Gratitude Day: And my arm's still too short to box with God
Mr. SponsorPants: Well God, it's Gratitude Day.
Mr. SP: And, although I know I can essentially bring anything to You, I have a question that feels kind of... well, kind of stupid.
silence for a few moments
Mr. SP: Ummm, God?
Mr. SP: Aren't you going to say something encouraging like, 'There are no stupid questions' or 'yes, you can bring everything to Me' or something like that?
GOD: No. I don't think so. You know I really don't go in for responding to you when you're being passive/aggressive like that.
Mr. SP: God! Err, I mean the exclamation, not You, but... God! That is so... you know, sometimes maybe I need a little encouragement. Sometimes maybe I'm frightened and I need a little reassurance. Needing encouragement is not being passive/aggressive you know.
GOD: Yes, I know. You're right.
Mr. SP: Ha! So there!
GOD: Needing encouragement or reassurance is not being passive/aggressive. Being manipulative in your statement so that you can get that encouragement... now that's passive/aggressive.
Mr. SP: <sigh> How come when I start to talk with you about something else we often take these left turns?
GOD: Because you're driving? Just ask your question, Mr. SponsorPants.
Mr. SP: Okay. I wonder if sometimes I'm doing gratitude... wrong.
GOD: You certainly come up with a constant stream of new and inventive ways to make yourself feel bad about yourself, Mr. SponsorPants, that's for sure. How on earth could you do gratitude 'wrong'?
Mr. SP: Well, sometimes I find my way into gratitude by <mumble mumble mumble>.
GOD: What? Speak clearly.
Mr. SP: Sometimes I find my way into gratitude by looking at the misfortunes and challenges other people have, and I'm grateful that is not my lot -- that I do not have their problems. That I do not suffer as they do or have to face down the things they must. And that seems... I dunno, just... like the wrong way to go about feeling grateful for what I have.
silence for a few moments
Mr. SP: That's it? 'Ah.' All that and all you give me is 'Ah'?
GOD: Mr. SponsorPants, I have a question for you, too. Do you feel pleasure at the misfortunes of these others that you're comparing yourself to?
Mr. SP: What? Of course not. I mean, sometimes if it's a person that has really challenged me in the past...
GOD: One of your Great Spiritual Teachers, you mean.
Mr. SP: Yes. If someone's been an arrogant schmuck, and they get a little egg on their face, maybe I feel a sense of cosmic justice, but I don't actually enjoy anyone's hardships, no.
GOD: So you just use other people's challenges, their paths, as a frame of reference for yourself, a way to see what you have.
Mr. SP: Yes.
GOD: Okay then.
Mr. SP: Okay what?
GOD: You're not asking if that's a wrong way to find gratitude, you already think it is, and you want maybe confirmation, or absolution and maybe instruction.
Mr. SP: Do other people get a headache when they talk to You? 'cause I'm starting to get a headache. I thought it was a simple question and...
GOD: The question is simple. You're the complicated part.
Mr. SP: Is that... kind of a compliment?
Mr. SP: oh.
GOD: Gratitude is, indeed, seeing what you have, and what you are spared, yes. Whether you do that via comparing yourself to others' misfortunes, or through a more positive view of whatever bounty you have doesn't really matter. The point is more that you are training yourself to perceive your life and your circumstances differently; to see the gifts in your life for what they are. When you don't see what you have, you're focused on what you lack -- and when you do that, you are generally in Fear, and it is then much harder for you to hear Me.
Mr. SP: oh. So gratitude isn't about feeling good really, it's more about being able to see and hear You a little better.
GOD: Pretty much, yes.
Mr. SP: And so... as long as I'm doing that, it's okay however I get there.
GOD: Bravo, Mr. SponsorPants.
Mr. SP: See, God, if you stick with me, I get it eventually.
GOD: Mr. SponsorPants, I have never, not for one single solitary moment, doubted you. You on the other hand...
Mr. SP: I know, I know... work in progress, God. Work in progress.
GOD: I know. I know. Happy Gratitude Day, Mr. SponsorPants.
