"I thought Will was to Grace like Laverne was to Shirley..."
Nope. Wrong will. Wrong grace.
I've heard any number of people in meetings share their confusion in sorting out will... usually it's about something like "their will" vs. "God's will."
Over the years I've certainly gone a few rounds on this question myself.
But the Big Book -- my north star, my road map for living sober -- makes it simple and clear for me:
"...It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee-Thy will (not mine) be done.” These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will..." (Big Book, Chapter Six, 'Into Action,' pg. 85)
Grace is the unearned gift of relief from my alcoholism -- and ultimately my self obsession -- via a power greater than myself. The proper use of my will, when applied to God's grace, is to harness it -- all of it: my intuition, my thoughts, my experience, my emotion -- and use the gift of my sobriety and this way of life to be of service to others.
Not just in meetings. In every area of my life.
To bring to the world not the sick, spoiled child I can still sometimes be (oh God), nor the drunk (thank God), nor the dry drunk (please God)... but to bring to the world the sober man -- sobriety for me today being about so much more than physical sobriety.
(Certainly, it all starts there. All else is pointless without physical sobriety. But I aspire to live these principles beyond just putting down the drink -- the irony of course being that living these principles is what helps me not pick up the drink. It may look like a lofty aspiration -- and in one regard, maybe it is -- but it is also how a drunk maintains equilibrium and creates ballast against the pull of self-obsessive thinking -- which is so often at the root of how we justify drinking again.)
Elsewhere it says, in reference to the 12 Steps, "...what an order! I can't go through with it!"
Trying to live these principles fully in my life I remember what the Big Book says right after that: "...Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." (Big Book, Chapter Five, 'How It Works,' pg. 60)
Which translates for me into: 'Willing to grow along spiritual lines' means I will try to do things differently. I will try to do things the way AA suggests, instead of the old, fear-based ways in which I used to behave. Not "I will try to think differently." No. As has been said in many meetings -- and which blew my mind when I first heard it: I can't think my way into different (right) actions, I have to act my way into different (right) thinking.
When I do, I'm a lot less tortured.
In many ways the transformation I experience via divine grace (whatever that phrase means to you) gives me a new will. One through which I experience the real joy of being useful to others.
And as I have said before -- perhaps many times now -- and will likely say again:
This transformation is available for free, to anyone who wants it -- anyone willing -- via the 12 Steps.
Perhaps it's not the only way, but it is certainly the way that worked for me.
Happiness and gratitude are symbiotically linked, like joyful, adorable
I rarely take the hand of one without feeling the touch of the other.
And that connection is something I've been able to cultivate, over time,
consistently pausing when agitated
to reframe my perception and focus on have
rather than lack;
seeing things as opportunities rather than obligations
(get to instead of have to).
Learning to be patient and remember that my
to a situation may only be my old friend fear,
hitting the panic button again. (again.)
But once in a while, I (try to) move so quickly towards gratitude
(What AA suggests: Embrace gratitude. What I hear: You better be grateful!)
that it becomes a form of emotional
I don't want to indulge the
parts of me,
(those shadow parts of human nature so lovingly fertilized by my alcoholism)
but I do need to acknowledge,
(on the way to seeing things differently)
how I see things in the moment.
Cultivating gratitude is not about
stuffing how I feel
(in the moment)
or denying how I feel,
or deciding how I feel is "wrong."
Minor frustration, the sour tang of disappointment...
a little low grade melancholy...
those minor chords have a place in my music.
I just don't want to indulge myself to the point where they become the whole song.
"I wish that had worked out differently"
or even "I wish that had gone my way" for a little bit
is fine for me.
But if I remove faith (the belief that there is a mighty rhythm and purpose underlying all)
and add ego
or fear or self-centeredness, then sad becomes
angry with God.
"Wishing for different" becomes "where's mine?".
As I continue to try and find/keep
I have learned to look for feeling what I call "gratitude resentment."
When I somehow manage to make gratitude an assignment, a
"you better... or else"
then I resent my own efforts to embrace it.
Gratitude is a goal, not an expectation.
A view of my life -- and the world -- through a spiritual lens
which gives me the broadest possible context,
which then reveals the abundance,
and the recovery
in my life.
In all our lives.
On good days, I'm often there.
On less good days, at least I know where I want to be, so it gives me something to aim for.
On actual bad days, I act as if I'm there and it gets me through. (And sometimes even changes the bad day to a less good day. Or even, once in a great while, an actual good day.)
My sober odometer is about to roll over. (Soberdometer? Nah. Too clumsy.)
