I’ve smoked off and on since I was twelve years old. Okay, so I had my first cigarette at 12 & then only occasionally until I was 17 when I almost convinced Philip Morris that he needed a Marlboro Girl alongside his iconic cowboy. (Actually, I smoked Camels back then, but I don’t know what you call a girl camel… and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want anyone calling me one anyway.) I smoked for 5 years, then quit when my first husband and I first moved in together. I picked up again when I went through my first divorce. (I mean, with all the other crap I started putting in my body then, what was a little nicotine?) Since then, I’ll be quit for a year or two then go back to it for another year or so. I just quit my last year-long smoking stint at the end of my first semester back in school, so I suppose that means I’ve been quit for about a month now. Cool. Whatever. Totally not the point.
Smokers get a lot of grief from the rest of the world – a lot of pressure to quit. And, yeah, we know we need to, but… dude, lay off, already! So, whenever I thought I was ready to quit, I would tell everybody and they would all be giddy. Sure enough, my abstinence would last for about a day or two before I was back at the gas station shelling out my hard earned dough for a little dose of lung cancer. The next day, my relapse would be met with complete disappointment from my fellows and I would feel like a total looooooooser with a capital L. (Seriously, folks, your nagging totally doesn’t stress me out so much that I want to go chain-smoke this carton I just bought.)
Enough of those letdowns & I learned to stop telling folks when I was planning to do something they thought was going to be good for me. When I finally did quit the first time, I didn’t tell anyone… just in case I didn’t make it. I remember being on the phone with my dad ragging me big time about my smoking when I finally told him, “I’ve been quit for 6 months! Get off my ass!” In the 14 years and 7 lifetimes since then, I’ve tried to find a balance between blurting out all my best intentions and running off into the shadows from where I can burst forth fully transformed. (Yes, I’m a drama queen. If you don’t know that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.)
All of this behavior is totally fear-based, of course. The vast majority of my life has been a series of fear-based reactions. Of course it has been; I’m an alcoholic, for Christ’s sake! That Marlboro Man image is just a facade. In reality, I’m a sniveling little girl… but don’t tell anybody.
In recovery, we try to get past all that fear-based behavior and start living life intentionally. The fear is strong in this one, though, and I often have a hard time giving up old ways of thinking. About 6 months ago, I made a fear-based decision that became intentional action somewhere along the way. When the change happened, I was too afraid to tell anybody. Sometimes I dream way too big and then I feel foolish when I hear the words come out of my mouth. A seed was planted, though, and a dream grew from it. I didn’t even tell my husband at first. He saw it on me, though, and he knew this was a dream I had to pursue. Frankly, I believe he told me he’d kick my ass if I didn’t. Oh yeah, it scared the crap out of him, too, but he has the most amazing sort of quiet faith in me and we quickly realized that we had to get serious about making this thing happen.
When I got sober, it certainly wasn’t the first time I had quit drinking and drugging. Not too long before the week that the whole world fell down, I had actually managed to kick on my own & string together two clean weeks. At the rate I was going at the time, this was HUGE! I had absolutely no support, though, because no one new what was going on except for the one person who needed me to be sick, too, so that he wouldn’t look so bad in comparison. (Narcissism is such a lovely disease, isn’t it?) He came home one day & said just the right thing to get me back off to the races: “I met this guy who’s got some bad ass white.” Oh, that foul demon cocaine! I could never resist her.
Once I had made the decision to throw myself into AA and had a few 24-hours under my belt, I told everyone! This was commitment on a mammoth scale and I needed accountability everywhere. I was like a competitor at the Special Olympics – completely surrounded by positive people cheering me on. This was one of the big differences from when I had tried before and failed. I couldn’t hide what I was doing anymore. I had to be open and honest from the beginning. If I faltered or failed, I had to do so publicly so that others could help keep me from going back to the depths of hell.
All that was to save me from going backwards, though. Now, I am going forward into uncharted territory for me. And it’s scary as hell. I have failed at a hell of a lot in my life and it’s hard to keep putting myself out there. I’ve never known what I wanted to do with my life, though… until now.
Just over 6 months ago, I was working at a place where I did very, very, very little work and got paid a buttload to do it. I mean, literally, I spent most of my days simply watching Netflix. I felt guilty, like I was stealing, but there honestly wasn’t anything for me to do. The organization came under new management and I feared that soon they would realize they didn’t need me anymore. I didn’t want to go back into medical billing, where I was before, but I wasn’t really qualified for anything else. I started panicking a bit and finally decided I just needed to go back to school so that I could actually learn something useful.
