Sitting at a table, alone at the sidewalk cafe, taking a breath from the social whirl that end-of-year brings, drinking coffee and people watching, my phone chirped in my pocket. I don't check who's calling, I just answer the damn thing -- for me personally it's a bad habit to "evaluate" each incoming call -- if I can answer I answer, if I can't I can't -- who's calling is not part of the criteria. So I was caught off guard when the voice on the other end of the phone was The Ex. (Please note, I did not say "an" ex -- it was "The" Ex.)
We spoke. Exchanged warm holiday wishes. Talked about having lunch some time. It was pleasant. The call ended. I went back to drinking my coffee ... except now my mind was full of memories. Of roads not taken, doors not opened, things that didn't go the way I had thought they once would. We were, I like to say with the distance of a few years, like The Golden Violin -- we fit together beautifully, but we could not make music.
Sitting, staring into space, I see coming down the sidewalk a man I know from AA. Inwardly I sighed, as
he's always bugged the shit out of me he's always been a great spiritual teacher for me, in that every time he speaks I think he's a pompous ass, too in love with his time sober and some bullshit perceived status he seems to think that it gives him how differently we approach recovery. We've known each other in the way you know someone that has roughly the same time sober as you do, and who attends a few of your regular meetings -- which is to say that we know each other intimately from a distance.
He stopped at my table
"Hello, Mr. SponsorPants."
"Oh, hey Mr. Thimble."
"How are your holidays treating you?"
"Fine, fine. You?"
"Fine? When I walked up it looked like you had an awful lot on your mind."
"Oh? Well, yeah, I suppose. Just got a call from The Ex. Was sitting here thinking about holidays gone by, roads not taken, that sort of thing."
"We Shall Not Regret The Past Nor Wish To Shut The Door On It."
And I swear when he said it you could hear the caps. For the new kids, that is a line from the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous,' -- AA's Big Book -- and it occurs in the part of the book that describes the 9th Step -- which is about making amends. It is a sentiment from a larger description (loosely referred to as 'The Promises') about how people who follow through on that step generally feel once they've begun it.
I of course felt irritated that he was A) quoting the Big Book to me -- I know perfectly well what the damn book says, thankyouverymuch. (I'm not above being a pompous ass myself, of course, which is why I find it so irritating in him.) And B) that he was slapping a label onto how I felt without really listening to me or thinking about what I was saying. I wasn't regretting anything, damnit.
"I'm not regretting anything."
"Oh? Then what would you call it?"
"I would call it being wistful. Maybe a little melancholy. Considering how funny life is that what you think will turn out one way just goes another. How the best laid plans can go astray, without any bad guys involved, just ... the way things work out."
I want to say he offered me a condescending smirk, but it was probably an attempt at a warm smile, and my own personal bias read it as a condescending smirk.
Or maybe I'm half right, and it was a warm, condescending smile.
He tilted his head sideways, and leaned in a little, voice lowered in an attempt to sound... confidential? Paternal? "Sounds like regret, to me."
I narrowed my eyes and snapped "Sounds like you need a better vocabulary, to me."
He pulled back, a little startled I think, opened his mouth, thought better of it, closed it, gave me a curt nod and walked on -- which, I should point out, is evidence suggesting that one of us in that particular moment was a wee bit more spiritually fit than the other -- and it wasn't Your's Truly.
More than 20 years sober and I'm spitting like a cat at an AA acquaintance who paused at my table to say hello. Nice.
So. Anyway, here's the thing of it:
Just writing it out I can see my side so much more clearly than I did just
stewing on it thinking about it. How my own existing bias with this man colored the whole interaction -- he may have been trying to be helpful, in his way -- even if my interpretation of events is not wholly inaccurate, he was quite possibly still trying to be friendly and helpful.
"... we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us seemingly without provocation ..." That's another line from the Big Book (pg. 62), and it's in the part that explains the 4th Step, which is, in the broadest terms, about looking at our part in things. If the next time I see Mr. Thimble he is cooler towards me than usual -- which is certainly likely -- I now know, just from this writing, what and how I stepped on his toes. In fact whether or not he was a pompous ass is not the point -- the point is that I was short and unkind -- insulting even. Of course a large part of me wants to use his behavior, or the phone call I got, to justify my behavior. But that doesn't cut it, in sobriety. Other people's behavior, or life circumstances, does not dictate my behavior. The principles of Alcoholics Anonymous dictate my behavior. (Well, that's the goal, anyway.)
I am not blaming myself, nor making myself bad or "wrong" -- I am looking at my part in an exchange -- it's worth saying again here at Mr. SponsorPants that blame and self examination are two very different things. And then, by examining my part I can eventually discover how my own character defects (being overly-sensitive? Egotistical? Pompous? Closed-minded? Judgmental? Check, check, check and check) come into play -- and that eventual discovery and examination helps me keep those defects on a shorter leash next time around -- and maybe become free of them someday.
Likely I owe Mr. Thimble an amends -- not for the thought I expressed so much as how I presented it. Or maybe for the thought, too, I'll work some more AA mojo on the whole thing and then probably invite him for coffee to clean up my side of the street -- which will be good old fashioned contrary action for me (the coffee invite, not the street cleaning). Just because you have some days under your belt doesn't mean the basics don't apply, in my humble opinion.
But there's another thing I want to consider.
It's a problem I think of as the AA Slogan Shotgun. Beyond looking at my part in this specific exchange, I think it's maybe not the best thing in the world to just throw AA Slogans in people's faces without thinking -- sometimes of course a gentle "Easy Does It" is the exactly right thing to say -- but often I fear trotting out some slogan and slapping it onto someone as a quick-fix label is a kind of one-upsmanship -- or perhaps even a subtle form of aggression.
AA slogans, like "Live and Let Live" or "This Too Shall Pass" or "Easy Does It" or "First Things First" or "Think Think Think" exist because they are simple embodiments of important things for a recovering alcoholic to remember, and their very simplicity makes them easier to recall in times of duress.
But as we listen to each other, and offer occasionally unsolicited input -- which again, can sometimes be a helpful, even lifesaving thing to do -- I've come to believe we need to temper that practice with a caution against rushing to throw some book quote or slogan at someone out of ... impatience with listening to their problem? A false sense of superiority? The need to appear to always have the answer? Some dark combination of all three, perhaps, with even darker things hidden underneath, too. (Ego ego ego).
But the part of this that stings the most?
I know I have probably done to other people what I feel like Mr. Thimble did to me -- and he may not even have done that to me, it could just be a dark projection of my own resentment and ego. *sigh* Again I say, thanks AA for all the insight, but I'm not sure I care much for what I insee, on occasion.
And so it goes -- I learn, I amend, I try to remember and then apply what I learn. Hopefully I get a little better at it each time.