The Eleventh Step Prayer

The Godsponsor“Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter’s wedding day,” (The Godfather).

In my drinking days, I could never get enough of anything. I was a bottomless pit of needs and wants. I “deserved” comfort and forgiveness. I “deserved” love and joy delivered to me on a silver platter in return for all the love and generosity I supplied others. Cause isn’t that how life works? Tit for tat. I buy you dinner and next time you buy mine? I helped you with your work. Now you help me with mine. Never once was there a sincere, genuine gift made without any thought of reciprocity. No, everything had returned postage.

Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred, I may bring love;
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
That where there is despair, I may bring hope;
That where there are shadows, I may bring light;
And that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather
To comfort, than to be comforted,
To understand, than to be understood,
To love, than to be loved;
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is in dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. (Twelve and Twelve Page 99).

Therefore, that the first time I read the St. Francis Prayer (known to AAs as the Eleventh Step Prayer), I was in shock. I practically I looked around for an imaginary audience in order to say, “Do you see this? Do people do that? Do people love without love in return?” I thought that while the St. Francis Prayer may be all very good in theory, no one actually lived that way.

Occasionally, I speak to my students about how we can have gaps in our educational progress. We can get through high school, lead full, productive lives without ever fully grasping how a semicolon functions or why you can’t take a square root of a negative number.

I missed how to forgive. Looking back, I am embarrassed by how little I understood any sort of spiritual life. I was raised well. I went to church. And yet, I became a full-fledged adult who had no capacity for the faults of humanity. Instead, I had some odd philosophical, faulty wiring that told me that if I forgive people who had clearly wronged me, that I would be acquiescing my morally superior ground. Some acts are just unforgivable and if I forgive you, I have somehow lessened your sin to the level of forgivable sins. I use to like that saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” I used the spirit of self-preservation as a mean to justify hurtful behavior. But the truth is, it is easier not to talk to people than to talk to them. It is easier to be indignant than to be kind. It is easier to become hardened than it is to remain vulnerable. And it is easier to be angry than it is to forgive.

It has taken me a long time to fully understand the wisdom of St. Francis’ words. It did not come overnight. I learned from feeling others love me before I had any capacity to love in return. When I wanted so badly for someone to understand me, I learned first that I must take the time to understand someone else. It came from me making mistakes and watching others either take the path of forgiveness or non-forgiveness. And it took me asking myself which person I would rather be.

I believe in the spiritual experience of AA. I believe that God can enter a person’s heart and alter their spirit. But I also believe a person can just make the simple choice to be better. I think we can just practice at understanding. We can practice at forgiveness. And tomorrow, if I don’t get the love I feel I am deserved… well, I’ll still love ya anyways.

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.

 

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.

Part Three: Why I Write about my Alcoholism.

I have been writing today’s post on and off again for the last week. It has been very difficult. I think the reason is that I am walking a fine line of between explanation and justification. I keep slipping into a defensive tone, like I am on guard against possible recriminations. So, with a deep breath, I am going to start over.

Today’s writing is the third in a series of posts. If you are just joining the conversation, you might want to look to the right hand side of the screen. It should show Post One, “How I became an Alcoholic” and Post Two, “What it’s like Now.” They will explain my backstory and my motivation for writing this little series.

So, this third part addresses the final question: Why I write so publicly about my alcoholism.

Let me start off by saying that I truly enjoy writing. I have always enjoyed voicing my thoughts on paper. In fact, I think I write more coherently than I speak. In my mind, my words are clean and precise, but when I speak, they come out in a jumble. When I get the chance to write, edit, rephrase, and yes, start over when I begin to sound defensive, I feel a lot calmer.

AA teaches me to be honest today. And I honestly do not care about if anyone knows I am a recovering alcoholic. Additionally, I am not supposed to live in fear. The only reason I could come up with for not proclaiming my alcoholism is fear of what other alcoholics would say. “What? Oh no!” you say. “Other alcoholics? You meant Normies.” No, no I did not. I’ve run that one over and over again in my own head. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. I have never had anyone condemned my recovery to my face. Usually, people are quite nice and supportive. Maybe a little shocked, but encouraging none-the-less. Alcoholics, though, man, we can be ruthless. Alcoholics, by and large, are generally really intelligent people and we are not afraid to pass judgment and speak our minds. We are kinda a scary organization, to be quite honest. Thank gosh our main objective is staying sober and not world domination.