Today, July 17, 2015, I am 9,999 days sober. (There's an app. on my phone that tallies it all up. What, you thought I had a stack of calendars and a calculator? Child, please.)
But as anyone with some time sober will tell you, "Time is not a tool."
(Or that other chestnut: "I am not my time.")
Because although I'm 9,999 days sober (and to be fair, that is a loooong time between cocktails) all I have is today.
When I was newly sober and counting days (five... thirteen... thirty - chip! - forty-two...fifty-seven... sixty - chip!...) and people would say that "I only have today" stuff I usually thought, "Yeah, easy for you to say, you've got blankety-blank time sober and your life is looking pretty good." or "They're just saying that so the new people don't feel bad. Inside I bet they are crowing. Crowing!"
And maybe they were. Maybe that was true for them. I can't say (but I doubt it about the crowing).
In my experience, as the days accrue, not quite unnoticed but eventually not greatly noted (like loose change in a jar or all those days in the middle of February) the solidity of AA recovery and the fragility of sobriety become equally apparent.
All those days (it was too weird to type "all those thousands of days" and consider I'm talking about myself) don't mean shit if I don't still, today, do what I did (well I guess now I have to say it) thousands of days ago.
You don't stay clean on yesterday's shower.
You don't stay fit on last month's workout. (This one is a theory-based example for me. I would have had to have worked out last month to be able to write it with real integrity.)
I don't stay sober today on what I did when I was 4,999 days sober, unless I am doing today what I did when I was 4,999 days sober. (Or whatever day. Pick a number.)
Balancing that is the obvious truth that (obviously) the last thirty days of my sobriety are in many ways a substantively different experience than the first thirty days of my sobriety. With practice anyone can become fairly fluent in anything.
With enough utilization of the spiritual toolkit AA lays at our feet a selfish, self-centered, self-deluded and self-destructive Pinocchio of an alcoholic can actually become a real live sober boy.
But there is no way in hell this puppet, so tied by the strings of my addiction to alcohol and drugs (wow, that metaphor really took off for me once I threw it out there in that last sentence. Nice!) could have any kind of grace or sobriety or recovery at all without the help of the great extended 12 Step family accessed through going to AA meetings.
I do not believe I would be sober and happy (and grateful -- which is pretty much Happiness's somewhat quieter twin sister) without AA's 12 Steps and suggestions for living.
I'm probably supposed to thank God for my sobriety as well -- and I do, sincerely -- but God's always worked on me most directly through other people, and so I know that I absolutely would be a far poorer example of a sober man without the sponsors I've had along the way: Roger C., John P., Linda B., Michael S., Robert K.... and most importantly, John S., whose fingerprints are all over my Program and the memory of whom can make me either chuckle or choke up with very little provocation -- and whose wise counsel I still miss every single day. The time and experience and love and guidance and patience (oh dear God, the patience those people had with me) still serves to humble and inspire me.
And there is no doubt at all in my mind, as I am as predisposed to self obsession as any alcoholic (I might tentatively suggest perhaps even more predisposed than most, but then I can easily imagine John S. laughing at the ego and grandiosity of such a statement) that without the people who have allowed me the privilege of sponsoring them I would absolutely not be here and sober today.
Milestones -- big and public or small and private -- prompt in me reflection made up of both comparisons and sentimentality.
So with both in my heart (but no crowing. Honest.) I will watch the odometer roll over and be profoundly grateful to have had those sober days. I sure as hell wouldn't want to repeat some of them, but I sure as hell really am truly grateful for every single one of them.
And most especially of course, coming full circle -- cliche but it couldn't be more true -- I'm grateful for today.
If you are alcoholic, struggling in any way, remember: All you have to do is not pick up the first drink, no matter what. And then, if by the time your head hits the pillow you haven't had a drink, or a drug, or tried to kill yourself, then YOU WIN, and the rest of that shit -- whatever is torturing you right now (which is really just your alcoholism working on you, but more on that another time) -- will just have to work itself out till tomorrow. Today, just for today, I don't pick up the first drink.
I did that, just for today, 9,999 times, yes.
But one of the Great Truths of AA is that if I can do it for just ONE day, then so
Just walked in the door, got the cats fed and sat down to write this.
Spoke at a meeting a zip code or two over from where I live. While I suppose it's a nice way to wrap up a three-day weekend -- which already had more than my usual dose of all things 12 Step -- I've been speaking a lot lately and feel a little burned out.