Around that same time, Philip Seymour Hoffman died and the interwebs blew up with armchair psychiatrists delving into the psyche of the addict. I read all manner of idiocy. The absolute worst, though, came from this “expert” on addiction. I don’t know what made this guy an expert aside from the fact that he had read a lot of books and had some fancy letters after his name. He essentially said that AA killed PSH. (Like, literally, he may have actually said those exact words.) In this man’s expert opinion, the only thing an addict needed to do to get and stay sober is to think about all the good things in his life – his job, his family, his money, etc. He spewed so many lies and misconceptions about 12-step programs that I honestly could not believe this man knew anything at all about addiction or recovery. I refuse to link to this man’s article on PSH or give his name because I don’t want to give him any more traffic. (Plus, at this point, I have gratefully forgotten what his name was so I can’t stalk him and send him threatening letters… not that I would, but I have been known to hold some serious grudges… alcoholic, remember?)
Yeah, I held a resentment toward that “expert” for a while before I figured out what to do with it. Before I actually started school, but long after I had made the decision to do so, I finally put two and two together. After securing my husband’s support, I secured the support of my first professor who is also the department head for my chosen field of study. Slowly, I have opened up to a few family members & friends and have received mixed feedback. Tomorrow (today), I will finish my second semester back in school having earned my Associate’s degree and 15 hours of 4.0 GPA. And everything just feels right. It’s not like before when I just ended up somewhere (I mean, someone with crappy customer service skills in San Antonio is just going to wind up in medical billing, that’s all there is to it) or said, “Eh, I like doing this, so I guess I’ll do this and see how it works out” (English, math, physical therapy… hell, I’ve had about every major imaginable). I actually love what I’m studying now and have an idea for how I want to use it! I always envied those folks who were born knowing what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was nearly 36 years old before I figured it out for myself.
So, yeah, what separated me, who had actual experience in addiction from this addiction “expert” who had absolutely no clue what addiction was? He went to school, read a lot of books, did some studies (at least I hope he did) and wrote a book. I can do that shit. And when I’m done, I won’t sound like a complete jackass. Or at least that’s how the initial thought came to me. Once it all got fleshed out it was more along the lines of, “Seriously, why are there no good statistics on recovery methods? Could someone who has actual experience in this become someone respected in the academic community and finally help to change the narrative? Can I bring a different perspective to the research on addiction?” And ultimately, “I honestly don’t care what I find out, I just want to study addicts because I am fascinated by these tortured and miraculous souls.”
They say if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. I don’t have long term plans. I have a short term goal to finish my Bachelor’s hopefully by December 2015 and to apply to a few graduate schools. I also have a little dream seed that I’m watering every day. If it matures, I’ll end up with my name on some pertinent studies and maybe a funny hat and a couple of extra letters to carry around with me. Suffice to say, the next couple of years are going to be interesting. One day at a time.
You know those fun little hypothetical ‘what if’ questions? If you won the lottery…. If you could go anywhere…. If you only had one day to live…. Over the years, my answers to all of those questions has changed numerous times. All but one, that is. If you could have dinner with any one person, alive or dead, who would it be? And until today, I always held out hope that it might one day happen. I’d still be hungry by the end of the meal, though, because he would’ve had me laughing my head off the whole time.
I don’t know why his death affects me so much, but I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much over the death of someone I never even met. His career stretched the entirety of my life up ’til now. I watched him evolve as an actor. He made me laugh; he made me cry. He was everything I always wanted my father to be. I read articles about him and watched everything he came out in. I got all giddy when I found out his mother had my same name, and when I did my celebrity alcoholic searching in early sobriety, I smiled to find his name on the list. I promise I didn’t become an Episcopalian because of him, but afterwards I did laugh to find one more thing we had in common. I’ve never known a world without Robin Williams and I’ve never wanted to.
We talked about his death at the meeting tonight. I believe it’s heavy on the hearts of most Americans, but especially those of us in recovery. He was very outspoken about his addiction to alcohol and cocaine and publicly admitted to relapse after his long term sobriety. He admitted to struggling emotionally following the cancellation of his comeback TV program, “The Crazy Ones,” and stated that he planned to throw himself all the harder into his recovery program. And alcoholics and addicts everywhere said a little prayer for him because we know the pain and temptation that comes during trying times – especially those times when we put ourselves out there and fail. When we are rejected, we don’t know how to shrug it off. It feels like confirmation of what that little voice of the addict says constantly: “You’re worthless. No one really likes you. You are a fake and a loser.” But once our little prayer is said, we move on in full faith that “this, too, shall pass.”