Mr. SP: You too, God. You know, for a somewhat trite literary construct, these exchanges are very helpful and surprisingly emotional for me sometimes.
I need some ideas about how to stop obsessing over a relationship that just ended. I don't worry about drinking behind it, just want to clear my head. Thoughts?
There are any number of excellent tools available, both via the 12 Step world and from other helpful sources, to deal with obsession. And believe me, I feel your pain, as I myself have had some serious mental looping over people I've been involved with when they became "ex." (And sometimes "why?") There is a particular flavor of obsession around this, whether you're the ender or the endee.
I think this time out I'll defer to the best source when it comes to helping an alcoholic deal with mental obsessions: AA literature.
From "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," Step 11 pg. 102-103:
As the day goes on, we can pause where situations must be met and decisions made and renew the simple request: "Thy will, not mine, be done." If at these points our emotional disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely keep our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to ourselves, a particular prayer or phrase that has appealed to us in our reading or meditation. Just saying it over and over will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with anger, fear, frustration or misunderstanding, and permit us to return to the surest help of all -- our search for God's will, not our own, in the moment of stress.
Simply put, I've never had much success when it came to not thinking about something.
The trick for me has been not to focus on the not, but rather to choose an instead.
Whenever I find myself obsessing about something, if I choose a mantra to plug in -- sometimes even shouting it in my head rather than just saying it sub-vocally -- I'm usually (eventually) able to switch mental channels. Or at least move on a little more quickly from the mental looping.
I'm extremely happy for you that this doesn't read as a slippery issue -- congrats on having done the work to get to that place!
The other curative of course is the passage of time, but I know that's cold comfort and something more active as a solution is often warranted. The above suggestion from the 12&12 was the clue for me as to what to do in this type of situation: Find a prayer or phrase that resonates and use it as a mantra to move my thoughts from what I've been obsessing about to something else -- hopefully something more uplifting, but certainly at least more distracting.
Actually, it's taken him the better part of a week to get all his stuff out of the apartment next door.
But tonight he texted me he was "finished."
All done not coming back keys under the front mat.
He was a nice enough fellow, and a good neighbor in so far as he was friendly and quiet. Not great with boundaries sometimes -- wanted a bit more of a friendship than I was up for maybe, but a nice guy. The move was not a happy one; that is, he could no longer afford to live here, and put most of his stuff in storage while he did a little couch surfing and regrouped. Has a job starting (potentially) next month, so while it's not a really happy story it's not a very sad one either. Just life, I guess.
I struggled a little with being a generous and helpful neighbor but not getting sucked into what appeared to be a pretty deep vortex of drama and need.
Boundaries and balance: Two learned skills for me, as opposed to something that comes naturally. And as far as the learning goes, it sometimes feels like school is still in session. I guess school is always still in session, in one way or another.
When he texted that he was "all done" he told me there were some cleaning supplies he'd left that I might want. A lamp he didn't feel like making room for on his final trip. A rug too, if I thought I might want it.
Equal parts nosy and curious about how big the lamp was, I put on my hoodie and walked next door.
It's cold and rainy here tonight
I confess it made me sad to see him go, boundary issues and all. If his financial picture was different he wouldn't have moved. So the situation made me sad and maybe anxious. A little.
I'd been listening to music, listening to the light rain, reading, but really listening maybe a bit too much to my head, when he texted. The music was a Pandora station I'd made for myself a long time ago. For whatever reason I thought it would suit my mood, my book and the night, but somehow the song selection algorithm gods decided "mellow to read by" really meant "melancholy to listen to rainfall by," so while I guess it suited the evening it wasn't doing much for my mood.
(Give an alcoholic some melancholy music and the patter of rain against the window and you've got all the makings of a three act opera, condensed down to one short, slightly self obsessed mental scene: Glorious, majestic, and everybody dies at the end.)
So I walked next door, pulled the keys out from under the mat and went in.
It wasn't the way I leave an apartment when I move. Or leave anything, really. He hadn't trashed the place but he hadn't done much to make it right, either. Among the many things AA has taught me, "leave clean, head high," is firmly entrenched in my operating system now.