(Miss Bobbie B., a powerful presence in my first few years of sobriety, and a gal who spoke all over the country for a while, used to talk about feeling a little empty after speaking so much, but that it wasn't for her to judge the requests -- "baby, that's just my ego talking" -- she said it was for her to say yes when asked and turn the rest of it over. I still follow her counsel to this day, lo these many years since her passing.)
But although I said yes, as per Miss Bobbie's suggested commitment to AA, I can't say I was especially eager. An evening in was what I would have preferred.
The meeting was nice, held in what appeared to be a cozy private library in one wing of a sprawling, Mission Style church, complete with a tiled courtyard, several fountains, saintly statuary and plantings which seemed both random and cultivated. The format was a Big Book study. Read for five minutes from wherever they are in the book, then the speaker shares for 15 minutes. The church was really quite beautiful, the landscaping in bloom, and the fountains serenely gurgling away around the courtyard. Big french doors with thick, beveled glass framed the scene as I looked out from my chair at the front of the room. It was so picturesque I could easily imagine Mother Teresa or Jane Austen -- or, given the Mission flavor to the architecture, maybe Zorro -- strolling past the fountain beyond.
Before the meeting started I went to the restroom to both use it, splash a little water on my face and say a prayer before I spoke, as was my habit. Ablutions and supplications accomplished I exited the bathroom. A woman was waiting to use it next -- it was a one-at-a-time either-gender sort of bathroom.
"Is it safe to go in?" she asked.
"As safe as it will ever be, I suppose." I answered.
"Did you poop?"
I blinked hard for a moment, but that was my only Tell. "Nope."
"Are you the speaker?"
"Yep." I was getting a sense that this gal, who was somewhat older -- which means she was roughly my age, I suppose -- very colorfully dressed in prints that, if you squinted, sort of went together, and make-up that I will charitably suggest was hastily applied -- was one of the interesting "characters" you often find at any AA meeting, regardless of zip code. My personal goal is to resist the urge to do a low-grade shun with these folks and aim for a sincere respect or warmth when talking with them, rather than that one-foot-out-the-door surface courtesy they are (understandably) met with sometimes.
"Do you live near here?" Each question came quickly on the heels of whatever answer I offered.
"Fairly close by. But this is my first time at this meeting." I was willing to answer her questions, assuming that, since she had been waiting to use the restroom her bladder would wrap this up for me before I felt the need to excuse myself. But that didn't mean I would passively suffer being peppered with questions, either. "Do you live near here?" I returned her question to her.
"Oh..." she waved in a direction and named a street. "Over along there."
"That's nice." I said.
"Are you a hairdresser?" She asked me.
I blinked again, then gave her a smile. "No." I said.
"Oh. It's just that... your hair..."
Ladies and gentlemen out there in blog land, I should probably say here that my haircut is nothing special, nor am I sporting any unusual colors or accessories, no excess of product; neither a cutting edge style nor a bold new trend is in evidence. While I did come of age in the '80's, my Flock of Seagulls hair remains far in the past, when the Gulls themselves were actually on the charts, which made her question all the more comical to me. I let her try and find her way back from this interrogational cul de sac she raced down. Wacky or not, she dug the hole, I wasn't going to help. But I was going to take some mild enjoyment watching her try and figure a way out. Her strategy was to try a new tack. "What do you do?"
This had never been a conversation. Enough was enough, I thought. "So many questions, one right after the other! You should be a reporter! Are you a reporter?"
"I think I'm going to go in to the meeting. See you in there!" and off I went, thinking that while she had the usual boundary issues many of our more kooky members display, she at least was blessed with a cast iron bladder.
The meeting was very nice. A monied crowd, so their problems were, while real problems, of the slightly more self indulgent bent of people who don't have to worry about making ends meet. When the share starts with, "So I was sitting in my hot tub, thinking about buying cocaine..." it's generally at a meeting where the survival issues are strictly related to addiction, and not to things like rent and bills. Financial struggle -- while more common than ever -- is not ennobling; nor does having money mean your struggles with addiction are any less deadly. In fact sometimes money makes it harder to get or stay sober. Addiction, like any other disease, is no respecter of class or cash. If you die of an overdose it really and truly doesn't matter if your corpse lies there cooling on dirty linoleum or Italian marble.
I spoke. It was what it was. The sharing was nice, if brief. The format was that everyone got to share for one minute. I feel like I've been to a lot of those meetings lately. No doubt some enterprising, recovering speed addict will come up with a meeting where the shares are 45 seconds, which will engender some kind of temporal arms race, until we finally arrive at a format in which we all go around the room and select one word which reflects our experience strength and hope for the night. The Five Second Share. Coming soon to a meeting near you.