Just like with so many things, we become complacent. We have had difficult experiences in sobriety, but we’ve always pulled through. We have full faith in our recovery… and that is not a bad thing at all, don’t get me wrong! But we don’t stay sober today on yesterday’s work. I don’t know any details whatsoever about Robin Williams’ program. He could’ve been working his ass off all this time for all I know, so don’t think I am trying to say he failed because he didn’t do what he needed to do. His death reminds me, though, of places where I am letting up a bit too much. Where am I trying to stay sober on yesterday’s work? or work from a week or a month ago? Am I still doing the things I did to get sober or do I think I’m “cured” now?
Unfortunately, people every day die from this dreadful disease. And often they are the most brilliant, amazing people who ever lived. Robin Williams was a comic genius and a phenomenal actor. The stage character and the tortured soul inside are apparent throughout his many roles. So often known for his comedy roles, I loved the darker, more poignant and touching roles like in The Fisher King and Jakob the Liar. He so well embodied the roles which portrayed the duality of torment and humor like in Good Morning, Vietnam or struggling to find the proper place in the world of grown-ups like in Hook. But, of course, my all time favorite is one that makes me cry every time… and even more so now:
And thank you, Mr. Keating, O Captain, my Captain. Thank you for all you’ve shared with us through your phenomenal life and your tragic death. Thank you for reminding me that this disease should never be taken lightly. It is oh, so much more than simply drinking too much or playing around with illegal substances. This disease is “The Nothing” from The Neverending Story. It is an ever-widening void inside me that will destroy me and everything I love. It is a cavern of emptiness and despair that I will attempt to fill with any sort of food, drink, pill, powder, person, or behavior I can get my hands on. I have to stay vigilant. I have to continue filling this void with the good things of life – with gratitude, love, fellowship and faith.
I need to do a little resentment journaling before my head explodes and I haven’t checked in with y’all in a bit, so I’m going to go ahead and jot this down here. Please feel free to give me the “Get over your whiny bullshit” feedback that I deserve. Please, also, forgive any grammatical, spelling, language or context oddities. This is stream of consciousness kind of stuff and I am not going to go back through and edit anything.
First off, gratitude, because I know that’s what I need more than anything else right now:
1. At the end of the summer, barring my doing anything really stupid like knocking the shit out of one of my professors, I will be through with all those bullshit courses needed to fulfill core requirements. Bigtime woot right there!
2. Also, at the end of the summer (or actually in just a week, I do believe), barring my doing anything really stupid like barging into her office and making a huge friggin’ scene, I will have earned my Associates degree (Yeah, I had to go ahead and get the AA ;) )
3. So long as I don’t commit some sort of heinous felony which will land my ass in jail over the next few days, I will have completed this insanely hectic semester with a 4.0. Super awesomeness!
4. I have met two fantastic professors who I will most likely be working very closely with over the next five years.
5. I have established myself as teacher’s pet with both of them. (Because that’s how I roll)
6. I got really good news tonight regarding my son’s desire to come live with me. <-that, right there, is program in action… and a whole lot of patience and tolerance.
7. My kids are not here right now to see me flipping out.
8. Therefore they’re not here to have me snapping at them and I will not have to try to smooth things over with them later.
9. When I stop and breathe and look at all the blessings in my life, I can put things into perspective. (and stop gritting my teeth)
10. I just picked up 6 year chips at two of the groups which have profoundly shaped my program and fundamentally transformed my life. (and I get to pick up a third on Tuesday :) )
:: deep breath ::
Alrighty, then, perhaps I can continue with far less foul language than I would have otherwise. Too, the need to write my angst has significantly subsided. Ain’t it great the way gratitude lists work?
The truth of the matter is I’m tired. I am really just very mentally exhausted. Over the past 5 weeks, I have processed so much information that most of it doesn’t even make sense anymore. It’s all this big blob of facts and statistics and analyses and processes. I went into this semester with a few very reasonable expectations. 1. I knew this was going to be a very rough semester and that I would have to work very hard to keep up. I have done so. 2. When the semester was over, the classes would end. Apparently, not so much. 3. I would enjoy these last two classes needed to complete my core requirements. Yes and no.
Intro to Social Research is awesome. It is why I am in school and what I want to do with my life. Physical Anthropology is very though-provoking and my professor is hilarious. The taxonomy of all the human ancestors is mind-numbingly awful, but aside from that, it has been highly enjoyable. Dance Appreciation has been an absolute nightmare. I fully admit that I went into this class expecting it to be… well, appreciation of dance – in much the same way that art appreciation is the appreciation of art and music appreciation is the appreciation of music. 1st mistake. I also fully admit that I went into this class expecting it to be fun and enjoyable as I absolutely love to appreciate dance. 2nd mistake. And, foolish me, I actually believed that when everything posted everywhere regarding summer class schedule states that the last day of classes is July 8th, then the 8th would be the last day of classes. 3rd mistake.