Okay, here are the main reasons I get for not proclaiming myself an alcoholic. 1) The second A of AA. Anonymity. I think it is a sticky widget. According to the preface of the Big Book, the reason for anonymity is simple. “It is important to stay anonymous because we are too few, at present to handle the overwhelming number of personal appeals which may result from this publication.” The amount of personal appeals I have received is zero. And I have plenty of time. 2) The Eleventh and Twelfth Traditions. Okay, you may have me here. I’ve read them a few times, and yet, I am still not clear on the ideas. But I know I am not promoting. I’ve said time and again, I speak for no one other than myself. 3) The idea that if an alcoholic is public and then relapses, the public will assume AA as an organization, and not the individual, is somehow to blame. I’ve never really gotten this argument either. Alcoholism and drug addiction are so life consuming that for a person to stop for even a week or a month is a huge accomplishment. To disregard this clean time as a blanket failure of AA is near sighted at best. Besides, I have never actually heard this said by a single Normie ever. It is always said to me by an AA speaking on behalf of society. Has anyone ever actually heard the news condemn AA when a celebrity has failed to maintain sobriety? I should YouTube it.

So, why I write about my alcoholism… (I cringe a little as I write this because I fear that some might find me morally grandstanding. That is not the case at all. I am a flawed individual. I own every part of that.) I think that publically proclaiming my alcoholism is the morally right thing to do. That’s it. I write about my alcoholism because I think I should. Pure and simple.

“Alcoholic” is a very heavy label. Because alcoholism and drug addiction is so stigmatized in modern society (especially for women), most people keep their anonymity for fear of societal backlash. In fact, just today I had lunch with a friend who told me she is worried that if her boss knew she was an alcoholic, the boss would use that information against my friend. I absolutely get that. Not for a second do I judge my friend for her decision to maintain anonymity.

My personal feeling, though, regarding just me, is that if I truly believe that my alcoholism is genetically predisposed, which I do, then I should be no more ashamed or embarrassed by my disease than I am of my hair color or my skin tone. I am not responsible for my disease. With that said, I am 100% responsible for my recovery, what I do with my disease once I am diagnosed. If I choose to disregard my alcoholism and indulge in my obsession, I will no doubt commit ludicrous and outrageous acts, cut myself off from those who love me, lie, cheat, and steal. Then, I should absolutely be ashamed of my actions. But stopping, asking for help, living by a moral code and a set of principles, and proclaiming a belief in something holier and deeper than the material is not, nor should it be, shameful. The reality is, I do not think it is embarrassing that I am a recovered alcoholic. The embarrassing part is if I had never stopped.

I belong to a small minority that feels that by clinging to anonymity, we alcoholics help perpetuate the stigma of an alcoholic rather than the creating a new discourse about recovery. I remember a person saying in a meeting once, “I didn’t care about my anonymity when I was out there drinking.” That’s the language I understand. I have the luxury to be in a situation where I can proclaim my alcoholism, but even if I couldn’t, I probably still would. I think it is important. I write because I think I should. If I treat my disease as a source of embarrassment and shame, why in the world would I be surprised when others do the same?

 

 

 

 

Life is not Something to be Endured

“When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set on a path which tell him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he has hitherto denied himself. He finds himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and love of which he had thought himself quite incapable” (Twelve and Twelve 106-107).

 

I’ve been thinking about this passage on and off for a couple of weeks. The sentence that keeps reverberating is, “Life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered,” but I felt the whole paragraph is so strong that it deserved to be reproduced.

I have really struggled with the idea that life is something to be endured. Not just recently; I’ve struggled with it my entire life. I remember being a kid and just yearning, begging for independence. I needed power and control over my own existence so badly I could taste it. By the time I became eighteen though, it was too late. I had become too used to self-medication and escapism; I could no longer exist in reality. My daytime life, my working life, my social life, all became something to endure in order to perpetuate the false. When I finally awoke from this nightmare twelve years later, I had to endure the crazy that was early sobriety. I was upset at a lot of people and things. I wanted to blame others, but you told me the fault lay squarely in my own house. I was broke, scared, lost. Over time, things got better. I went back to school, got a job, and did my best to become an adult. I endured my new found responsibility.

But then something happened. It was in October of last year. I was in the midst of a horrible job. Every morning, I woke up with a sense of dread and oppression at the next days, weeks, years. One Friday evening, my boyfriend stopped by to pick me up for an unexpected date. I had been sleeping off another horrendous week and hadn’t received his texts. I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to feel sorry for myself. He had a whole night planned. He convinced me. I relented.

