If profanity offends you then do not read this blog post.
I am 6'3" tall. I weigh 270lbs., give or take. Most of it is not muscle. My waist size right now is 44".
I'm a big guy -- I believe the word, without euphemism (stocky, bearish, barrel chested, thick in the middle, etc.) is fat. Although I don't have the self loathing that I used to in this arena -- and I've been up and down in my weight over the years (basically I've owned Gap khakis in pretty much every damn size they sell them in) -- I'm not quite as happy at this number (pretty much the biggest I've been) and wouldn't mind being a little bit trimmer. No big dramatic change, just down a notch or two.
To give you some perspective on how that translates in the real world, I can fit into an airline seat -- unless they shrank 'em yet again -- albeit uncomfortably (and since in that context I can be a little self conscious about my size I'll probably cede the armrest to you). I don't need a seat belt extender, but I sure as hell have to take a deep breath to fasten the damn thing.
You'll need some of that information in a little bit.
A new year and a new direction. For the past two years I've been writing pretty much full time, and that sedentary occupation, coupled with a profound dislike of the gym, fed the weight gain. I'm actually a pretty healthful eater, it's that I don't move much is more the issue. But the full time writing, drawing on a little savings for a time, was a chance to live a dream -- and this blog was the kickoff for a new level of discipline in that regard. At one point I even thought that this blog might be a book, "Mr. SponsorPants: 12 Step Experience for AA's and Friends." What the hell, somebody's gotta give Chuck C. and "A New Pair of Glasses" a run for their money, right? It would be anonymous, like the blog, so I'm covered ethically -- and I'd hoped -- as I always have with the blog -- that this writing in book form might get into the hands of people who needed help but aren't busy poking around the web for recovery blogs. As I've responded to some of you in your kind emails, I'm always humbled and grateful that anything here might be helpful to anyone "out there." And as my first sponsor told me a long time ago, "God hit you with the talking stick -- it's one of the ways you're supposed to be of service." I never questioned him on it, I just took that in and tried to apply it appropriately over the years. So when the inspiration for this blog came to me (as an unwelcome answer to a panicked prayer) I thought back on what he'd said, and took comfort from it.
I'll keep blogging -- as I write this right now I don't know if there's ever going to be a book -- but with the financial resources dwindling it was time to get a "regular" job again. And I have to tell you, I dragged my feet on that score and cut it a bit too fine. It got scary. It's a tough job market, I live in a very "young" city, and I'm nearly fifty -- and as regular readers may have gleaned from other posts here, I've had a more bohemian, checkered, service-industry type job path over the years: Sales Trainer, Book Store Manager... even (briefly) radio talk show host (although the show was broadcast from a tower which had about as much wattage as your average blow dryer. Still, it was a paying gig for a time). And, as with any working adult who is not on one specific career track, I've knocked on some doors which didn't open, but would have been (I thought) a great fit for me. AA has taught me to look at those things as "God's will" -- that is, I will be given a chance to be of service someplace else, that wasn't the spot meant for me. Often that's expressed, in AA terms, as "we do the footwork, and then we turn the result over to God." So in terms of work, I do the footwork -- make sure the resume is smart and right, press the shirt, put on jacket and tie, give the best interview I can, write the thank-you-for-the-interview letter, and then whatever happens... whether I get the job or not, is the result, is the part I leave in God's hands Okay, I can live with that philosophy -- and have, with varying degrees of comfort, over the past almost 23 years sober.
But as I said, the money was running out, I'd procrastinated (my ancient enemy, my boon companion) and the heat was on. No, let me put it this way: The heat was ON.
So I prayed for help, and as is often the case with me, two things happened:
1. God, or HP, or The Great Kazoo, seemed to orchestrate some kind of cosmic shift on my behalf, and I got help.
2. I didn't like the help I got.
But although I moaned and wept, I did my part of the equation; I did the footwork, and the result was that I got a job which is really an excellent opportunity.
Except I had to shave my beard off and go into the food industry -- an industry I was happy to patronize, but had no desire to participate in.