Yes, I complained when I had to spend the last three weekends writing 3-5 page, single-spaced, in no larger than 11 font, papers which had to be researched, compiled and written in no more than 3 days time. That was within the logical purview of standard curriculum (barely), though, so I accepted it. Yes, I complained when I had to participate in online discussions with my brain-dead classmates and got points marked off if I did not go back to each (anywhere between 4 & 10 each week) and post responses to their inane ramblings. Okay, yes, I know I’m being all “Oh, I’m so much smarter than everyone else,” but honest to God, I was the only one in the class who understood what bilingualism meant. And we live in SAN ANTONIO! There really isn’t a more bilingual city than this one (Okay, there may be a few, but we’re really high up there). Likewise, did I complain when I had to do group projects with these same brain-dead classmates who could not figure out how to post, or even look at, the proper discussion boards. I understand fully that I am not a team player. I don’t like any portion of my grades to be dependent upon another less dedicated student. Still, this was all within the scope of reasonable classwork (albeit just at the edge of reasonableness).
But, SERIOUSLY! When the last day of classes is the 8th and all finals are taken on the 9th or 10th, you can NOT assign us a whole week’s worth of work on the 6th and refuse to open up the final until the 11th! I understand that your excuse is that you are graciously giving us until the 14th to complete all our work, but the semester is over on the 10th! And you have assigned us more discussions and group work, therefore if my classmates don’t want to take the extra time (as if), then NO, I can NOT actually complete anything by the 10th! I do not want, nor should I be expected to continue coursework after the course has finished. I do not find that to be an unreasonable expectation at all!
But if I make a big stink about it, there will be negative consequences. I have put in a note to an advisor asking for clarification regarding what is allowable and I have questioned my professor as to the purpose of the extra week. Aside from that, anything I do will most likely cost me my A and possibly have greater detrimental effects.
I CAN do the work and I WILL do it well. I am just really, really tired of this class and I am ready for it to be over, already. I am frustrated and annoyed, but it’s really just a minor inconvenience in the larger scheme of things. Once it’s over, I’ll never have to deal with this woman again. Heh. And my bellybutton birthday is the 14th (her arbitrarily appointed new last day of class), so how’s that for a nice present! I don’t even have to go back to my Sociology class this week since my take-home final is to be submitted by email. And for Antrhopology, I’ve just got the final and a little extra credit movie analysis to type up (yeah, I did the extra credit assignment not because I needed it at all, but in an effort to procrastinate from doing my Dance homework). I’ll have plenty of time to finish up the extra week of Dance and even get some decent rest. I’m sure it’s a blessing in disguise, regardless of whether I find the disguise appealing.
So, yeah, get over yourself, Laurie. You really aren’t the smartest person in the room and even if you are, she’s still the professor and she still has the power to flunk your ass, so chill. And write more gratitude lists.
Woah! It’s been so long since I logged in here that I almost forgot my password! Vicissitudes, they’re killer, man! I have a hard time speaking up during times of transition. It feels like all I can do to just hang onto my home base until things have settled down into some sort of routine again. Life is crazy busy right now, and I’m going to be half brain-dead for the next month or more, but finally there is a bit of a routine starting to develop again.
I didn’t come here to tell you all the sordid or boring details about my life, though. I came here because while I need to be studying for my first exam tomorrow morning & getting a jump start on my paper due Monday, not to mention starting this ridiculous group project… right now I am good. I am slightly ahead in both of my online classes and currently have 95% or better average in all three courses. My kids are off at VBS for the day (aka: wholesome, free daycare), happy and well. And I learned something pertinent today.
This morning, we took a quiz over the toughest chapter we will be covering in my social research class. I was looking over the book, trying to finish reading the chapter before class started. I had a pretty good understanding of all the concepts from class, but needed a last minute review. I may not have a degree yet, but I’ve had enough college courses to know that the textbooks are generally largely ignored by the professors. Yeah, you can read through them if you want, but the prof is going to teach you whatever the hell he wants.
So, here I am reading through this book that we haven’t referred to once yet (and which would’ve cost me a small fortune if I hadn’t rented it online) when I come across something really interesting. In class, we had been discussing examples of a specific concept which the prof told us was often really hard to understand. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on it from our discussions, but when I looked at the book I realized that there was this whole other side to the concept that I had completely missed. The book gave very clear examples and suddenly everything made complete sense to me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing my professor’s teaching skills or his understanding of the concept at all. Rather, I recognized an error I often commit in my work with sponsees. My prof was attempting to teach us in a way that he best understood the subject matter. Instead of presenting the material in a matter-of-fact way as in a textbook which has gone through review boards and editors to ensure that the material is accurate and pertinent, we were provided the material through the filter of one man’s experience.
