Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Since I've stopped drinking I am having awful muscle tension in my body. Is it possible that I am now feeling all the physical tension that I used to drink away?
Listen, it's always best to get advice from a medical professional for any physical ailments with real symptoms which you describe. And, although I am not an expert in anything but drinking (I'm a freaking Mozart when it comes to drinking and using drugs) my experience in getting sober, and as a sponsor, is that our body chemistry is severely whacked when we stop and also during detox -- and for a while after, for that matter; so perhaps a qualified nutritionist is also a wise person to consult. With all that said, yeah, sure, that sounds like a very reasonable theory to me. Ruling out some other physical issue, when you remove your stress-coping mechanism then it seems plausible you're going to have symptoms -- sometimes physical ones -- resulting from the pressure build up. I won't be flip and toss off some simplistic, sarcastic aside about deep breathing and prayer and meditation -- from your email (which I just pulled this question out of to address first) I know you are not unfamiliar with the Steps and have both willingness some very good insight. You are probably trying those Step 11 stress busting tools now. I would just encourage you to remember that those things, while they are real and substantive and have a proven track record of results, can take time to develop as a practice. Stay the course, it DOES work. (And if at all possible in your situation, a long hot bath and a cup of tea is also going to be a big help).
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Is using Viagra a slip?
No. In my opinion as long as you are using ANY medication AS PRESCRIBED BY A QUALIFIED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL then how can that be a relapse of any kind? We are not a dogmatic religious movement -- we are a course of treatment -- that has a spiritual basis, which throws people a little, I'll give you that -- with a special focus on how to address the mental issues which allow addicts to minimize the consequences of their using and thus keep picking up. Now, if I had to guess, your question is prompted because you are not treating erectile dysfunction with viagra as much as you are adding a little boost to your already adequate blood flow. I still don't think that's a relapse. BUT, for my brand of sobriety, using something outside myself to enhance an experience -- to make something more fun -- is not a wise part of yourself to indulge. You need it? Use it. You merely want it? Proceed with caution -- but not because you're being "bad." Proceed with caution because you are dancing into a gray area involving chemical use and pleasure -- and if there's one thing an addict's tracking mechanism is going to home in on it is the relationship between those two things. Here's something to consider -- a litmus test if you will: If you find one day that you are more excited by the idea of taking the pill than you are by the idea of having sex then I think you have officially drifted into the danger zone. But till then, don't let this be a secret -- secrets fuel self obsession -- tell someone in the recovery part of your life (other than the person you are boinking, if there is overlap there) that you trust and keep yourself in fit spiritual condition. If you do that you'll probably be fine.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
There is an old timer in my Home Group who is so "out there" that they are really a problem, and I am afraid that they are turning Newcomers off from AA. Have you ever had someone like that in your "The Rooms" for you and what did you do?
Dear V. W.,
Are you kidding? I meet someone like that every morning in my bathroom! It takes everything I've got to tolerate him sometimes. And I live alone! (bah-dump-bump)
Okay, seriously... yes, sure, I have over the years had concerns that some wacky Bleeding Deacon type was taking up so much "space" in the room that new people might be discouraged from finding what I had discovered in AA. One time (years ago) I spoke to the person. I was careful in the words I chose and came from a place of love and respect. They told me to go eff myself, shared at me from the lectern and continued doing exactly what they were doing. So I started another meeting and let God sort out who walked in which door. In other situations over the years I have sometimes raised my hand and shared my experience when they pontificated (duelling pontifications! fun at parties! not!), to provide a different voice in the room. I find that when people complain about someone in a 12 Step Meeting being too much they are rarely taking an active role in the meeting to counter-balance the person upsetting them. (I'm not talking about getting into a pissing contest with someone. I'm talking about being a visible, demonstrable example -- including sharing -- of what you want people to find in the rooms of AA.) Is this you, V.W.? Are you upset but passive, hoping someone else will solve the problem? Maybe that's not fair -- you did write after all. I encourage you to start another meeting -- even a Newcomer Meeting, if you think there's really a need -- and to raise your hand and open your mouth. Hell, start the Newcomer Meeting anyway -- it'll be some of the best 12 Step work you'll ever experience.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Do you think that old AA saying about people getting a little crazy around the time of their anniversaries is true?
