The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single, Sober Step

AA Ironman I saw something incredible today. I saw a man, 53 years of age, studious and pensive in nature, run an Ironman Triathlon. A 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 55 mile bike ride, and culminating in a 13.1 mile run.

I was in a meeting last week. The topic was along the lines of, “AA is not a cure-all, but without AA very little else is possible.” For the past few days, I have been thinking about that topic. It seems an idea so simple, I find it hard to believe I haven’t heard it before.

I think we all grow up with dreams, with ideas of who we are and who we want to be. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it all falls apart. Genetic determination mixed with anxiety and hurt leaving many of us in a comatose state unable to function. Then we find substances outside of ourselves and immediately, things start to look up. We can talk to people again and dance and sing and laugh. These substances worked so well in fact, that most of us then turned to stronger, more potent, quicker, cheaper, more readily available versions. Along the way, the things we originally desired start to disappear. Friends, jobs, cars, freedom, sanity, but they don’t go immediately, no. At first they go slowly, so slowly we don’t always see the signs, confusing dysfunction with bad luck. In the end, life gets catastrophic enough that even we can finally see the devastation. It is here that one of two things happen: we either sober up or else we don’t.

AA allowed me to put down the drink long enough to connect to a higher power. It showed me how to take an inventory of my behavior, assess my character defects, and choose an alternate existence. AA gave me friends to talk to and a place to go. But it didn’t cure everything. AA hasn’t made me rich or beautiful. AA hasn’t bought me a house or gotten me into graduate school. AA hasn’t won me the Pulitzer Prize or made my life into a Lifetime movie. And it definitely hasn’t made me able to compete in an Ironman.

But I could.

And that’s the thing. Without sobriety, nothing is possible. Without sobriety, I would be stuck in that continuing vortex of self pitying, self-delusioned obsession.

With AA, there is a chance. It has taken me eight years to begin to understand what the full potential of my life with AA can be. “There you will find release from care, boredom and worry. Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. Thus we find the fellowship and so will you,” (152). So true.

The journey of a thousand miles or of 70.3 begins with a single, sober step.

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Sometimes, It’s One Thought at a Time

Whack-A-MoleI’ve been up in my head a lot this week. I can’t help it really. There’s been a lot going on. Every time I try to combat one errant thought or emotion, another one crops up. It’s like the Whack-A-Mole of the dysfunction. Fear. Bam! Insecurity. Bam! Economic worries. Bam!

But as I sit here, I know all these things I am feeling and thinking are not real. They are manifestations of powerlessness and fear. I have a friend who always says, “My mind is out to kill me.” The melodramatic nature of that comment makes it hard for me to take it seriously, but I understand the sentiment.

If this past month had occurred when I was still drinking, I would not have been able to quiet the self-loathing and anger that dominates my particle brand of crazy. I would have fallen into a depression, the kind that results in lost jobs and torched relationships. I would have spent the coming month locked in my apartment sure that only antiseptic isolation and lots of vodka would decontaminate my life of chaos.

That’s what’s so incredible about AA; recovery is completely counter intuitive. You think there’s no way sober is better than drunk, but it is. You think there’s no way confronting problems head on is easier than ignoring them, but it is. You think there’s no way this stuff could work, and but it does. And then, it works again. And then you stay sober long enough, you realize it not a fluke. It always works. Working steps works and gratitude lists work, service works, talking works. And that is how faith in the program and in ourselves slowly begins to grow.

I do not need to dull my thoughts today because I have enough recovery in me to differentiate the false from the true. I know which ideas are based in fiction rather than reality, fear rather than strength. Once I pause, once I allow second thought to enter the picture, I can then act accordingly. I can quiet the crazy and move forward. One thought at a time. One day at a time.

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.

What its like Now: The Miracle Part

If you want a free bookmark, email me at agkroger@gmial.com

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So, here we are again. Sunday night.