When I work with others, I usually do reference the Big Book often, but perhaps my guidance isn’t as true to the book as it should be. Perhaps I sometimes rely too heavily on personal experience, what worked for me & what I have heard works for others. Everybody’s got a different style. I’ve been sponsored by a few different women (and one man) and each of them had their own thing. This one wants to just read through the book; this one just wants to make lists; this one works out of a workbook; this one relies on her personal experiences.
I’ve heard, “I only know how to sponsor the way I’ve been sponsored.” Well, hell, I’ve been sponsored all sorts of ways! This story helped me with this part; this list helped me with this part; this workbook gave me a whole different idea that freed me up during this part, etc. Maybe sometimes I turn to some of these things too quickly and present them to my girls before referencing back to the Big Book, which is the ultimate outline of the best proven course of action in our journey of sobriety.
Maybe sometimes I let my ego get the best of me, thinking I know better than the book how to do this thing. (Ego? Me? Surely not!)
Today, I got a little taste of humility. While yes, my personal experience is my best tool in aiding another through recovery, I have to make sure I’m not allowing them to rely upon me for their sobriety. The book has been tried and tested for 75 years. Me, I’ve barely been able to keep myself sober at times over the last 5 years, 11 months and 9 days.
And now, I must get back to the crazy world of academia….
Officially, my last day at work will be 8 days from today. I have 5 more work days until I set off to become a broke college student. At least 3 of those days will be half days and it is quite likely that I won’t even have to come in on the last day. I have roughly 40 hours left at the organization where I have been employed for over the last 3 years (the longest I have ever been employed at any one place).
I’ve been busy getting files transferred over to my co-workers, finishing up a few projects (including one that I’ve been trying to finish for 3 years now) and helping to get everything ready for the meeting which I thought would be my last (instead, I have been granted an early pardon, so I will be departing the organization at the same time they’re departing for Florida).
Oh, and ignoring my feelings.
I know they’re there. Consciously, I can identify at least a dozen emotions associated with this transition – excitement, fear, relief, sadness, joy, frustration, etc. It’s really a mixed bag. The acknowledgement of these emotions is purely academic, though, because I am all stoic inside. I am completely numb to all of these conflicting emotions right about now.
I can’t feel them, but I can see them. I see them in my behavior elsewhere. Though I’ve been in recovery for a few years now, I’m still an alcoholic and I still have a hard time processing my feelings. When I am confronted with big emotions, I am either overwhelmed by them (like how I have ALWAYS cried whenever I’ve gotten angry or frustrated – it’s hard be taken seriously when you’re bawling) or I just pretend they’re not there (“Oh, so my dude is screwing around on me? Eh, I always knew he was a tool”). I never know which extreme I’m going to get, but rarely have I had an appropriate reaction to a feeling. It’s always either no big deal or the end of the world with me.
The over-reactions are so much easier to handle. Yes, it can be embarrassing to turn bright red from the rising blood pressure of fear or anger or to break down in tears at any sort of confrontation. Those things are generally short-lived, though, and I can always remove myself from any given situation and come back to it when I’m more composed.
The numbing out feels so much better in the short term, but oh, it causes so many problems in the most unlikely places… and it generally goes on for a much longer time.
All alcoholics are experts at numbing out. We drank primarily to avoid our emotions. Boss riding your ass at work? Let’s get trashed so we won’t have to think about how frustrated and powerless this makes us feel. Have to go to a social function? Let’s get blotto so we won’t have to feel uncomfortable and out-of-place. In recovery, we strip away the drink or the drug, face the emotions and find
better ways to deal with them ways to actually deal with them. The desire to numb out is so ingrained in us, though, that we instinctively fall back into the habit long after we’ve stopped drinking.
Just because we decide, either consciously or unconsciously, to ignore our feelings doesn’t make them go away, though. Unless we actively work to deal with our emotions head-on, they will sink down under our skin and begin manipulating us like some sort of sadistic marionette. We see this easily with our over-reactions because our inadvertent acts occur immediately in response to the stimuli. It’s more difficult to see how we are controlled by our emotions when we are ignoring them because our inadvertent acts are delayed and come out in response to innocuous stimuli. I call it cross-pollination.
