself forward. She yanked her t-shirt over her head. Her shoulder made an unnatural crunch as agony careened through her body. Lydia placed her shirt against Tuck’s head. “Tuck! Oh, Tuck… Oh God… please… please… Don’t, don’t leave me.”

Her shirt slowly filled and blood began dripping down Lydia’s arm. Tuck closed his eyes. Lydia lowered her forehead against his, her tears mixing with Tuck’s blood. She could feel the heat from her words, willing him to not give up, to keep trying. A few seconds later, sirens filled the air as red and blue lights ricocheted off the interior of the car. Lydia sat there hugging Tuck. They would come for her soon enough. She just needed a few more seconds with her best friend.