Am I being punk'd?
All I have is my experience and that is... sometimes yes, I have gotten a special kind of weird around my anniversary, and sometimes no. This year, seems like yes. Is it something we "create" because we think it might happen? <shrug> Beats me. Doesn't feel like it. I've learned to both respect the AA lore and also to take it with a grain of salt.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
Is there a Mrs. SponsorPants? You reference Alanon enough that it makes me wonder.
No. There is not.
Hope some of that was somehow helpful to someone somewhere!
In the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book), the 12 Steps are directly listed in Chapter 5, appropriately entitled "How It Works."
The 3rd Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
In the book, after some discussion of the principles behind Steps 1 & 2, the idea of not living our lives based on self-will, but rather turning ourselves over to God (as you understand God) is explored. The 3rd Step Prayer is written out. It is just one suggested prayer expressing this idea, not a mandatory by-rote, Pass/Fail requirement as a way to commit to this concept. In fact, in its usual even-handed and open-minded fashion, the Big Book states that the words of this prayer are "... of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation." Say it however you like, in whatever way works for you. Say it as a prayer, perform it as a rap, do it like Dr. Seuss might put it. ("One fish two fish red fish blue fish. God's will my will I will Your willl.") The point is to have an open heart and a sincere (or as sincere as possible) willingness to try.
A little farther along we get to this: "Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action..." meaning there was something we had to DO. In fact, the real crux of this point is just a few lines on. This: "Though our decision [meaning, of course, our decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God -- that decision] was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort..." and it goes on to describe the 4th Step, the principles underlying it and ultimately how to do it.
So, what this means to me, is this:
The decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God is just that, a decision. A commitment -- and the 3rd Step Prayer is my pledge to do so. But just as a decision to go to the airport does not magically and instantly transport you to the airport -- you actually have to get in your car and drive to the airport -- so, too, this decision, though "vital and crucial" -- is just another bullshit, self-indulgent, melodramatic performance art piece in (if you're an alcoholic like me) a life filled with such moments -- often well intended and just as often as easily burned away as dew in the summertime -- unless followed by tangible action. And when getting sober, the primary way to execute this pledge-to-action is by doing all the rest of the 12 Steps. (And thus a spiritual experience is created, which is the key component to staying sober).
Once I've gone through the 12 Steps, I still find that I return to the idea of "turning it over," that is, of turning myself or a situation over to God. But again, that decision will require action to make it stick.
God -- if there is one, and today I have to vote yes -- will certainly forgive and love me through making another bullshit promise and then falling down on the action part -- or rather, turning a sincere promise into a bullshit one by not doing anything after I make it.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. It's not like the movies (though I sure wish it were). There's no dramatic swell of music, an uplifting montage and then a whole new deal. Sometimes it's myriad small actions which accrue over time that lead to substantive change. My prayer keeps me stable and gives me both focus as to what I'm supposed to be doing and faith that I am in the right place, doing the right thing -- and reminds me that a benevolent universe has my best interest (not my comfort, but my best interest) at heart.
As always though, it is the footwork I do which is the catalyst to change, far more than the performance art prayer moment which gets my emotional ya-ya's off but can, in fact, be a form of procrastination -- if you wait for God to do the dishes you gonna have one dirty sink, sister.
The prayer IS beautiful, and as the Big Book mentions, very often a real and tangible change can be felt inside. But when they say "faith without works is dead" they ain't lyin'.
Finally, the 3rd Step prayer -- whether we're getting sober, or in sobriety giving another situation to God -- is also my pledge to align myself with whatever results I may get as the outcome. You do the footwork, you accept the result as God's Will -- which of course might be anything from "keep trying" to "hang on, because here's a gigantic Yes!" or it may even be, "Sorry, but hell no." My growth is in the seeking, in the process, anyway.
Helluva way to run a Universe, in my opinion, but there it is.
There are more essays like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download the Kindle reader app for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone, and enjoy eBooks anywhere you have time to read.
