In the midst of a larger discussion about his most recent resentments, and how alcoholic thinking can warp perceptions, the Skateboard Pup became a little wistful and asked me about my AA meeting history.
SKATEBOARD PUP: Have you ever, you know, stopped going to meetings for any real length of time?
He wasn't challenging when he asked. He was genuinely curious. I had to think about it for a minute.
MR. SPONSORPANTS: Well, once, after I had moved from [major city] to [another major city] when I was eleven or twelve years sober... Of course I went to a couple of meetings right away after I hit town, but the move put me so off my routine -- and to be really honest I felt a little giddy and weirdly free from all my 12 Step commitments -- that I drifted pretty quickly. One week led to another, and before I knew it a month had gone by and I hadn't been to a meeting.
First he looked skeptical, then surprised.
SKATEPUP: You? Really?
MR. SP: What do you mean "me, really?" I'm not bulletproof. Commitments and relationships keep me in the middle of the lifeboat as much as anything else. Sure, I almost always feel better after going, but I'm as vulnerable as anyone when it comes to bullshit rationalizations about why I can skip them. Or if my life goes upside down -- like after that big move -- putting it off till suddenly I'm adrift.
SKATEPUP: Huh. I never really thought of you not going to meetings. Or skipping 'em or... whatever. You seem so "in it."
MR. SP: So "in it?" Please God, don't put me on a pedestal or anything.
SKATEPUP: Oh my god, no danger of that. Seriously, absolutely no danger of that. Couldn't possible happen. You've been very free with what a mess you can be, there is absolutely no way...
MR. SP: Okay! Okay! Verrrrrry funny.
SKATEPUP: No I'm serious.
MR. SP: Yes. Great. Got it. Thanks loads. Anyway, in short order I was probably a month without a meeting -- maybe even a little more.
SKATEPUP: How did you feel? I mean, what happened?
MR. SP: How did I feel? Well, if I recall correctly, I felt great! I had a big job that had just moved me to a new city. I had a gigantic, glamorous two bedroom apartment all to myself, for something like two-thirds the rent I had been paying for a studio before. And suddenly it felt like I had all this free time! I didn't have anything extra in my schedule. I didn't have to spend time meeting with anyone or anything like that. My whole life was suddenly all about me, and the only question I asked was what did I feel like doing. I felt like I got my nights and weekends back... and I felt entitled to it. Like I had paid my dues before the move by being "good" and this was my reward. And I was making pretty good money at the time, too -- that sure as hell didn't hurt. Seriously, I felt great. But also -- and I remember this as clearly as the all that other stuff -- a weird thing started to happen. I mean, I was very conscious of it as it happened.
SKATEPUP: What? What was weird?
MR. SPONSORPANTS: Well, suddenly everybody else in the world was an asshole. My boss, my co-workers, my family... they all started acting like total assholes. And all the new people I was meeting were either too far beneath me to be worth making friends with -- so they were like loser-assholes I thought -- or intimidated me too much for me to approach them -- so they were all stuck up-assholes. But mostly I remember thinking that suddenly the whole world was just full of real assholes.
SKATEPUP: So... that got you to go back to meetings?
MR. SP: Well, I had to do something. If they were all assholes I figured the least I could do is go back to meetings just to help 'em all out.
SKATEPUP: That was so, so big of you.
MR. SP: Yes. as I think you know by now, I'm a giver.
SKATEPUP: So then suddenly... the world wasn't so full of assholes?
MR. SP: Practically overnight. Damnedest thing.
Old Irish: So... I was wondering.
Mr. SponsorPants: Mmm hmmm?
I was perusing the menu. I was listening, but I was also in a deep inner debate over what kind of soup to order with my salad.
Old Irish: Do you think it's passive aggressive to...
He trailed off. It took me a moment to realize he'd done so. I looked up and tuned in.
Mr. SponsorPants: Do I think it's passive aggressive to... ?
Old Irish: Nothing. Never mind. What are you ordering?
Mr. SponsorPants: Big salad, big soup. Probably the tomato, it's really good here.
Old Irish: You know what else is good here? The home fries. And the carrot cake.
Mr. SponsorPants: Satan, get Thee behind me.
The waiter came and we placed our order. Waters were refilled, bread basket waved away and finally the stage business of sitting down to order was complete.
Mr. SponsorPants: So what was that? What was passive aggressive?
Old Irish: Nothing exactly. I just...
I waited. We go back more than 25 years. I knew he'd get there if he wanted to.