Alcoholics aren’t the only ones subject to the horrors of cross-pollination. We all know how it goes: Man gets bawled out at work, comes home & snaps at his wife who then yells at the kid who takes it out on the poor dog. If the man had dealt with his emotions regarding his confrontation with the boss instead of stuffing them away, then he could’ve been clear-headed by the time he got home from work and the poor dog would still be happy.
I doubt that any of us will ever be completely free of this sort of behavior, but we can learn to recognize it and head it off somewhat. In a situation like I’m facing right now, the emotions aren’t going to go away overnight. I am in a transition stage which means I’m kind of floating around for the time being. I am constantly confronted by 6 different contradictory emotions all at once. There is no way that I can consciously address every single one of them before I have to deal with something or someone. The best I can do is just acknowledge that my feelings at any given time aren’t necessarily in response to the current stimuli and ask God to direct my thoughts and actions so that I can act accordingly instead of reacting blindly.
40 more hours.
Yesterday, I thankfully finished Netflixing Nip/Tuck. I say thankfully because this is truly a horrid show. Why not stop watching it if it’s that bad, you ask? Well, I’m the kind of girl whose “stick-to-it-iveness” is virtually non-existent for the good things in life and stubbornly insistent in regards to awful things. My apologies to those who like the show. Yes, it does have its good qualities. I mean, as much of a glutton for punishment as I am, I wouldn’t put myself through hours of television with absolutely no redeeming qualities. I just feel that it jumped the shark sometime during the second season… and then devolved into absolute absurdity over the next four years.
I am not a television critic, though, and my poor viewing habits are not the point of this post. The only reason I mention it is for one little scene in one of the very last episodes, “Dr. Griffin.” Sean and Christian (partners in a plastic surgery business and best friends since med school) are sitting in couples therapy trying to work through some huge issues they’re having which are threatening to ruin their relationship. The therapist asks them to take 15 seconds and write down all the words they can think of to describe one another. Once the time is up, Sean reads off his list of rather unflattering, but highly accurate words describing his partner. Then Christian turns his pad around to reveal only one word written there: “ALCOHOLIC.”
Dr. Griffin asks if Christian thinks Sean has a drinking problem. Christian clarifies that while Sean does drink to avoid his life, that’s not what makes him an alcoholic. [Note: I'm sorry; I tried to find a clip of this scene to include here, because it was just great, but I couldn't. And now Netflix has taken down all but one season of the show (odd, since it was there yesterday).] Christian goes on to say that Sean is an alcoholic because he refuses to grow up and take responsibility for his own life. Sean keeps blaming everyone else for why his life is so messed up and can’t see that he is the one common factor in all his troubles. Now, me, I thought this was just about the most brilliant bit of dialogue I’ve ever seen on TV. Folks who know very little about alcoholism, though, probably sat scratching their heads at this scene.
The first time I picked up the Big Book and flipped through it, I thought of a whole list of people that I knew needed to read this thing. Not one of them had a drinking problem. Truth be told, I had been in the program nearly 6 months before I honestly thought of myself as an alcoholic. I knew I needed this thing because I could relate to the underlying feelings expressed in the book and in the stories related in the rooms, but I really never drank a whole lot. We talk about the three-fold nature of the disease – the physical allergy, the mental obsession and the spiritual sickness. I was definitely spiritually sick and constantly obsessed with easing my “restless, irritable and discontented” mind, but I don’t know that I ever developed the physical allergy, the craving, for alcohol. When I was about 6 months sober, I hit my first CA meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, they read through “How it works,” but substituted the word cocaine for alcohol. When I first heard the words, “Cocaine is cunning, baffling and powerful,” my eyes got all huge and I responded, “Oh, it IS!!” So, yes, I totally understand the physical aspect of the disease. My craving is just for little baggies instead of bottles.
That’s not what makes me an alcoholic or a drug addict, though. Alcohol and drugs are not our problem. They are our solution. The only reason we ever get help for our real problem is when our solution either stops working or starts making matters worse. This is where you’ll hear people claiming to be “grateful alcoholics.” And they don’t mean, “I’m grateful because I’m not actively drinking anymore.” What they mean is, “I am grateful that I became an alcoholic and hit bottom so that I could see what my real problem was and finally get help for it.” All my sober alcoholic readers are sitting here nodding their heads about now. The newbies and normies, meanwhile, all think I’ve completely lost it.
AA literature backs up my claims, but even before we actually start reading anything, we see evidence of the truth in the 12 steps themselves. Step 1 is the only one which even mentions alcohol. It’s the one I call the, “Yeah, you used to drink a bunch, get over it. You’ve got bigger problems” step.