There were some cleaning supplies around but I thought I'd leave them where they were. The apartment prep people could certainly use them, and I really didn't need them. A container of cookies on the kitchen counter. No thanks.
I opened the fridge, understanding immediately his constant gripe about the door being hard to open all the way because of the poor job they'd done with some of the cabinet install. The fridge wasn't filthy, but it wasn't clean. A container of orange juice. A jug with some kind of sports energy drink in it. The remnants of what might have once been a stalk of celery.
I opened the freezer.
While I did not quite do a double take, I blinked twice to really register it. There, all alone -- with not even an ice cube tray for company -- stood a dazzling cobalt blue bottle of Skyy vodka.
I didn't really think about it, I just reached in and pulled it out to get a better look at it. To see if what it was was what it was.
And it was full. The seal was broken but it was down maybe only one swig. Two swigs, tops.
(Swig, by the way, is an actual standardized and scientific unit of measurement for alcoholics, I assure you.)
I felt its weight in my hand. There is a very particular, special kind of weight a bottle of vodka that's maybe only two swigs down has in the hand. Like it has its own specific gravity. Heavy enough to feel powerful but light enough to easily lift to the lips. Buoyant even. And it was cold. It had been in that freezer a long time, to get that cold.
I couldn't believe he'd left it. How would it be possible to forget something like this? My mind could not even process the kind of thinking, the kind of mental state, the kind of brain activity, which allowed one to forget a bottle of vodka that's maybe only two swigs down and leave it behind when you left.
What should I do? I wondered. Should I text him? Tell him it was here? That he should come back for it?
Maybe I could give it to someone as a gift. Sure. I could take it, and then give it to someone as a gift. Who do I know that would want a bottle of vodka that was maybe only two swigs down as a gift?
As almost all of my friends are in AA, no names immediately leapt to mind.
Well, just because I couldn't think of anyone right away doesn't mean I wouldn't think of someone. I mean, the holidays are coming!
Oh, the cleaning people would find it. They would find it and keep it and drink it. That didn't seem right. I should protect it. I should protect it to maybe then give back to my neighbor, if he should ever ask about it.
I should prevent the apartment cleaning people from getting it, that's for sure. I mean, it was worth... whatever they charge for a bottle of vodka now. How much is it worth? I haven't bought a bottle of vodka in more than twenty-five years. What is the going price for a bottle of vodka? I could take it and maybe sell it. Or I could just take it and put it in my freezer in case I had company who wanted a cocktail. I might have someone over some day who wanted a drink or I might have a special occasion what if I had a party I would need to serve liquor if I had a party it would be rude not to have liquor on hand to serve and this way I would already have it damn this bottle is cold in my hand when was the last time you smelled vodka straight anyway maybe it's not vodka it could be like a gag or something you should open it and smell it to see if it's really vodka because that would be important to know and
and there is not one good reason for you to open this bottle, Mr. SponsorPants.
And there is absolutely not one good god damn reason for you to take this bottle of vodka that was maybe only two swigs down and put it in your freezer.
In fact, this vodka, this vodka right here in this sexy cobalt blue bottle with maybe only two swigs down which is freezing the palm of your hand right now is none of your business. Nope. Not one little bit of your business.
I wondered, suddenly, how long I had been standing there, holding that bottle and staring at it.
The apartment was so, so quiet. Even the rain had stopped its pitter pattering. I listened for a moment, and heard nothing but silence. I could have been, in that moment, the only man on earth.
"Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind... "
-- Big Book, Chapter 2, There is a Solution, pg. 23
Untreated alcoholism actively works to prevent my ability to "observe" my thinking. It obscures and distorts the logical sequence of thoughts which would allow me to connect action with consequence.
"There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove."
-- Big Book, Chapter 2, There is a Solution, pg. 24
It was listening in AA meetings, and then working through all 12 Steps, which finally allowed me to perceive the "alcoholic thinking" in my mind as it was happening. And once I could "see" it, I could do something about it.
It is a solution, however, which needs consistent reapplication. I continue to go to AA meetings and follow AA's suggestions because when I become lax about that my ability to recognize alcoholic thinking for what it is fades away as well.