I am sorry for the pain you and your family are in. Yours was a tough email to read, as I caused my parents and my family a lot of pain as a practicing alcoholic. I certainly didn't want to. I definitely didn't mean to. But -- and here's the hard part to fathom about alcoholism -- while I am responsible for what I did, I was powerless over my addiction and how it rode me. I had no more choice in the pursuit of drinking than an epileptic has the choice of stopping a seizure without medication.
So whatever you decide, remember that while there is a behavior modification element to recovery, you are ultimately dealing with a real and diagnosable disease; you can no more "cure" addiction with strong consequences than you can get someone up out of a wheelchair by making rules about how long they're allowed to sit down.
Yes, structure and boundaries and consequences can help an alcoholic who wants to stay sober get through the "curious mental blank spots" which are what fogs our heads and robs us of the ability to resist the first drink . I would not presume to tell you that I know what will or will not work for your situation. I can tell you that in my own case, and in the case of virtually every alcoholic I know, be they drunk or sober, shielding an alcoholic from the consequences of their drinking in no way helps them to get or stay sober -- and in fact, painful as the truth we're closing in on here may be -- "protecting" an alcoholic that way can actually work against their recovery.
It sounds like your child is homeless and broke as a result of drinking -- sure, there are maybe some other factors (there often are) but at the heart of it, we are usually without money or someplace to live because we lie, cheat, steal, fail to show up for commitments (like work), and are in general drunk more than not, and especially drunk when we should very much not be ("a positive genius for getting 'tight' at exactly the wrong time" is roughly how the Big Book puts it).
It is a very hard thing to put a family member out on the street. For most parents that decision is at the end of a long, terrible, frightening and horrifically painful road. Many, many times these stories end in tragedy -- and I am not being dramatic when I say that. Again, to quote the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" for many alcoholics the story ends in jails, institutions or death. Sometimes the painful hindsight of loved ones and family members at that juncture leads them to cry, "Maybe if we'd been tougher sooner..." Maybe that time for you is now. Maybe -- and again, I do not know what is right for you -- but maybe, in helping your child find a way to address their disease, the future you is desperately trying to reach back and tell you to be tough now.
The word, by the way, for what people do when they're not tough is called 'enable' -- and I'm sure you've encountered that word if you've been dealing with an alcoholic family member. The very things you think might help them get sober actually enable the alcoholic to keep drinking.
But ... what about being a parent? What about helping the right amount? Maybe if they are staying with you they can sort of get their feet under them? Maybe they just need a chance to regroup. And maybe you or your spouse can't even fathom for a minute your child homeless out on the street, without money, without food without shelter. What kind of a family does that to someone?
You know who can help find the right answers for you to these questions? ALANON.
GO TO ALANON. READ ALANON LITERATURE. FIND THE BLOGS OF PARENTS OF OTHER ADDICTS AND READ THEIR STORIES. GO TO ALANON MEETINGS AND ASK FOR HELP.
Forgive the all caps, but I am deadly earnest in telling you this -- consider me a messenger from the future-you, frantically trying to help you find the keys to this terrible puzzle. If you have already done this, I apologize for suggesting something you're already trying -- you make no mention of it in your email and so I wanted to make sure it was offered to you as a solution. A cornerstone of your child's recovery in the 12 Step world will be people who have experience getting and staying sober offering their help to them. And the cornerstone for YOUR recovery is people who have experience dealing with alcoholic family members offering you their support -- because alcoholism really is a family disease, and while you may not have one single issue with addiction yourself you are still "in the disease" with your child, so your recovery is part of the best-case scenario for your child to get and stay sober.
I know when I was drinking -- and well into the beginning of my sobriety -- I could feel the "script" my parents and I had kick in when I was "working them." I wouldn't even plan to -- it was more like fear or ego or whatever would strike a spark to the tinder of our burning dysfunction (poetic or melodramatic? I can't decide). The best parts of our love for each other coupled with their gigantic parental concern and willingness to help me would be warped by the family disease part of addiction into something which moved us all in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go.