Here is the story: Last week, I told three of my very favorite people about my blog. At the time I told them, I had the opportunity to explain my alcoholism and why I was discussing it in such a public forum, but I chickened out. I failed. The timing was awkward. I was a little uncomfortable. Friday’s post, “How I Became an Alcoholic” was meant to rectify some of this error. Today’s blog was supposed to address the second question, “Why do I write so publically about my alcoholism.” After I wrote it though, I realized there was a problem. In AA, we often talk about what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now. I did the first two, but never did the third. So, my two part series is now three parts. Tonight, I address “What it is like now.”

 

My early days of sobriety were really tough. I had quit my job. My family was disappointed in me. I was scared and alone.

At first I sat in the back row of the AA club and just listened. I honestly and truly did not think AA would work. How could it? In its base form, AA is a room full of people, some steps on a wall, and a lot of talk about God. I didn’t believe in God, so that, I knew, was going to be a total disconnect. I just remember thinking, “I am so fucked.” And then one day, I remember an older gentleman, Paul, coming up to me and asking, “Where do you go in the afternoons?”

“I go home,” I said.

And he replied, “Stay here. It’s safer.” Somehow in my heart, I knew he was right. I was safer inside the confines of AA.

I was terrified of living alone and I was about to lose my apartment. One afternoon, at the 3:15 meeting, a beautiful fairy princess named Paula told me about a magical place where newly sober people could go to live. It was called a halfway house. I immediately moved in. About a month after that, a guy at the club said he needed someone to work for him at a little bakery. I immediately took the job. And that was more or less my first year of sobriety. Meetings, bakery, halfway house.

AA is comprised up of “Twelve Steps” that one is supposed to do in order to connect to a higher power (or God). Additionally, the steps help one to get to the root causes of why one drinks and help us to clean up the mess we have all made of our lives. We also have a “Sponsor” that guides us through these steps. It took me a very long time to work the steps. I didn’t get a real sponsor. I asked a friend, a girl who I could manipulate, to be my sponsor. She didn’t know what she was doing, and I knew she didn’t know what she was doing. But I thought I knew what I was doing, so I did it. I was wrong. After some really poor behavior and acting out, I decided to get a real sponsor. And I worked through all the steps. I tell other people to not live by my example. Yes, I remained sober by the tippy tops of my fingernails, but it was not an enjoyable way to live. AA has a saying about being “Happy, joyous, and free.” I believe that is attainable for even the most anxiety ridden, fearful, angry, rotten, mischievous, stubborn, and depressed of us. But it takes a little bit of faith and a whole lot of working the steps.

I think the question Normies ask the most is, “When do you get to stop going to meetings?” I love that normal people think nothing could possibly be more painful that sitting in a room of sober drunks while they complain about not being able to drink. Gosh, I agree, what a nightmare. The reality is, AA is a surprisingly funny and ridiculous place. Alcoholics tend to be shockingly intelligent. They have often lived interesting lives filled with amazing stories, both incredible and tragic. But what’s more, what I love about AA, is that at any given time, a roomful of people are saying, “Just for today, I am going to try to be a better person than the person I was yesterday.” Many days, we fail. But someday, well, it is nothing short of awesome.

The city of Houston has roughly 2,000 AA meetings a week. Think about that for a second. It’s an astonishing number. 2,000. If every meeting had 10 people, that’s 20,000 people. 20,000 people who are trying to live a life of purpose. 20,000 people who are trying to help another 20,000 people get sober. 20,000 who believe that there are things and ideas that are of greater importance than any one of us.

Why would I ever want to stop attending that? That’s the best part of my day. That’s the miracle part.

 

Friday: Part Three. Why I speak so publicly.

Fear does not get to Win

The Fear Problem

Fear… “This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it,” (Big Book 67).

There lives, deep within my chest, a small black tarball of fear. I can feel it. It exists, not where my heart is, but where a child thinks her heart is. Smack in the middle of my chest. Right behind my breastbone. If I think on it, it grows. I can feel it blossoming right now, as I type this, winding like a slow vine throughout my body and into my fingertips. It says, “Don’t write about me. Don’t acknowledge me, because then I become real. I become real and they will know… They will know you are years sober and still I live within you. You have not conquered me.”