In between periods of heavy drinking/using, I lived for years without medicating my alcoholism. I was “stark raving sober.” I had a constant sense of unease. I was always frustrated when things didn’t go as I expected – and often extremely so, to the point that I would sometimes hole up for days when plans changed. I was constantly a victim of circumstance, always reacting and never purposefully acting. I let other people and situations dictate the course of my life while I sat back and bitched about how bad a job they were doing. I became skilled in the arts of manipulation and passive aggressiveness. And when those didn’t work, I had an arsenal of overtly angry and hurtful words and actions which would ensure that I’d get my way. Suffice to say that I was a miserable person on both the inside and the outside.
As soon as I started taking suggestions in the program, I saw how working these steps and applying these principles to my life cured what was wrong with me back when I wasn’t even drinking. My obsession with alcohol & drugs went away almost immediately because I saw them for what they were – my attempts to deal with what was really broken inside of me. That’s not to say that I haven’t had a real urge to pick up a drink or I haven’t been so overwhelmed with the thought of loading up a syringe that I can barely contain myself inside my skin. I was sitting in a speaker meeting, once, when the obsession came on so strong that I just knew I couldn’t stop myself. I had to promise myself that I would go score just as soon as the meeting ended before my brain calmed down enough to let me sit still. Once the meeting was over, the urgency had passed and I was fine. But times like these are isolated incidents and I can’t even remember the last time I had a serious thought about drinking or using.
We’ve all seen those “Am I an Alcoholic?” quizzes listing questions about how much you drink, when you drink, if you drink alone or in the mornings or at work, etc. If you have to take the quiz… there’s a pretty good chance that you’re an alcoholic. But no one can tell you whether you are or not. Even the Big Book talks about the “heavy drinker” and the “moderate drinker” who may have the ability to stop drinking and therefore may not be real alcoholic. Some of them may be, though. And there are alcoholics out there who have never picked up a drink in their lives. Being an alcoholic has nothing to do with how much you drink. Check that, it has ALMOST nothing to do with how much you drink. Being an alcoholic is about not wanting to take responsibility for your own life. It’s about being completely self-centered, angry, fearful and judgmental. Being an alcoholic is about feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.
Regardless of how much, how often, where, when, why or how you drink, if this sounds like you, there is a solution. You don’t have to wait until you’ve suffered terrible consequences at the hand of one addiction or another. You don’t have to wait until you’ve isolated yourself from everyone you love. You don’t have to wait until the day you wake up and say, “How the hell did I get here?” Alcohol is not the problem. The addiction is not the problem. The problem lives inside and will always come out in one way or another until it is addressed head on. Sit in on an open AA meeting and see if you can’t identify with someone there. Or check out an Al-Anon or CoDA meeting if you don’t have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Just, whatever you do, know that you’re not alone.
Last night, I met with a large group of women in recovery for a little spiritual get-together – breaking bread, chatting about their appearances on Jerry Springer or working for Larry Flynt (these poor Catholics never knew what they were getting into when they invited recovering drug addicts into their midst), and a time of quiet meditation and sharing. This was to be our last big meeting together, so we focused on preparing ourselves to use what we have learned together to be a light in a dark world. We lit candles and read passages relating to light which had been taken from the Bible as well as the Big Book and the 12×12. At the beginning of this meditation we read this quote, often misattributed to Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
I love this quote… and I am scared to death of it, because it is so very, very true for me. I’ve been doing a lot of writing and thinking and talking about fear lately – about those down deep fears and the lies which are spoken into us. Our fourth step inventories always lead back to fear. All of our resentments, sexual, financial and miscellaneous harms evolve out of some insecurity within us – some fear that we will not have, get, or be enough. But that fear is something which is taught to us. We are not brought into this world believing that we are going to be left to suffer and die. We are born into love and light and nurture. Gradually, our ego begins to develop and as we rely more and more on our own power, our fallible human nature is revealed to us. Every time we fail or are rejected, that lie inside us grows – we are worthless, we are unlovable, etc. Living in a world populated by other fallible humans, we judge our worth based on worldly ideals. We measure ourselves according to the views of jealous rivals disguised as friends. We forget the image of us as beautiful bouncing babies, lovingly swaddled in our mothers’ arms. Or perhaps it is better to say that we reject that image because it proves our powerlessness.