But as complex and painful as all this is, I can offer a few concrete suggestions:
Do not make a boundary or state a consequence that both you and your spouse are not 100% committed to keeping if it gets broken. No second chances. No "yes...but" bending of the rules. If you say "you can live with us if you go to an AA Meeting every day" for example, and there is one single missed meeting for ANY reason -- out they go. (And even as I typed that I felt something sour in my belly. Very few alcoholics do well going to meetings via the demand/threat of a family member -- most often parent or spouse. We do marginally better going and listening when it's a court card, but, as my dead sponsor used to say -- he who's wise counsel I miss every single day of my life -- the chief characteristic of an alcoholic is defiance. And he is right. It has to do with our massive sensitivity to fear, our staggering self obsession and our towering ego... but that's getting sidetracked a little.) I don't know what boundaries and consequences might be right for your situation, but again, I urge you, put teeth in them or don't bother. The moment you waver, the second you allow an exception, your child's alcoholism wins. And you all move closer to a court date or a funeral.
Once you draw whatever (few!) rules you have, leave it alone. Not one single alcoholic welcomes being "reminded" about their meetings, their program, calling their sponsor... any of it. I know for a fact that even today should someone other than another alcoholic, or a sponsor, make a suggestion about my program to me the first reaction I have is rage, even if I know the person loves me and means well.
Do not underestimate the power of a support group for yourself and your spouse in dealing with this. The parents of cancer patients draw strength from support groups, right? You are the parents of a child with an equally grave illness, and trying to go it alone, or keep this problem "in the family" is robbing your child of an improved chance of recovery. Just like when the flight safety video on an airplane tells parents traveling with young children to put on their own air mask first before they try to assist their child, so, too, you must attend to yourselves and be as well informed and healthy as possible before trying to help your child deal with their addiction.
I hope some of that is helpful, K.
Please take heart. Millions of people have gotten sober and remain free from drugs and alcohol and the obsession to use by utilizing the help available in the 12 Step world. I was able to get sober long before my parents passed and those were some of the best years we had together. Your child is close to the same age as I was when I got sober -- just a bit younger. You and your family can absolutely have that too.
A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can be cured only by the honesty of humility.
-- Lawrence G. Lovasik
Almost any difficulty will move in the face of honesty. When I am honest I never feel stupid. And when I am honest I am automatically humble.
-- Hugh Prather
You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it.
-- Alan Moore, 'V for Vendetta'
You can't lie to your soul.
-- Irvine Welsh, 'Porno'
Honesty without compassion is brutality.
-- I don't know who said it, but I always felt it was important and true.
"The Monkey's Paw" is a short story written by W.W. Jacobs and originally published in England in 1902.
The tale, in short: A military man returns from serving in India with a monkey's paw, supposedly enchanted and able to grant three wishes. Though there are the usual dire warnings about consequences and such, a couple uses the paw to wish for money to make their final house payment. Shortly after the wish their son is killed in a horrible machinery accident and the sum they receive in compensation is the amount needed for their final payment. After the funeral, distraught with grief, the mother wishes their son back. A short while later, shambling footsteps drag up the front walk followed by a hollow knocking at the front door. While the mother races to open the door, the father, knowing what horror is likely standing on the other side, wishes their boy away again. Although different tellings and adaptations over the years ascribe high minded language about fate and fortune to the story, I've always thought the more direct "Be careful what you wish for" hit the nail on the head. (Or the paw on the palm, I suppose.)
* * * * *
I've written before about how my current job, while something I'm grateful for -- and a place I completely acknowledge where I've grown and changed in big and wonderful ways -- is not anything even remotely close to what I hoped/dreamt for in life -- especially at this age. Having shared that, let me add that I know gratitude is not a homework assignment. I can be sincerely grateful for something, see and enjoy all the good in it, and still have a vision of something different.
In fact -- and this is important for me -- the idea of seeking gratitude for what I have in my life cannot become a club I use to bludgeon myself into some sorry kind of stagnation. It should neither be a way I blind myself from considering new paths nor an impediment to forward motion. (For the record no one ever suggested it should be. It's what my twisty thoughts and gnarly perspective sometimes take away from discussions about being grateful in sobriety. Sometimes in the back of my mind I discover all kinds of "shoulds" and "shouldnt's" with no idea how they grew there. Quietly, I suppose, like toadstools in the dark.) Wanting more -- or even wanting different -- does not automatically equal being ungrateful for what you have. It can mean that, yes -- so it's something to look at -- but it doesn't always mean that.
