At one of my regular meetings a little bit ago someone shared some really crazy shit with me.
I try not to be too vulgar here on Mr. SponsorPants ("try harder" I hear some of you mutter), but honestly, that's the only phrase that fits. It was just some totally crazy shit.
Now, I can wax empathetic on the how alcohol and heavy (really heavy) use of opiates and amphetamines have done some rewiring of this man's brain; I can illustrate the spiritual illness that warps his perceptions, and describe for you with real sympathy how those elements, and others from his background, have shorted a few circuits. I can even give you sincere testimony that over the years I've seen him make real progress -- that he is less crazy perhaps than he used to be.
With all that said, he scares the bejeesus out of me sometimes because he appears on the surface to be not just normal, but high functioning. Classy, even. You could easily picture him wearing a well tailored blazer, standing on the back patio of a country club and sipping an iced tea. He "reads" normal on the surface, but when he shares with me the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I whisper a silent prayer of thanks that this man is not careening through the world under the further influence of any chemicals, since I barely feel safe with him at large now.
This time around he has a little less than ten years sober. He used to have much more time, but relapsed for a while, and I think that's when he really did some heavy brain rewiring.
Whenever I see him at a meeting we chat (I always try to at least say hello, and ask him a few questions about how he's doing -- make some conversation. I believe very strongly that just because someone unsettles me is no reason that they should not be made to feel welcome in an AA meeting. My stuff cannot get in the way of that. And I believe that is a shared responsibility among us all. Fear, resentment, suspicion, prejudice -- we must set it all aside in meetings to the best of our ability -- an AA meeting is a safe and welcoming place, and it's on all of our shoulders to keep it such).
Mr. Classy told me about an incident he had with a neighbor, and in the course of his telling me about it I became increasingly uncomfortable, as I could see that he was just completely blind to the great big fat part he played in the incident. Classy told me that he felt the fact that he didn't beat his neighbor to death was a testament to his recovery, and kids, I am not at all convinced that he was exaggerating. And certainly, I want to go on record as saying that yes, not beating someone to death is a sign of real progress for some people. I think I will even go out on a limb here and suggest we can raise the bar a little beyond that for the rest of us. But far be it from me to take anyone's sober triumph away from them.
After I got home and thought about what he'd shared with me I began to wonder what I was blind to in myself. Just because he seems to have some other issues doesn't mean that he and I don't share a great deal in common through our alcoholism. I thought about the many people close to me in AA, and the people I sponsor, and how we all struggle with our blind spots. Even beyond denial, which I think kind of requires me to consider something and reject it as false, I fear I can be totally blind to things, and thus my thinking can be waaaay "off."
Shortly after Mr. Classy told me about his spiritual triumph in not committing manslaughter, I spoke at a meeting, and during the course of my speaking shared (without giving names or telling details, of course) about the conversation Mr. Classy and I had, and how it made me wonder how sick my own thinking still may be. After all, Classy and I both suffer from alcoholism, so if, through that illness, he's completely blind to some of his stuff then ipso facto I must be blind to some of my stuff too. Ack!
After I spoke the sharing went around the room, and a woman with a good deal of time raised her hand and she said that she wanted to address this thing I'd brought up, this idea that my thinking might be sicker than I know, based on my interaction with this other alcoholic.
I arranged my face in a warm listening expression, trying on my Mona Lisa smile, which attempts to be pleasant but uncommitted. (I think Mona did it better.) And in my head I thought, "Bitch, don't you cross talk me. I didn't ask for that." When humans develop telepathy my covers will be soooo pulled.
I shushed that thought, and when I was able to pay attention to what she was saying of course it was something that helped me then, and helps me now.
She suggested that after we've worked the Steps, and had a spiritual awakening as the result of working them, and gotten some traction under our feet in generally applying AA's principles to our lives on a daily basis, we may be prone to that kind of blindness -- we may be prone to sick thinking -- but that is not to say that our thinking is sick to the degree it once was.
I think that is an important point -- admitting I'm powerless over my alcoholism, remaining vigilant against how it may try to influence my thinking, is not the same as believing that my every thought is diseased.
When I was new to sobriety, in my first year or so, in looking back I believe, yes, much of my thinking was deeply alcoholic. My reactions, my relationship to the world around me, my (over)sensitivity, all deeply, profoundly influenced -- warped, even -- by my alcoholism. But years sober, regular meetings, much step work and many inventories later, my thinking is not that way today.
Someone who was obese, and then spent some years on a clean, sane, healthy food and exercise plan eventually loses all, or almost all, of their weight. They do the work, they keep doing the work, they stick to the work, and their body changes. They need to keep on their plan, they are likely more prone to gaining weight and falling into bad nutritional behaviors than others, but they are no longer obese as a result of taking healthy steps.
So, too, do our healthy actions change our thinking.
The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book), states that we have "recovered" from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. It was a more modern convention to suggest we call ourselves recovering, as the Big Book also outlines that our recovery is "contingent upon a daily maintenance." I believe the term "recovering" was coined to help us all remain vigilant, not to foster a self-image that sees ourselves as forever riddled with sickness.
And there is much recovery. Cross Talk Woman (and she wasn't cross talking, really, just to be clear) connected some dots for me. I have a disease with a mental component, yes. I must guard against the "curious mental blank spots" than can lead to relapse. But after doing the work I'm not the same alcoholic, tortured by alcoholic thinking, that walked into the rooms.
Amazingly, of course, this transformation is via a stunningly simple process, the 12 Steps, and is available to anyone who wants it.
Mr. Classy still scares me though.