"This isn't the Pain Olympics. You don't have to compete with anyone here. Your bottom can be your bottom. Sure, the elevator goes all the way down, but how low do you have to go?"
Some Liquor I Planned
I used to hear it said quite a lot in Meetings that
Ok. Wait. When I was new I used to hate it when some crusty oldtimer would rant about how they "never hear this" and they "never hear that" in meetings anymore. I used to sit there and think, "I'm new -- how the hell was I supposed to be saying this all along for you to be hearing? I've never heard this before you just brought it up! You're the one who heard it all the time and then stopped saying it. What the hell are you wagging your finger at all of us for?"
Let me start over.
One of the things I used to hear that made a big impression on me (much better) was the phrase, "some liquor I planned" in the context of discussing a slip.
(For the new kids, a slip is when someone who has been sober drinks or uses again. Personally, I prefer the word "relapse" -- slip sounds a little coy, to me. But I don't know of any cute slogans who's initials make up the word "relapse." No doubt some tortured alcohol counselor somewhere, in a fit of Power Point presentation authorship, came up with something clever, but I've not heard it yet.)
But the idea behind the sentiment "some liquor I planned" is that putting the drink to your lips (or the straw to your nose or the pipe to your mouth or the bump to your ... you get the idea) is actually the last stage in a slip -- that the actual drinking or using is just the culmination of a process you started well before you actually picked up. Over the years, watching people come in and then, either quickly or after some time sober, relapse, I think there is a lot of truth to this.
In fact, I can even say in my mind it's almost become kind of a countdown, watching people go through this process -- that they are, in fact, working the Steps backwards on their way out the door:
(12)They stop going to meetings -- because you really can't carry the message of AA if you're not going to meetings -- face it, when the bag boy says "paper or plastic" he doesn't want to hear about a spiritual solution to the problem of alcoholism. People in meetings do, but when you stop going, you get to stop carrying the message. Who has time for meetings anyway? My God! AA is supposed to be a bridge back to life! I don't want to spend my nights sitting around a church basement or some preschool rec room with a styrofoam cup full of crappy coffee on a folding metal chair listening to a bunch of people complain!
(11) I don't have time to meditate. You don't understand, I can't sit still. I'm not a morning person. I fall asleep when I meditate. I don't have time to pray ... well, sure, I pray, I mean, I say a prayer in the car on my way to work most days. Well, usually.
(10) Promptly admit I'm wrong? I'm not wrong. Besides, you can't look weak, people will judge you -- or worse, take advantage of you. And I can't be bothered to write every night -- well, I mean, I forget. Whatever.
(9) I didn't do anything to them that wasn't totally justified.
(8) Apologize? To that asshole? You gotta be kidding me.
(7) I don't need to change -- I need to get smart.
(6) Listen, it's a tough world. That's not a defect, that's how you get along in life.
(5) I could never say some stuff to another person -- then they'll "have it" on me.
(4) Morality is all relative anyway. Besides, anyone would be angry after what they did to me. And screw writing -- I didn't come here for some bullshit homework assignment.
(3) God? Right. If I depend on God nothing will get done -- besides, have you even got clue one what is going on in the world? No God has anything to do with this life.
(2) AA is nice for people who really need it, but I've gotta have practical answers. And I don't have time for all that going-to-meeting stuff -- in fact, if it comes down to a Yoga Class or a Meeting, I'm going to Yoga. I feel better there. (A guy actually said that to me, kids. When he said that he was driving a really nice car. Years later I saw him on the street in San Francisco. Literally. On the street in San Francisco. Lotta things could have happened to him I suppose, but it sure looked like alcoholism at work to me.)
(1) My life is fine, and yes, thank you, some wine with dinner would be lovely.
My favorite thing about AA is that we're not selling anything. You want to work the Steps forward? Most of us will kill ourselves trying to help you do that. You decide to work 'em backwards? We're going to reach out our hand, we're going to share our experience, we're going to perhaps in a clumsy or arrogant way try to suggest that what you're doing is dangerous... but ... go ahead, if you really want to. But If you want to stay, if you want a solution to your alcoholism, and all the other "ism's", we're here for you, if you want it.
If you want it.