Back to the service industry we go. Secretly I seethed at God. I wanted something a lot more fabulous, a lot more interesting, a lot less labor intensive. I wanted something sexy, like the kind of job you give to quirky movie characters. I didn't want to be a fucking restaurant manager! Never mind it's a great company and the potential is huge -- I don't want to have to shave to fit their stupid dress code. I'm artistic! I'm erudite! I'm special! "Why can't you send me something like that, God?" I screamed in my head. And to be clear, I screamed it a lot.
God's only answer was in the form of an email from my new employers, inviting me to join them for my first day of work Monday, January 3, 2011, at 10:00am for orientation and to start my training.
"You suck, God." I whispered to myself.
"This will be great for you, and is just what you need, and will be fun and exciting and an amazing..." some healthy part of me, pushed to the back of my head and buried beneath layers of ego and fear and entitlement (like when you put too many blankets on the bed and you wake up in the middle of the night all sweaty) asserted -- or tried to.
"Shut the hell up, healthy part." I snarled. I was too busy feeling wronged by God to listen to anything healthy. I shared about this with some of my AA peeps, and with my sponsor, to varying degrees of sympathy or dismissiveness.
So I showed up for my new job/opportunity/life yesterday.
The first day was easy. Just talking and paperwork, although there was a lot of both.
Today? Today was hard.
Early in the day I looked around at my co-workers, bright-eyed, trim young things, most in their early 20's, smart and sharp and having done the job for a while, really on their game. I felt alternately like a whale out of water, clumsy and not in my element, or like some decrepit loser, projecting onto their smiling faces questions about how I wound up here with them.
I recognized it as fear and ego and self pity, and went in the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face and prayed.
A quarter of the way through the day I was juggling trays of food and doing all that restaurant work which looks easy but isn't (I am here to tell you - it isn't.) Without my beard I look very, very different -- people literally don't recognize me. Several AA's I know -- not well, to be fair, but we know each other -- came in to eat. They did not see the face of their sober acquaintance in the face of the man trying not to drop their soup in their lap, and I didn't break cover. It was hard though, not to wonder about the decisions I've made in life which brought me there. That's one of the things about sobriety -- after you work through your self pity and delusion and entitlement and put a muzzle on your ego, you are left with nothing but the sober view of taking responsibility for your part in things. I hate that.
Half way through the day my co-workers were talking about the guy who does my job at another location. I was just standing nearby, not really part of the conversation. My new boss was talking about showing this guy the paperwork and how to do certain parts of the job. "First pass, he got it all right away. All the ordering, everything." "Wow." another coworker said. "Yes. When he first came in I joked with the Big Boss that I couldn't hire someone that good looking, it would be distracting..." "He used to model, you know." Other coworker added. "He did? Doesn't surprise me." My boss opined. "Yeah, back in Brazil, where he's from. Swimsuits or fitness or something." "Really?" "Yeah." "Oh, that explains the language thing." "What language thing?" "Well, a lot of people are fluent in english and spanish, but he's fluent in portuguese, too." I excused myself and went to the bathroom. "Really, God?" I asked. "The guy I'm potentially being compared to is a tri-lingual, Brazillian swimsuit model? For real? Are you shitting me?"
Apparently, and for the record, God is not shitting me.
This incarnation of great DNA, high intellect and stupendous job performance will be working alongside me next week. As in, right alongside me.
Three-quarters of the way through the day I was head and shoulders inside a refrigerator, scrubbing with real enthusiasm in an effort to show I was worth their investment. I pulled my head out and looked around the restaurant. We're located downstairs from a popular, expensive health club. It appeared as though the three o'clock spin class had come downstairs to enjoy a salad together and talk about all the money they had in the bank and all the great sex they were having. Okay, okay, I didn't know that's what they were saying, but that's what I believed for a minute, standing there, sweaty, my lower back singing, dirty rag in hand. I thought about what AA says about humility, and being a worker among workers. "Fuck that," I thought. "I want to be them." I went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face and thought about how I always want the result without the process. I want the body without going to the gym. I want savings without being frugal. While that's maybe being a little bit hard on myself, it's also not too far off the mark. I said a prayer, which started with, "Fuck you, God" but ended with "help and thank you and help -- no really, help."
