Phone call this afternoon from an alcoholic who sounded pretty upset. A situation at work had gone south -- badly. They described in general terms what had happened and then said, "So I'm afraid I'm going to wind up beating myself up."
"Uh huh." I said.
"And I wanted to talk to you."
"Okay, but ... I'm not sure what you want me to ... I'm happy to help, but ... what's the question? Or, I mean, how can I help?" I know nothing about the line of work they're in, so I'm not at all clear how I can be of service.
"I wanted your help in not beating myself up." Comes the reply.
"Oh. Okay. Well ... did you make any mistakes?" I asked.
"What? What do you mean?"
"In the situation at work. You know. Did you ... drop the ball? Misjudge? Goof? We can put it in cuter terms than how I first framed it, but really, the question is, did you actually make any mistakes?"
"No. Yes. I don't know. That's ... that's not helping me feel better, Mr. SponsorPants. Did I make any mistakes? Is that how I should approach this? Great, see, that makes me feel worse!"
"Well, look. I also have a real problem with throwing myself under the bus sometimes, so I understand what you mean when you say 'beating yourself up' -- but that's just an angle on self obsession."
"I know that!" (I think it would be fair to characterize the way they said that as 'snapped at me.' Yes, I could write "'I know that.' They snapped at me." and not misrepresent their tone at all.)
"But," I went on -- bravely, I might add, as they have quite a snap -- "it's my fear and my ego at work when I want to rush towards this whole psychobabbley stance that I must be careful not to 'beat myself up.' Look, I have low self esteem. Well, wait, that's not true. Now I have pretty good self esteem, but there was a time when having low self esteem was actually progress for me. So I get the need to untangle self abuse from self examination..."
"Okay, but ..."
"Wait! Let me finish. But that does not equal, for me, anyway, that I don't take a clear look at a situation and hold myself accountable when I make mistakes. It's ego and grandiosity for me to approach a job with the idea that I am never going to make any mistakes."
"What if you were a doctor?"
"What if you were a doctor? What if I were a Martian? What if you were a Martian doctor? What if what if who cares what if. If you start with hypotheticals you're on the way to justification. Or you'll confuse and sidetrack me, which is really easy to do. It is unrealistic and egotistical and grandiose if I think I am going to go through any given 24 hour period and not make any mistakes. Of course I don't think I think that way -- it's more of an attitude, underlying my thought process. But if a core value in the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous is humility, then I'd better be wide open to the idea that mistakes will be made, by others and especially by me. And from there make the leap to looking at the mistakes I made honestly, and own it when I have. Being afraid you're going to 'beat yourself up' does not mean you don't ask yourself what your part in something is. In fact, to use any facet of the tools or the language of recovery not to ask yourself those questions is pretty much the opposite of what we do. Or what we try to do. In AA, I mean. Fear of what the answers might be is understandable, but it cannot mean that I refrain from asking myself the quesions. You know, a lot of this is really Tenth Step stuff ... what kind of daily inventory writing do you ... "
I realize I've been ranting, and am starting to repeat myself, and I kind of trail off. Silence on the line. I wonder if the magic of dropped cell phone coverage has once again left me talking to dead air. If that's the case I imagine in some ways it is equal parts message and metaphor.
"You still there?" I ask.
I go on. "Sorry, I ... I think I just made a little speech or something. I seem to be doing that a lot lately -- I don't know what's up with that, but I'm sorry I got on a soapbox. But I ... I hope some of that was helpful."
"Yeah. Sort of. Actually ... not really." They answer. Man, this rigorous honesty is a two-edged sword.
"Well, for what it's worth, try to set aside any fear of what you might discover and write down where you may or may not have goofed -- also set aside any worries right now of who you might have to admit anything to and just write as honestly as you can. By the end of it -- I mean, after you get some clarity -- you'll actually feel better than if you just sort of not look at your part and rush to use Program stuff to justify anything you did or didn't do. And just writing it out will help you gain perspective. I mean the actual physical act of writing will maybe help you keep calm."
"Yeah. Ok. Thanks."
They hang up. I stare out the window for a while, not at all sure I was any help and wonder who I was talking to.