Here's the deal. There is this guy in the meetings that I have had a resentment against for YEARS. I have worked the steps (he's been on a 4th and more than a few 10ths) and I thought it was all old news, especially since I rarely see him at meetings. But I recently joined a new gym and now he's in my face every other morning. When I see him I immediately start having heated arguments with him in my head, which is dangerous, as the weights can be heavy and attention deficit can mean a trip to the emergency room. I really want to be free of this resentment. Any suggestions? Thanks.
I've got a few ideas, and then one suggestion that I suspect you're really not going to like.
First off, bravo for the inventory action on the resentment you have for this guy. Even when I do not feel fully relieved of the resentment I think that the inventory helps me gain some perspective, and prevents the resentment from becoming the first falling domino in a potentially self destructive series of actions. ("I'll show him/her/you/them... !")
As I'm sure you've heard in many a Meeting, "carrying around a resentment is like taking poison and then waiting for the other guy to die." So writing about the resentment, as you have over the years, has at least kept you from acting on it -- give yourself credit for that, and for being open to other ideas on how to deal with this.
You're in bondage to this man through the resentment -- just the sight of him and your thoughts take a left turn and you're workout high is ruined. Your committee convenes and you are busy having your "day in court" fiercely arguing with him over incidents and attitudes from ... maybe years ago. Probably, the best thing to do is to stop going to the gym.
No. Wait. That's my committee at work.
Looking at this through a 12 Step lens, I use the four column resentment inventory to examine my part in things (laid out on pgs. 65 through 67 of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" the Big Book of AA, which I am sure you are very familiar with). Looking at my part allows me to identify the character defects I have that are triggering the resentment. So maybe looking at the inventory from that direction, that is, asking yourself "What are the character defects I have that are causing me to hate this guy so much, and to carry it around for so long?" and working your 6th and 7th Step mojo on those defects might be one way to get some more relief from the resentment. When I do that, I try to be very specific in the fourth column (the "My Part" column for any of you kids new to this). Beyond what the Big Book suggests my part might be (selfishness, dishonesty, being self-seeking or fearful) I lean into the broader idea of looking for my part ("Where were we to blame?" is how the book puts it. Blame can be a loaded term, but I don't think we're distorting things to consider this question using terms like "my responsibility" or "what I bring to this.")
So for me, my part in something like this can be Unrealistic Expectations of others -- especially in light of the idea that I'm also using the 4th Step to consider that the people who wronged me are perhaps spiritually sick themselves. I often say to myself, "Mr. SponsorPants, don't expect hungry babies not to cry. Don't expect monkeys not to throw their poo. Don't expect scared people not to lash out." It is an odd thing to be overheard saying to oneself, I grant you, but it's a great reminder that the people that make me crazy are perhaps powerless over some of their behavior, at least in the moment. (And I'm an odd man, so people aren't that put off when I'm overheard mumbling odd things. You might try to be more circumspect in your mumbling than I am, Steve, to preserve your reputation. Just a thought.)
And perhaps this will help: At the heart of my anger is almost always fear. So perhaps it's time to look at what it is about this guy that you fear. The Big Book talks about fear as a "corroding thread" and God knows, that's how it works in my life. Using the fear inventory (the directions for which are found on pg. 68 the Big Book) might be a way to gain another insight into this resentment. Pretty much, ask yourself what about this guy, who he is, how he behaves, what he represents, might scare you, and make a list of that. Then, as the Big Book suggests, we ask God "... to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be. At once we commence to outgrow fear." (pg. 68). Now, in my experience, "commencing to outgrow" is not always an immediate feeling of profound relief from fear -- but it is a beginning, and if I consistently apply this to my fears then I will consistently outgrow them.
Finally, there's this. But, as I said, I don't think you'll like it.
I wrote above that you are in bondage to this man through the resentment, and that word came to me very specifically. In the personal stories in the back of the Big Book there's one called "Freedom From Bondage." It starts on pg. 544 in both the 3rd and 4th edition of the book. On almost the last page of the story, pg. 552, is something that may help you.
(For the new kids, the first 164 pgs. of the Big Book are the 'road map' to sobriety. The rest of the book contains personal stories from a variety of people describing what it was like when they drank, what happened, and what it's like now that they're in AA. The idea behind these stories was that if you can't get to a meeting, and all you've got is the book, you might find either identification or inspiration -- or both -- somewhere within them. )
This is what it says:
"During the day a friend brought me some magazines to take to a hospital group I was interested in. I looked through them. A 'banner' across the front of one featured an article by a prominent clergyman in which I caught the word 'resentment.'