At the end of the day I sat in the tiny office with my new boss, almost knee-to-knee. I like this gal. She's smart and an excellent manager and quirky and funny and very professional. I can see why the people at the top of this new company picked her to run this restaurant for them. She's training me to do her job at a new location, and if I can learn it fast enough and well enough, it's a great chance with a smart little company poised to really expand. Every time I think/type/say that a little voice in my head mutters about being too old or that I had to shave my beard or not wanting to work in this industry. I tell the voice to shut up now, or I shout "God! God! God!" in my head over and over. Till it goes away. I suppose there's nothing very spiritual about that -- you could "shout" any word in your head to try and redirect your thinking, but that one works for me.
I was working hard to listen to her, pay attention, learn more, while also trying to show I was paying attention and trying to learn.
She squinted and looked into space for a minute, then sucked air in between her teeth. "Gosh, I really don't want to have this part of the conversation."
"So... have they talked to you about your weight?"
I smiled brightly and cocked my head to the side, like the little dog in the RCA Victor ads. "My... weight?" I asked. Smiling brightly and cocking my head is some kind of thing I do when I'm not sure I understood what someone just said, and what I think they said is too much to take in.
"Yes... your weight. You know, part of what this company is about is wholesome food. A healthy appearance."
I kept smiling.
"And, you know, when Big Boss was talking to me about you, he said, 'You know him, he's a customer. He's... he's a big guy, but...' and then he paused, 'he carries his weight well.'"
"Well," smile smile smile, "actually no, he didn't mention it. And it's not like I wore a girdle to the interview. I could have, but I wouldn't bring up my need to wear ladies undergarments at work until after a few months had gone by..." smiling smiling smiling, head cocked to such a degree I might have cracked a vertebrae.
"I told him that I would lose huge, huge respect for this company if we let a valuable, talented candidate get away because of an issue like that..."
Basically, she's cool and she was just trying to let me know that it's a small company and the big bosses are obsessive about... every aspect. She shared how they gave her a hard time about her hair and make-up once -- in an effort to show that her opinion was that they were a little off-base.
I took a deep breath. "Well, I guess on the one hand, I believe a company has the right to brand themselves a certain way. You don't have a lot of three hundred pound people selling Diet Coke or working at the front desk of a health club... but..." I shrugged "I am how I am. I'm bigger than I like right now, but... gosh, I guess I don't know what else to say." My smile seemed to have puttered out.
"I just thought you should know that there's not one thing they don't have meetings about or discuss."
People are sitting around an office somewhere, talking about my weight? I thought. This thought was immediately followed by two, simultaneous reactions:
1. Fuck them.
2. Cool! People are talking about me!
At the end of a hard day, the very, very last thing I needed was to hear... that.
It was a long walk home. For the first several blocks I thought about how what had happened, when I got sober at 24, was that I had fallen in with a cult. AA was a cult, and if I hadn't been so busy trying to be a worker among workers and sponsoring and stuff, I'd have maybe made different decisions in my life. Yeah, fuck AA. And fuck my sponsor, too. And fuck all my sponsees, I'm sick of hearing their shit.
A few blocks later I passed a guy in a doorway. He had one leg, and it's cold here now. A lot of people think some homeless people are faking, but I don't know you can fake a missing leg, or shivering. I fished in my pocket and gave him a dollar which, frankly, I could ill afford to give away right now.
A block past him I thought what a rotten, miserable world it is. I thought about the AA guy I used to sponsor who hung himself a couple of weeks ago. I thought about one of the other guys I sponsor who just relapsed, and while he's back and sober right now just has a helluva time of it. I thought about me, fat and nearly fifty, cleaning refrigerators, and what a freakish loser I must look like to all those kids at the restaurant. What a shitty world. "Guess I should have made better decisions... most of 'em didn't look so bad at the time..." I thought to myself.