It was early enough, and nice enough out, that I decided to walk home. I knew from looking at the Mapquest when figuring out how to get there (thanks, Uber!) that it was just a hair under two miles, and monied AA crowds tend to have their meetings in monied municipalities, so I knew the walk would be through city gardens which at one point would include actual rose bushes to stop and smell.
I was perhaps three short blocks and one gentle hill from my front door when I heard my name called from the shadows across the street.
"Mr. SponsorPants!" it was said (obviously my name, and not my monicker) with such a hiss that at first I thought it was someone's lawn sprinklers turning on.
Then again: "Mr SponsorPants! It's me!"
I know a lot of people. "Me" doesn't really narrow it down much.
They stepped into the light.
"Oh," I thought. "It's you." Forgive me, my friends. It's been a long weekend. I suppressed a sigh. "Hey there. Are you...?"
They stepped further into the light and I decide "Are you okay?" was a pointless question.
"I'm so glad I ran into you!"
What followed was the circular thinking and rapid emotional flickering of someone on Crystal Methamphetamine. Tears. Laughter. Voices. A deceptive moment which appeared to be rational, then back to Tears, etc. He spent a good amount of time complaining about the kind of help people were offering him. I did not waste my breath to point out how fucked up that is. Tears Laughter Voices a flicker of rationality and then back to Tears.
All I ever do when I deal with someone high or drunk or just generally out of their mind (my life is exciting!) is to pick one suggestion and then broken record it. It's only a fifty/fifty chance it will penetrate, or that if it does they will act on it, but at least it saves me from pointlessly trying to engage with someone who is unable to engage back.
"I think you should probably go home." "It's a good idea for you to go home." "You'll be safer if you go home." "Go home and get off the street." And this, the one that hurt: "Do you want me to walk you home?" Say no. Say no. Please say no, I thought with weary guilt.
"Do you think I should go home?"
"Yes. I think you should go home."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going home. I think you should go home."
Tears laughter insanity for another ten minutes.
"Okay. I'm going to go home."
"Good idea. Are you okay to...?"
"Thank God I ran into you. I was always jealous of you, you know. When you got that little job at that restaurant. Why don't I get a little job like that I thought? Why not give up [insert glamorous career here] and just have a simple, small life like that?"
I nodded. None of this fazed me. Whatever I feel or fear about my path in life, I sure as hell wouldn't trade it with him for his. I was low on patience, that's true, but not on compassion, I think. I felt nothing but sadness for his exhausting relapse cycle.
"You should go home." I said.
"I'm going home." he said.
"Here. Which way are you going? I'll get you started..." I knew generally the direction and started walking, hoping to sort of get him moving in my wake.
"Hey," he said. "Did you get a haircut?"
Exasperated, I stared in the general direction of the heavens -- sometimes I hope there's a God just because I need someone else to be in on the joke. What the hell was it with crazy people and my hair tonight?
He started to follow along a step behind me, and I chuckled all the way to his front door. And then felt nothing but weary gratitude for my life and my sobriety all the way home to mine.
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 via Amazon.
the most challenging,
are the ones we hold
they're so much more than
woulda coulda shoulda.
they're a deep,
of long held behaviors,
and deeply grooved
(sometimes quite accurately)
ways in which we are not
(because somewhere inside
is still the belief that we should
always always be
strong, sound and capable.
what kind of inventory
can we write, when we
my part IS
what I resent...
first, we must remember that
just because we think we
know whatever it is we
think we know,
doesn't mean we know very much.
putting pen to paper has never,
failed to reveal some new insight
or offer fresh perspective.
(especially if I remove my
spiritual dirty diaper
and approach the page with as
open a mind as I'm able.)
then I try hard
to remember that
I am no less deserving of
forgiveness than anyone.
(and then I shut down the
part of me which shouts
"stop making excuses!"
after all, what am I supposedly
making excuses for?
being flawed? being human?
I am and I am
self examination is
not about self
abuse. its objective is not merely
to find more ammo for the
(you think your hybrid gets good mileage?
you should check under the hood of that baby.
runs forever on just a few drops of
self-centered fear and
which reminds me,
the solution is the same,
whether I resent you,
me, or conjured fantasies and
(since I'm as likely to resent things that have never
and probably will never
happen as I am to resent anyone or
the solution is
service and gratitude and
(often contrary action)
and whether I
"feel like it" or not
makes absolutely not
to its effectiveness.
willingness does not mean
wallow or recover.
grow or go.
same old choice, really,
to go with my
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 via Amazon.