I remember walking into the rooms, dazed, reeking of vodka (really, they should stop telling burgeoning alcoholics that vodka doesn’t smell). I just wanted to stop drinking. Maybe not even stop entirely forever. Just stop for the moment. Stop blowing up my life. Stop getting into trouble. I sat there lost and disturbed as people spoke of how fear had invaded their daily lives.

And I thought, “Poor people,” cause I knew what it meant to be brave. I was seven feet tall and in total control of my life. I remember my sponsor telling me to list my fears on my first fourth step. I wrote something like 1. Drinking. 2. Cockroaches. And there the list abruptly ended. I had zero conception or understanding that I drank largely out of fear. I mean, I read it in the Big Book and my sponsor told me it was true. The rooms told me it was true. But I had no idea how to internalize that information. I didn’t understand that I drank out of a fear of facing reality. Fear of what others thought of me. And fear of what I thought of myself.

Fear is insidious and cunning. It fights dirty. It comes at once, full force, slamming into my body. Then again, waiting until I am lying in bed late at night, it subtly and mischievously burrows into my soul. Fear will tell me I am not good enough or pretty enough. It will tell me my life a foolish, quixotic endeavor doomed to end in a fiery ball of disappointment and failure. It will tell me I will drink again, so why not drink right now.

But then, I remember that fear is not real. I may feel it. It may exist, oozing out from the pit in my chest to momentarily hijack my thoughts, but it no longer gets to dictate my actions. That’s what recovery has given me: steps and people, a higher power, and the knowledge of second thought. It has given me time and perspective and understanding. Recovery may not have cured the neurosis, but it has given me a fighting chance. No, fear does not get to win, not today.

 

The Boy Whistling in the Dark

Last week, a friend of mine decided that after five years of sobriety that she was not an alcoholic after all, and if she just stay away from the drugs, she could successfully drink. Her friend, a girl with eighteen months, asked with all earnestness, “Why? After all these years?” I responded without much ado or forethought, “She wasn’t happy with her sobriety.” My answer came so smoothly, resounded with so much simplicity and wisdom, I surprised even me. I thought… Man, I’m goooooood.

Only later that evening, lying awake in bed, did I realize I was not the recovered guru I momentarily thought I was. All I did was reiterate one of my favorite passages in the Big Book. “We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety” (Big Book, page 152).

I often refer back to the boy whistling in the dark. He has become a working part of my recovery, a part of my daily tenth step, a way to spot check my emotional sobriety. Am I, today, a girl whistling in the dark? If I could have half a dozen drinks and get away with it, would I?

Some days, the answer comes a bit slower. I have to think deeper. What does that mean, half a dozen drinks? Does that mean just once? One time, I get half a dozen drinks? What if I want seven or ten or a baker’s dozen? Do shots count? And then I have to smile. My alcoholism is so deeply rooted inside me that if I were to take half a dozen drinks, I would want more, more and more often. I know this. I’m so alcoholic that even in my hypothetical world, I am trying to nudge my way into more.

The reason I do not take half a dozen drinks has nothing to do with whether or not I would get away with it. I certainly didn’t care too much about getting into trouble when I was drinking. And I think that those closest to me can attest that sobriety has done little to damper my defiance.

For years, I wanted my brain to shut off. To be quiet. To stop the harassment that existed in my own mind. It felt like a whirlwind of hate and disgust. I used drinking to accomplish this end. Then one day, my drinking quit quieting the voices and instead added to it. My inability to exist within my own body perpetuated and exacerbated the cesspool which was my mind. With the vicious nature of this circular thinking, I find it a miracle that anyone stops drinking even for five minutes.

I do not take half a dozen drinks because I do not want to have to spend my life trying to figure out how to get the next half dozen. The question is not, could I outwit and shuck and jive my way back to inebriation, the questions is why would I ever want to? The consequence of not half a dozen drinks, but of the very first sip of the very first one, is the madness of my own mind slamming into me with the force of a bulldozer. I am confident about this. The alternative to sobriety is insanity.

So, tonight, as I lay my head down on my pillow, I will know I am not the boy whistling in the dark inwardly hoping to take half a dozen drinks. I am the girl whistling in the sunlight of the spirit as she trudges down the road of happy destinies. May God bless me and keep me until then.

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.