And then I thought -- as I often seem to at points like that, when circumstances around me and my own sadness and regret and self pity (three different emotions, by the way) lead me to conclude that this miserable ball of mud hanging in the dark is doomed -- and that we deserve that doom -- about Marian Fisher.
Marian Fisher was one of the Amish girls shot in that little schoolhouse in 2006 when that crazed gunman went in and took a class hostage. For some reason, whenever I think about that horrific tragedy, I don't think about the gunman, and what he did, so much as I think about Marian, and what she did instead. By all accounts from the survivors, when it became clear that this madman was going to murder, Marian, little 13 year old Marian Fisher, stepped forward, and said, "Shoot me first, and leave these little ones be." Now, she'd never seen "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or read a "Wonder Woman" comic book -- she was Amish, for God's sake. She was motivated purely by her faith, and her own, innate, selfless goodness. Whenever I think of her I shame myself for thinking that a world in which such a spirit could exist is doomed, or deserves its doom.
I was exhausted and overwrought and must have been a sorry sight, walking along the city street with tears on my cheeks, thinking about my sad, bratty temper tantrums against that poor guy with one leg or Marian Fisher.
It's not a device, this thinking of her, which I choose to use when I'm at my lowest ebb. Thinking about her just comes to me -- ever since I read that story almost five years ago.
This will be hard and, frankly, I'm not sure I'll be able to do it. Yeah, yeah, all I have to do is try my best, but what I'd really rather do is call my new boss and say I have a family emergency or a dire illness or got a better offer and I have to quit... I don't want to go back there and think about a CEO talking about whether I'm too fat, or what the adorable 24 year old girl standing next to me at the food window is thinking about how a man twice her age came to be standing there next to her.
I don't want to go to AA I don't want to be of service I want to tell everything and all of it to fuck off.
Just in case you think God doesn't have a sense of humor, the sponsee who relapsed and is back just called me as I typed that, and I spent a half hour on the phone talking to him about how we can shore up his Program while we find an in-patient recovery situation for him.
You think you're so funny, God.
So these next few months are going to be hard. A whole new round of ego smashing. Brutal mirrors to see how I try to avoid taking responsibility for things. Resentment and entitlement will probably be cropping up a lot.
Oh, yeah, and then there's the genius Brazillian swimsuit model I'll get to work alongside. You will, I hope, understand if I say I am not looking forward to the inevitable, literally side-by-side comparison.
I talked to my sponsor tonight, and most of what he said was crap (sorry, but that's how I felt), but he said one thing that really helped, which was that I'm willing and I'm showing up and praying and I'm not self-destructing one day at a time, and that's a Big Win -- and I've been a sponsor myself long enough to know that when someone's in the shits, if you can at least find one thing to say which is helpful to them, then you did your job, and if the rest doesn't resonate, that's how it goes sometimes.
I wish I had a better example of recovery to share in this venue now. Which may sound like a self-serving, passive/aggressive type thing to say, but no, I really mean it. I wish I was... not so childish, not so prone to these storms of self pity today. Against the greater scheme of things I should just be damn grateful to have a job and that should be that.
But sometimes we carry the mess, and sometimes we carry the message, and sometimes doing the former is doing the latter.
I have to iron my shirt before I go to bed, so all I can leave you with is this:
The world is not only not doomed, it has enough light in it for one overweight, out of shape, freaked out, entitled alcoholic to use what AA has taught him to keep showing up and ignore his head, and say yes to a great opportunity even though half the time he's an ungrateful brat -- and if there's enough light for that to happen, if AA can help a wretched mess like me get through the day... then there is absolutely nothing facing any alcoholic which we can't get through for just that day.
Odds are, one of you out there reading this is as much of a freaked out self entitled ungrateful brat as I am, as overwhelmed and overwrought by what you have to face as I.
So here's the deal:
You don't lie, and bail, or drink or use or kill yourself -- just get through the day with as much dignity and grace as you can muster -- and I'll do the same.
And together we'll manage to log one more sober 24 hours, and maybe a little more recovery in spite of ourselves.
Meet you back here tomorrow.