What’s the Scariest Thing You Could Do?

Danger, Alcoholics, DangerSaturday was my sobriety birthday. I turned eight. Sobriety birthdays are an interesting time. As anyone who has celebrated one knows, it’s a time of reflection. This doesn’t happen with belly button birthdays; no one ever says, “I wonder where I was thirty-eight years ago at this time?” But sobriety birthdays are so precisely counted from one specific date that one cannot help but define one’s life by it. Very rarely in one’s life can a person say, “On this date, my life changed.”

But then there is another side, I alluded to it a couple of weeks ago in one of my drawings. A man is sitting in a chair. Underneath, it says, “Five minutes after the miracle,” and the man is thinking, “Now what?” I think that is what a lot of sobriety really is: the “now what” part. For our first couple of years maybe, we are adjusting to our new lifestyles. I do not care what they experts say, it takes more than 28 days to rewire a habit that one has had for decades. It takes time and patience. We go to meetings. We get sober jobs. We become accountable and responsible. And slowly we get better.

Then what do we do? I think I have really floundered in this realm. I think that if down in the pit of our stomachs each man and woman has some sort of conception of God, I think deep down in each one of us there is also a dream unrealized.

I’ve told this story before, but last year on a retreat, I realized I was not living my life with principles in all my affairs if I was not practicing courage with my future. I had always wanted to write, but never really felt I had any support in following this endeavor. I think most people chalk it up to a good hobby or a noble pastime, but not something one attacks as one might attack business school or another more reputable occupation. Last April 8, I came home from the retreat and before I could change my mind, I started this blog. It was the scariest thing I could have ever imagined.

I will tell you, if you think of the scariest thing you could do and then do it, it changes you.

If you had asked me eleven months ago, what I expected from this experiment, I’m not sure I could have articulated it any more than, “Fear.” I wanted to get over the fear. Fear of failure. Fear of judgment. I think a lot of us have dreams, but then alcoholism and drug addiction get in the way of them. And then recovery gets in the way of them. And living amends. And jobs. And then families. And then justification and realization and the “I’ll do it over summer” or when the kids graduate or when I retire. Last year, I just didn’t want to do that anymore. I didn’t want to get any older still holding on to the regret of dreams unrealized.

Eight years ago, the very scariest thing I could have done was walk into an AA meeting and ask for help. It took an unbelievable amount of courage.

It is time to move on. There’s new fears to conquer. And that is what I am sitting here thinking about: what is the scariest thing I can do this year. And then how am I going to do it? That is my birthday present to me, cause I didn’t get sober to sit in the back of the room.

I don’t know what your scariest thing is, but I hope when you’re driving home tonight or cooking dinner, you think about it. And then I hope sometime before your next birthday, you do it. It’ll change you.

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.

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.

 

Free Bookmarks

BookmarkII

Hey everyone,

First of all, thank you, as always, for reading. So, I made these bookmarks. I thought a good idea and fun to make (it was), but now I do not know what to do with them. If you want one or ten (there are a few different styles), shoot me an email with your name and address. I will mail them to you. Free of charge. You do not have to do anything. You don’t even have to sign up to receive my blog via email or comment, even though that’s what I really want, because I just cannot really bring myself to ask anyone to sincerely do that. I wouldn’t do it. But I might be inclined to send an email if I got a nifty bookmark out of the deal.

Best Regards,

AGK

Agkroger@gmail.com

 

Part One: How I Became an Alcoholic

My German Big Book:

My German Big Book:

This week, I told three people (three people I did not intend on telling) about my blog. All three are in high school. All three of them are mature enough to understand the significance of my words. With each conversation, there was an opportunity to address my alcoholism. But I did not do so. I just stated that I had a blog and kept on movin’. In other words, I choked. I had a teachable moment but I did not accept the challenge. I regret my decision. So, for my three ladies, tonight I write for you.

I think, fundamentally, there are two separate questions. 1) How or why did I become an alcoholic? 2) Why do I write about my alcoholism in such a public forum? For the sake of brevity, I think I will address the first question in Friday’s blog and the second question in Monday’s blog.

How or why did I become an alcoholic?

Addiction in any form is a baffling and confusing topic. Many facets of society offer different reasons for how and why addiction starts. Some people feel one acquires alcoholism over time. Drink enough alcohol, and one will surely become an alcoholic. Some believe that alcoholism is a response to a traumatic experience or otherwise physiological unraveling. And still some others believe it is genetic, something that one is born with like brown hair or green eyes. I believe all three of these theories have merit. Ultimately though, Doctors and scientists have proven through MRIs (brain scans) that when an addicted person consumes drugs or alcohol, his brain kicks into overdrive, lights up like a Christmas tree. Clearly there is some kind of biological component to alcoholism.