What we did wasn’t important, nor might I add, all that extraordinary. But I do remember the emotions. I remember being happy, really happy, and laughing, really laughing, for the first time in weeks. I remember driving down the freeway, looking up at the night sky and thinking life is short and beautiful to not be appreciated. And I remember thinking I no longer wanted to live a life of dirt and disease, sadness and heartache. I wanted beauty and art and culture and literature. I wanted to live a life of joy and stars and laughter.

I couldn’t have articulated it then, but I had reached a whole new kind of bottom in sobriety.

It took some time for me to sort out the unhappiness that was my life, but over the course of the year I got a new job, a new apartment, and a new roommate. And I began following a new path, not the path of a career, but a path of the creative. I started to write again.

Some days, it is still hard to not get caught up in enduring life. I worry about money and housing and health. But the reality is, right now at this very moment, my life couldn’t be more beautiful. I am looking out the window at the last of the summer storms. I am in full anticipation of October and Halloween. I cannot wait for the first burst of cold weather when I can turn off the air conditioner and open all the windows in the house. It reminds me, though, of where I was, not just physically but emotionally, last October.

What if I never realized I had the power to change my life? What if I never realize that I could be happy? I still don’t know today why I thought the only way to live life was to endure it. I’m not sure if it is a quirk in my psychology or a byproduct of my alcoholism. I do know though, that it doesn’t have to continue that way. I have a friend who says, “I’ve been drunk and I’ve been sober. Sober’s better.” So might I add, is happy.

 

A little Nina Simone to help you smile.

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.

 

Cause if you ain’t Drunk now, it’s Gonna be all right

My life is just this side of unmanageable. I really and truly do not understand how other people keep all their parts moving with seemingly effortless ease while my life is usually held together by a concoction of spit and duct tape. But my life wasn’t always this together. In my early sobriety, I was a real mess.

The most memorably unmanageable part of my early sobriety was not the fact that I was homeless or that I was unemployed and unemployable, but that the stickers on my car were totally and completely expired. Not just kinda expired. Not just the police pull me over just in case I didn’t realize that the sticker three feet away from my face had somehow missed my keen observational skills. If I remember correctly, both my registration and my inspection sticker were like three years expired. And for the life of me, I had no idea how to fix them. My license was expired. I had no money, no insurance, no idea how to get money or insurance. The inspection and license required insurance, the insurance required a license (or so I thought). And who knew what a registration required. The license required me to go to the DPS, the registration to the courthouse. And none of that seemed the least bit doable.

One evening as I was heading home from a friend’s house, I got pulled over. The police officer didn’t, to my surprise, arrest me. Instead he gave me a handful of tickets with an accompaniment of frowny police countenance and a threat. Shaken, I turned my car around and drove straight back to my friend’s house. The next morning, I fortified myself against the world and once again began the drive home. This time I was smart enough to turn left out of the housing development instead of right. One minute after I got on the Sam Houston Tollway, I saw lights in my rear view mirror. Man, oh man. In my head, I’d like to think I kept it together for thirty seconds, but it might not have been that long. The officer just looked at me with an even frownier countenance than the previous officer because this wasn’t just regular police, this was sheriff police.

As a way of introduction I stammered, “Sir, I just got all these tickets last night, and really, I’m just trying to get home and park my car.”

Sheriff looked at the tickets for a minute and said, “These are dated last month.”

I looked at the tickets and then looked at Sheriff and back at the tickets and said, “I assure you, it was last night.”

And Sheriff said, “But they’re dated last month.”

For a second, I swear, I thought I might be on Candid Camera. I’m a pretty fast thinker, but I did not know if insisting that the other patrolman was wrong about the date was the right way to go or not.

An awkward paused stretched out. Sheriff said, “Tell me, why are your stickers so out date.”

This one I could answer, and I quickly stumbled over my words in a gush of new tears, “I just got sober and I am trying to get my life back together and I don’t have the money or know how to get the even get the stickers…” I trailed off and sat there staring at my hands against the steering wheel.

Sheriff took a long, hard look at me, “You drunk now?”

“What? No, sir!” (Though looking back, I have to admit, it was a fair question.)

“Cause if you ain’t drunk now, it’s gonna be all right.”

Sheriff said, he’d keep an eye out for my car, and if I ever drove the tollway again with my stickers expired, he’d pull me right back over. And then he let me go.

I finally did get out from under. I got the job, the money, the insurance, and yes, I went to the courthouse and the DPS. It took a while, but it got done.

But sometimes when life gets especially life-y, when things don’t go my way, or when I’m driving down the tollway, I think of good, old Sheriff and how he spoke my truth. “Cause if I ain’t drunk now, it’s gonna be all right.”