For me, gratitude is one important way I keep a conscious contact with a God of my understanding; a healthy perspective on what I have and what I've been given rather than a pointless focus on what I lack (and therein lies the true stagnation). But sometimes the itch is to build on the gifts I've been given, not just to appreciate them. Emmett Fox calls it "Divine Discontent" and uses the somewhat cliche but very apt analogy of the caterpillar and the butterfly to illustrate this concept.
* * * * *
I've been praying to God for help with the work thing. Specifically, I've been praying big, open-ended, "get me out of here is this all there is get me out of here throw me a rope throw me a rope throw me a rope" kinds of prayer. I know I have to do the footwork, but in a big Universe full of wild miracles and crazy opportunities I've built a decent track record for knocking on doors and doing the aforementioned footwork to go through them -- but sometimes I need God to reveal the damn door, and my throw-me-a-rope-God's are my way of asking for that. Certainly AA is wise to suggest that I "pray only for God's will for me and the power to carry that out" as it helps me stay away from resentments and expectations of God and how H/She works, but I think praying for, in essence, other ways to use the gifts I've been given lines up nicely with that. (I know, deeply, that I am a whisker's breadth away from some spiritual lawyering there, weaving rhetoric and warping context to bolster my own bullshit, but I don't think I'm quite there. Of course, we never do, do we?)
And my prayer has been answered.
I'm out of the restaurant I've been managing.
And into a different restaurant for the same company. Busier, much more challenging and far less convenient, commute-wise. Full disclosure: There is a modest raise with this transfer, so there is that.
Now, before the kind hearted and well-intentioned of you gently point out that this might count as some kind of endorsement from the top folks at this fledgling enterprise I'm afraid I must inform you that this is much more akin to a battlefield promotion. They're in a mad scramble to fill the suddenly open spots, not truly rewarding/acknowledging jobs well done.
And I confess, once this was laid on me and I had time to digest it, I had a pretty sour, "Be careful what you pray for" bubble up inside. As if a God who gave me the opportunity to save my life would then spend the rest of it punishing me every time I made an honest request; or would turn my open-hearted prayer into a way to 'teach me a lesson.' Truly, that is superstition, not spirituality: Appease the volcano God or suffer the consequences.
* * * * *
So today the challenge on Planet SponsorPants is to keep an open mind -- or rather, to keep prying it back open after it slams shut under the weight of projection and ego and fear (the usual suspects). My years sober help me recognize these things happening to me -- and maybe fluency with the tools of AA allows me to address them more quickly -- but the years don't prevent them from occurring.
The challenge is to keep faith, and not let my spirituality slip into that subtle but simplistic superstition; that is, a loving God will always give me a good result, there is no "monkey's paw effect" at play once I have "made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God." It is only my head, torturing me again, deciding all is ashes before I've even lit the fire.
I have to work to remember the great AA adage (we probably stole it, but I heard it in AA first), which is roughly this: The worst things in my life never happened to me.
And finally, I have to keep my eyes open to the fact that over and over and over in my life -- and in the lives of the people in Recovery around me -- there is profound evidence that if I can approach each situation as a way for me to give rather than get, as a way to be of service, then my head straightens back out and quiets down and my heart opens back up and the little nuisances in life are just that. Little.
* * * * *
I can get there.
Well, I can get back there. (Not truly there this minute.)
But it's not effortless.
Not yet. (It'll get easier though.)
In the grand scheme of things this is hardly on the same level as bad medical news or unjust jail time or random tragedy striking. I know that. On a basic level it's simply one more time, things are not the way I want them to be. It's just that as an alcoholic sometimes that can be justification for some powerful, foolish, self-destructive decisions. I feel that part of me growling in its sleep.
So I just keep on -- we keep on -- and try not to indulge the worst parts of ourselves; try not to awaken the King Baby of Bridge Burning and Self Destruction, so I can more easily see the miracles which keep coming down the road.
That's my mantra for this morning.
There are more stories like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download the Kindle reader app for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone, and enjoy eBooks anywhere you have time to read.