The simple fact is that this image still accurately reflects who we are. While, yes, we have learned how to feed and clothe ourselves, eke out a living for our families and, possibly most importantly, use the toilet, we are generally powerless under our limited human means. Now, I don’t want to get into some big theological argument about who God is or if God is. For the Atheists out there, I’m talking about science – Big Bang stuff. For the Humanists, we’re talking societal evolution and “the greater good.” And for the Christians, hey, yeah, we’re talking the Creator God and His Only Begotten Son. Whatever that Higher Power is for you, let’s run with that and not get bogged down in labels. We, each of us on our own, are powerless in this life. Want to save the rain forests? One person isn’t going to get very far in that endeavor, but a group of like-minded individuals working together is a power greater than one man and that power can make a difference. Even if you don’t believe that there is some Big Dude wearing robes sitting in the clouds telepathically sending you good ideas all Inception-style while you’re sleeping, you can agree with Plato that invention is the offspring of necessity. The greatest thinkers and inventors would be powerless to think and do if there were not some greater power acting upon them – even if that power is simply increasing knowledge in the world or expressing compassion for our fellow man.
But we don’t want to look at it that way. We want to say, “Look at what I have made and bow to my superior intellect! This is my brainchild, born of the almighty me, sprung full grown like Athena from Zeus’s head.” We all drone out during those acceptance speeches at awards shows because we know it’s just people giving lip-service (I’d like to thank Hillary Swank’s husband). And even if Matthew McConaughey is legitimately delivering a heartfelt shout-out to his Lord & Savior, we’re all sitting back judging him like, “Oh, look at Mr. Big Shot” or “He really earned that award! Man, I wish I was him!” Living in this mortal, dog-eat-dog world, it’s difficult to see the greater workings of a Higher Power behind extraordinary, let alone everyday, accomplishments. When we are in competition with each other instead of cooperation, we are pulling solely from our personal resources instead of tapping into a power greater than ourselves. We fall back on those lies that were spoken into us as our egos developed – all of the limitations, all of the false pride – and we become self-fulfilling prophecies. We locate our place in our internally-created social hierarchy and we sit there, trying not to rock the boat.
Then, along comes Jesus, asking Peter to step out of his wave-battered ship & walk across the water. Bear with me, Agnostics and Buddhists, I’m not leaving you out, here. My point is that we can do impossible things when we are being led by something larger than ourselves. Just look at AA founder Bill Wilson for an example. Here’s this hopeless drunk who can’t even hold down a job on his own power. Once he tapped into something larger than himself, namely helping other alcoholics, he not only saved himself, but he created a program which has helped millions worldwide. The simple fact is that we are the ones who are afraid to rock the boat, not recognizing the fact that we’re essentially rowing around in a kiddie pool. From the outside, we look absolutely ridiculous, but when we are as helpless as infants, we are physically unable to step out into the ankle-deep water without drowning.
Which brings me to the verse I drew:
“For you are the fountain of life. Our light is Your light.”
– Psalm 36:9
No worries, Hindus and Wiccans, I’m going to tie all this in here. You see, when I get real honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ve got this “powerful beyond measure” fear that Marianne Williamson talks about. Last night, with our little candles in hand, I likened it to setting off a fire that burns the whole house down. I’ve screwed up enough to know that given any little power, I can do some serious damage. I have seen how I have hurt others, rowing around in my little kiddie pool, smacking people in the head with my oars. Nobody gives a flailing infant a candle because, yeah, you’re going to come back to flambéed homestead. I am afraid of the light in me because #1. I am still reliant upon my own power; I still see myself as the swaddled babe in Mommy’s arms and/or #2. I have trusted powers greater than myself which did not have my best interest at heart; I wound up taking candy from the man with the crazy eyes driving a panel van.
And that’s where 1 John 4:18 comes in (last verse, I promise to all my Jewish & Taoist friends):
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
Unless I believe whole-heartedly that the power I have chosen to rely upon is benevolent even if it means I am harmed in the effort to effect a greater good (like soldiers who willingly die for their country), then I cannot trust it completely. Do I value my life above all else? Am I unwilling to sacrifice ego for a chance to step out of this boat? If so, that’s fine. There are plenty of people everywhere who go through their life sitting in their little rowboat anchored by fear to their imaginary spot in the social hierarchy. However, even if your own conscience is your Higher Power, you don’t have to be afraid of the light that power has sparked inside you. That light belongs to something far greater than yourself, so run with it!
Chances are that even the most all-consuming, overwhelming light coursing through our veins is not going to burn the house down. And if we get really honest with ourselves, that’s probably not our fear anyway. More likely, we’re just afraid of that whole “hole in the donut” thing the 12×12 talks about. We are scared to give up our egos… even though those are the very things which kept us paddling around that kiddie pool like we were yachting on the open sea. My ego tried to kill me, so I say let it burn!
If I’m wrong and the the whole world does go up in flames, though, all you Odinists know that we will be remembered forever in the halls of Valhalla.