Old Irish: Do you think it's passive aggressive to respond to a passive aggressive text with a link to the Wikipedia Article on passive aggression?
Mr. SponsorPants: Wait... what? Huh?
Old Irish: Do you think...
I held up my hand
Mr. SponsorPants: bup bup wait wait hang on. Let me find my way here. You got a text that you think was passive aggressive.
Old Irish: Yes. Very passive aggressive. Here, let me read it to you...
My hand went up again.
Mr. SponsorPants: No. Nope. You aren't going to read me the text.
Old Irish: I'm not? Why not?
Mr. SponsorPants: Because we are not fifteen year old girls in junior high school. Just... just give me the gist of it.
Mr. SponsorPants: Okay. That is indeed passive aggressive. And you want to answer with... a link to a definition of passive aggression?
Old Irish: Yes. I just want to text back the link to the article in Wikipedia about passive aggression. Not say anything or anything just... just text them the link. Do you think that's passive aggressive?
I gave him a long, level look.
Mr. SponsorPants: To just text a link in response. Nothing more.
Old Irish: Yeah.
I spoke very slowly, rubbing my chin and staring off into space
Mr. SponsorPants: Wellll, actually...
I trailed off and kept staring into space
Old Irish: Actually... what?
Mr. SponsorPants: Hang on, I'm doing the math.
Old Irish: The math?
Mr. SponsorPants: Yeah. That's... that's... yes, I think I've got it. It's not passive aggressive...
Old Irish (hopeful): It's not?
Mr. SponsorPants: No, because... I think... yes, that's right. I think it's actually passive aggressive squared.
My straight face started to crumble and I began to laugh.
Mr. SponsorPants: Congratulations, you have somehow envisioned the very first passive aggressive feedback loop.
Old Irish: Oh my god. Shut up. I hate you.
Mr. SponsorPants: It's like... it's like the Hadron Super Collider of dysfunction!
Old Irish: Shut up. Seriously.
Mr. SponsorPants: It's like...
Old Irish: Oh my god! Why are we even still friends?
Mr. SponsorPants: Because we know where all the bodies are buried. Now seriously, I understand but... no. That's not your best response.
Old Irish: I know. I guess. I just...
Mr. SponsorPants: It's just that your buttons are being pushed and you want to fight back. You want to fight fire with napalm.
Old Irish: Seriously. Yeah.
Mr. SponsorPants: "Not for us the dubious luxuries..."
Old Irish: Shut up. I know.
Mr. SponsorPants: Other people's behavior... come on... bring it home with me...
Old Irish (very dramatic sigh): ... does not dictate our behavior.
Mr. SponsorPants: Afraid so. I commend you. Just texting the link would be a brilliant response. But...
Old Irish: I know. I know... I know!
Sometimes in sobriety -- and in life, I suppose -- we just need someone we love and trust to tell us -- to say out loud for us -- what we already know is the truth.
Mr. SponsorPants: attaboy!
Old Irish: If I order some carrot cake, will you split it with me?
Mr. SponsorPants: No, but order it anyway.
Old Irish: Because I deserve a treat.
Mr. SponsorPants: What? Hell no. You don't need a reward for doing the right thing at this point in your sobriety.
Old Irish: Then what did you...
Mr. SponsorPants: Order the cake because if you get fatter I will look thinner when I stand next to you!
Old Irish: Seriously. I hate you. Really, you are insufferable sometimes.
Mr. SponsorPants: I know. So many of our little exchanges end this way. Isn't it great?
There are more essays like this 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.
There are two kinds of perfectionists:
Those who try too hard,
try till they die of it,
and those who decide that they'll die if they're not perfect,
so they don't try at all.
Both often wind up alone,
as the former pushes
and the latter
pulls away from people.
But you know what?
You don't have to be perfect.
You don't owe perfection to anyone.
You don't owe perfection to your spouse or your boss or your kids or
the bully-ghosts you keep conjuring
in your mind and
for whom you perform some kind of
kabuki theater of failure,
Realizing and admitting that you don't have to be perfect
does not equal quitting.
It does not mean
you're not going to keep trying
or at least the best you can manage at the time.
(What the hell is anyone's "best" anyway? Always trying till you're at the point of absolute pain and exhaustion? Who can live like that? Who even really wants to? You don't have to feel like you're supposed to any more.)
Laugh like bloody hell at yourself.
Let yourself off the hook.
If you believe in God,
then give it to God.
If you don't believe in God,
then give it a rest.
Perfectionism is a cruel tyrant.
Stage a coup.