He said, in effect: 'If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free. Even when you don't really want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you don't mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred you now feel compassionate understanding and love.'
It worked for me then and it has worked for me many times since, and it will work for me every time I am willing to work it. Sometimes I have to ask for the willingness, but it too always comes. And because it works for me it will work for all of us."
I told you I didn't think you'd like it, Steve. But the minute I read your email I thought of that passage, and I include it here in the hopes that it might help.
But if you ask me, it's probably just easier to stop going to the gym.
hey sponsorpants,a friend sent my your blog a few weeks ago and i really like it. so i thought i'd ask sort of a question about somethig i sturggle with in my meetings. not sure where you write from but i'm in miami. i'm gay and go to mostly gay meetings here. there are a lot of physically beautiful men here and, you know, some of them are pretty cool and working great programs. and some are just full of crap. they come here to do exactly what they've done in the larger gay culture -- create an elitist subculture of "hot men" who party and trick together. sometimes i don't really care about it but there are days when i'm just filled with hatred for these guys. and yeah, i know i'm totally judgemental and envious and full of fear because i can't play with the big dogs. but when i see them "12th stepping" a hot young newcomer and it sure looks more like flirting from where i'm standing, i get sort of naseaus. i heard a guy bragging about taking a "hottie" home the other night and doing him. this 'hottie' had less than 40 days and was fresh out of jail. to me, that's wrong, but all his friends were high-fiving him. sometimes it seems these guys just don't have any sobriety standards and will justify any kind of behavior as long as they aren't drinking. every now and then i get so fed up with them i go to the straight meetings for a while for a break but i'm not so comfortable sharing my stuff there, so i come back and try to hang in.i try to do fourth step work around my feelings about these guys but i still feel a lot of hatred for them. their bodies give them certain privileges i can't have, they have a sense of entitlement about it, it just messes with my head. any suggestions?Jaydog in Florida
Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7 - Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
I'm torn, kids. Defects and shortcomings. Were they being just creative in their choice of words, or do they really have somewhat different meanings?
Wait -- that's starting in the middle -- even for my parenthetically challenged postings that's not a great beginning. Let me back up and first address the above in the context of the literature.
You don't have to be a math whiz to see that 7 follows 6, 6 follows 5, etc. How this actually plays out in working the Steps as suggested by the Big Book though, is that after you do your 5th Step, which, in short, is reading aloud the inventory you wrote in the 4th Step to someone -- usually a sponsor, but that's not a requirement -- you go off by yourself for an hour (or so) and sit quietly reflecting on the first five Steps. You ask yourself if you've really done them to the best of your ability, and (usually since you went to all the trouble to write the damn inventory and read it to someone) you answer yourself, "Why yes, I surely have!"
Then you look over the inventory where your part in things is made clear, and pretty much do the 6th and the 7th Step on your own right there. (For most of us that includes saying the 7th Step Prayer, pg. 76 in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous", the Big Book of AA). Hopefully your sponsor has walked you through this so you're not sitting there with your inventory in one hand and your Big Book in the other, a little drained and overwhelmed by the whole thing and trying to figure it all out on your own.
Ok, that's all the background you need if you're a drive-by blog reader, and if you're already familiar with the Steps you can sit and feel quite smug as you sip your coffee, thinking to yourself, "I knew that." (If you're really going to work the smug angle you might try pursing your lips into a thin little line, tilting your head to one side and squinting your eyes a tiny bit. Then raise the corners of your mouth in a tight smile, and give your head one, vigorous nod "yes." This will up your smugness quotient by a factor of at least 600. I mean, if you're going to do it, do it, baby. Smug is a delightful way to start the day. It can lead you right into Feeling Superior, and we all know how much fun that is! If I can't get my smug on at least once a week ... well, it's a pretty dull week.)
See? Parenthetically challenged.
Ok, so there you are, diligently working from the Big Book, ready to embrace two of the Steps that, if you've been listening to people share about them in meetings, are an ongoing, lifetime kind of challenge.