But addiction does not just exist in the brain; the body physically becomes acclimated to this way of living. When an addicted person tries to stop drinking or using certain drugs, an acutely painful experience called “withdraw” can set in. Most alcoholics and addicts must check into the hospital or rehab in order to “detox” off these substances. To not do so is very dangerous. People can die from quitting abruptly; the change is too shocking to the system. This physical component often leads to a person continuing to abuse substances long after he has wanted to stop.  The necessity to continue drinking or using when one no longer wants, is the great paradox of addiction.

Think of it like this: you’re crazy hungry. You skipped lunch. Now, it’s after school and you are starving to death. Someone hands you your very favorite meal. And you eat and eat and eat. Have you ever eaten so much you felt sick to your stomach? Have you ever ate so much you felt guilty and gross and fat? Okay, alcoholism is like that but a billion times worse because it is alcohol and not chocolate.

Okay, so wait, back to the question. How did I, your lovely and talented Ann, become an alcoholic? I really don’t know. Yes, yes to all of it. What I do know is that I have a distinct memory of a conversation. It was a summer day in Boston. I am walking down the street. The conversation was not about me. It was about someone else, but my friend said, “You are not an alcoholic.” And I remember in my head thinking, “I’ve got you snowed.” Because I knew. I knew I was an alcoholic. I was eighteen years old.

It would take me another twelve years before I walked into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. We have a book. It is called the “Big Book.” My very favorite line is from page 152. It says, “He cannot picture life without alcohol. Someday he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.”

The line says he (the alcoholic) cannot imagine life without alcohol. But in the next sentence there is a subtle shift. Now the man cannot “imagine life either with alcohol or without it.” A change has occurred in the man.

The passage goes on to say, “Then he will know loneliness such as few do.” I love the simple elegance of those lines because I know exactly that feeling. When one cannot continue the way one is living, and yet cannot stop, life feels impossible. Doing something, repeatedly, that one does not want to do is a humiliating and soul crushing experience. This feeling, this loneliness, I do not wish upon anyone. And yet, I know without a doubt, that emotion saved my life. Without that emotion, I might have never reached out and asked how to make it stop.

The end of my active addiction and the beginning of my recovery was both the worst and the best day of my life. That day was February 28, 2007.

 

To be Continued Monday.

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.

Open Letter to the Reader

So… I have a lot on my mind. And I figure, I should just write candidly. I think only about fifteen people actually read this thing, though, so the chances are that I actually offend someone are pretty slim. I am in a quandary. I want to write, to be a writer. And what I want to write about is recovery, and yet I do not want to be typecast as a recovery writer. I think I should probably be grateful to be able to publish some kind of daily meditation or be a circuit speaker. But my heroes, oh my heroes: Hemingway, Rushdie, Salinger, wrote beautiful works of art. I want to be an artist. And yet, here I sit, where I’ve sat for everyday for the last week, really wanting to write about the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I want to explore my relationship with my recovery on paper in a way that is both honest and hopeful. And so, I think I must.

Now, with that said, I have a few concerns. I worry a bit about my anonymity. Just a bit though. I read Traditions Eleven and Twelve a few times now. I understand Bill’s and AA’s reasoning. I just do not agree with it. And luckily, I don’t have to. AA Tradition Three states, “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.” It does not say, “The only requirements for AA membership are a desire to stop drinking and adherence to the rest of the traditions.” I’m sure I will write a post explaining my thoughts regarding the traditions at some point in the future. And I am just as sure someone will want to argue the finer points with me. (That’s actually my concern. Not the blowing of my anonymity, but that I will have to listen to other people’s opinions regarding my blowing of my anonymity.) If you disagree with me, feel free to shoot me an email or comment in the comment box. But I guarantee you, I don’t care.

My second concern is that I do not want anyone to actually think that I know what I am talking about. I have never understood AA. I am not a guru, a thumper, or an Old Timer. I don’t know how it works. I don’t even have any pithy sayings. I just listen in meetings, and if I am called on, I try not to talk longer than five minutes. That is about the extent of my knowledge of this program. No one should be looking to me as an authority on anything.

So, that’s about it. I’m not sure, yet, how my writing will manifest itself. I thought maybe I’d start from the beginning of the Big Book. But that seems too systematic for me. I think I’d rather write without a preordained schedule of topics. And for Lydia and Henry, I will continue with that as well. I am simply bogged down in her storyline right now and I’m not happy with it. I want to take a step back to regroup and reorganize.

Anywho, I hope all y’all have a great Monday.

Thank you, as always, for reading.

Peace,

Ann G. Kroger

agkroger@gmail.com (In case you still need to email me)