And you know what the Big Book gives you? (Stop now, you know I'm all freakalicious on the B. Book. Love me some Big Book -- don't nobody say nuthin' bad 'bout the B. Book.) But come on, I'm on the ropes, elevated and drained, enlightened and excited, sincere and ready, to do the 6th and 7th Step. And, not counting the prayer itself, the Big Book, on pg. 76, gives me 79 words to guide me in the 6th and 7th Step. That's it. A quick pop quiz asking if I'm ready to have my defects removed, and then a prayer, and boom, done, don't let the door hit you on the way out of the 6&7 Step lobby. Please move down the hall the the 8&9 Step mezzanine, and do remember to bring your checkbook for that part, won't you?
79 words! Come on! They're the right 79 words of course -- not everything needs a big long explanation.
<uncomfortable silence as Mr. SponsorPants pauses to consider that little gem>
But these are the Steps that in some ways form the basis of a powerful, pragmatic practice of spiritual principle. (I wasn't being alliterative on purpose. I think those are the best words to describe how I try to utilize AA and the 12 Steps on my nature for the rest of my one-day-at-a-time recovery.)
I need a fuller explanation when I'm trying to deal with my defects of character, and my shortcomings, day in day out. Thank God for the 12 & 12 ("Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" another examination of AA's 12 Steps, written about 13 years after the Big Book was published. Give or take.)
Read them for yourself, but basically the 6th Step in the 12 & 12 speaks much to the idea that, now that I have used spiritual principles to address my drinking, can I use them on other problems in myself? ("A resounding Yes!" is what's offered as the answer to that.)
And the 7th, surprisingly, focuses a lot on the humility aspect of the Step. I say surprisingly only because I always want to get into the part where I'm the broken, screwed up mess, and skip right over the humble part, which, frankly, sounds boring. Humility, as a concept, does not make my heart beat faster or my palms sweat. (Plus, if an alcoholic is looking at what a mess he is, and running his fingers and his toes through all of the drama of his defects and shortcomings, he's really in essence focused on himself -- and what alcoholic doesn't light up like a Christmas Tree when that's the agenda, eh?)
I get that I am involving God in this process, identifying where I need to change and asking God (as I understand God) to help with the changing process... but here's where I'm torn.
Is there a difference between 'defects of character' and 'shortcomings'?
For years I thought that really, they were just trying not to be repetitive when they wrote the Steps out. But then over time I came to look at it from another perspective.
I think a 'defect of character' has a lot to do with my Will, and a shortcoming has a lot to do with my Nature. Or, to put it another way, if I'm driving down the road and I get a flat tire, the flat tire is a shortcoming, and insisting I drive on it, rather than pull over and change it, is a defect of character.
I need God's help in addressing both of those things, but I'm very much an active participant in the one, and more a humble petitioner in the other.
Either way, my big lightbulb moment about this petition to God is that it is easy to ask for a different result. But really what I might be better served to ask is for help not with having a different result, but in having a different process. Or being willing to have a different process. After all, back in the 3rd Step I signed on to be the gopher, and God is the boss. I do the work, not God (oh, and they're really gonna throw that in your face when you get to Step 9, so you might as well get comfortable with it back here in 6 & 7.)
Either way, although I am not a passive participant in the process (we do the work, not God, remember? For me it's not about just saying the prayer and then sitting back, not doing a damn thing on my own to try and change) God will remove, in God's time, ultimately only the things that are in the way of my being of service to others -- the rest of my defects are merely fodder for God to work through for whatever mysterious, hilarious purpose God chooses.
And I've asked God, very often, to work through my character assets rather than my character defects... to which God has quite clearly replied, "Come now, Mr. SponsorPants, where's the fun in that?"
I once had a sponsee, years ago, that hated this expression.
"Fake it till you make it." He would rant and carry on and pound the table (really) when it came to the idea that he should model his behavior on an ideal rather than just be "rigorously honest" in his behavior at all times when it came to how he felt. I learned so much from sponsoring him.
Here are 6 things that I learned, among many valuable lessons from that time:
1. Don't wear a white shirt to coffee with a sponsee that pounds the table. Spills are almost a foregone conclusion in such situations.
2. When people start using one AA suggestion to counter a different AA suggestion, then something is up. I know for myself, when I start "lawyering" the ideas that AA lays out for me to try, that is, when I start arguing and negotiating and "what if-ing" (well, a little of that might be trying to wrap my head around a new idea -- especially the "what if" stuff) I'm likely acting out some level of ego and/or fear. (Oh my God, what else is new. When am I NOT acting out some level of ego and/or fear? <sigh>). Something in my idea of what the AA suggestion is asking me to do frightens me. Under the resistance is usually fear. Under the anger is usually fear. Under your chair right now is usually fear! Look out! The calls are coming from inside the house!
3. Rigorous honesty does not mean that I never smile when I don't feel happy. Only a child gives vent to every passing emotion. (And how childish have I been, along the years? I tremble in my baby booties to consider it. There is, for example, a big difference between childish and childlike.) Rigorous honesty means that I speak no untruth; that I am honest with myself about what's going on with me. (That is so key. In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 5 in the Big Book, pg. 58 for the Highlighter Brigade, it suggests that maybe the folks who aren't able to make AA work for them are those that are "constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves." It also says, to paraphrase loosely, that you can be an aluminum-foil-hat-wearing-paranoid-nutjob, and still get sober if you have the capacity to be honest. Ok, to paraphrase very loosely.) Rigorous honesty means that I am cash register honest. It doesn't mean that I lose all ability to be socially appropriate or diplomatic, as a situation may warrant.
4. "Fake it till you make it" is really just telling you, in shorthand, that you don't have to buy wholesale all of AA's suggestions at once. Just fake it for a while, that's fine. Fake your interest in what people in meetings are saying (it never occurred to me that they might be doing the same!). Fake your willingness to read when you're asked, just pretend you're a willing reader. Fake your desire to go out for fellowship after the meeting. Just fake it ... and eventually you may find that you don't have to fake anymore. It's not about being false or artificial, it's about being into action. And it's about taking a break from the ego-based bullshit debating society. Stop, for a while, evaluating every suggestion that comes your way as to whether it's something that interests you or something you want to do. Most alcoholics don't want to do anything (except get loaded. Highly motivated on that score). Stop being King Baby, and only doing what you want. Fake the 'want' part and that frees you to start doing. And if you start doing (what AA suggests) then you start changing. And for most of us, change is a good thing -- the sooner the better, frankly.
5. This is not just for people that are new to AA. After you've been down the path, it's so easy to become jaded. To "rest on our laurels" as the literature talks about. After time in the Program my rationalizations can become a sly con, using the language of Recovery itself to start to pull me out of the rooms. Fake it till you make it, for some crotchety longtimer like myself, is as valid a suggestion today as it was when I was new. In fact, it is a deadly mistake, I believe, to start to sort AA's suggestions into things "for Newcomers" and "for me." It's not like AA presents you with "The Secret Writings of Lois Wilson" when you turn 10 years sober, and you get all the cheats and loopholes. Sadly, there aren't any. Trust me, I've looked. No, I've searched. None to be found that aren't merely a cleverly disguised Exit sign. So when I feel jaded, when I feel bored, when I feel "been there done that" -- Fake it till you make it. Just do it anyway. And, after some time sober, I am glad to report that the feelings of cynicism, and boredom usually pass very quickly.
6. Sponsees that pound the table should really consider ordering decaf.
I feel like my body is gross. Disgusting.
I feel like all those people who say "every body is beautiful in its own way" are either pathetic, deluded, ugly people trying to feel better about themselves, or people that are already beautiful, so of course they say that.
But I know that self-loathing is a kind of sickness, God. I know that there are people with far worse physical challenges and health issues than I have.
(And, God, I know, I know, the world's troubles are so much bigger than one privileged soul's luxury problems -- but I bring this to You because sometimes it blinds me to things outside myself, and it feeds my self-obsession. I bring this to You because I am ashamed of feeling this way, and the shame feeds the self-obsession, and the self-obsession feeds the shame.)
God, please, help me find perspective. God, please, help me see with new eyes. God, help me see myself honestly, but without the warped perception of self-loathing or disgust. God, help me see that I'm not lazy, I'm afraid -- and help me remember that You are bigger than every fear.
God, help me do what I can -- and what I must -- to change. God, help me be motivated but not driven, and please help me to accept hard truths without being overwhelmed and giving up.
God, please lead me to peace with myself, with getting older, with the reality of aging and mortality. Help me forgive myself for my shallow moments, for my jealousy of some and my judgment of others.
God, please help me remember every day what is truly important in life.
And please, God, help me be, in my ego, my thinking -- and yes, my body -- right sized.