Half way into the meeting, sitting in the back, he raised his hand and got called on to share.
I'd seen him at lots of meetings over the past months.
Nice fellow I thought, but quiet.
He began to speak, and it was a wrenching thing to listen to. The facts as he laid them out were tough. He was no kid, and he was trying like hell to stay sober, but the work wasn't there and he was living in his truck, pretty much hanging onto sobriety, self respect and faith by a thread. He didn't even have the change to do laundry anymore. It wasn't laid out with any expectation or angle (there's nothing like a group of AA's listening to a share to pick up on those... after all, we've pretty much played 'em all ourselves). It was just a guy trying to stay sober, having a damned hard time of it literally and spiritually.
He finished saying his piece, and the meeting went on, as AA meetings do, and much good was said overall.
Afterwords, standing in line to thank the speaker, by chance I found myself behind my Great Spiritual Teacher, he whom I've written about before, and who has occasioned me so many, many, many wonderful chances to pray and grow.
And in line in front of my GST was the fellow of the wrenching share.
This is a crowded meeting, and though we were in line there were a lot of people milling about, talking, putting away folding chairs... all the activity made it so that no one was paying any particular attention to us. Standing there quietly I watched as, without fanfare, my Great Spiritual Teacher removed several bills of a good denomination from his wallet, rolled them up and slipped them into the pocket of the guy who was having such a terrible time.
With a start GST realized I was behind him, and that I had seen him do this. He gave me what I can only describe as a sour frown. The line moved forward and the moment passed.
It's okay. I don't think I'll ever need to pray for him again. I believe that lesson is now, in the best sense of the word, complete.
I had a whole different post planned to write.
And I would rather have done that -- answered a question via email -- than talk about the rude insight I had just a little while ago. But much like the Princess and the Pea, as I sat at my computer, fingers on the keyboard, no matter how I tried I just couldn't get comfortable. That little pea of truth, as unattractive as it was and uncomfortable as it felt, wanted out. I think to have written an answer to a question tonight would have been hiding behind dispensing my experience as a balm to my ego.
This is a bit of a leap, but it's got the same flavor to it as the reasoning above: When I speak at meetings, I usually don't say how much time I have sober. Now, there is nothing wrong with saying how much time you have, and certainly I'm blessed to live in a place where many people with a good amount of time participate in meetings regularly, so it's not as though I'm always the biggest dog in the room every time I speak (though sometimes I am -- which really means nothing in and of itself too, as you know -- just context). But I've noticed that, when I have the impulse to roll out the number of years, it's because I'm uncomfortable in the moment. In other words, my impulse does not come from a place of service, it comes from a place of fear. And ego. I'm trying to compensate for some perceived lack, some imagined slight, some projected judgment from someone(s) in the room by saying something like, "in my XX years sober... ." To do it like that would be an attempt to add gravity to my persona, to artificially pump myself up with an allusion to a false hierarchy. Not only would that would be wrong, it would undermine any sense of authenticity I have in myself.
For a long time in sobriety it does not matter why you do something, it matters much more what you do. But eventually that changes -- and by that I do NOT mean that the why becomes more important than the what -- only that the why gets important in its own way, too.
Writing an Email Questions post right now would have been the same as rolling out my time sober at a meeting -- I'd have been doing it out of ego, as a way to compensate, not out of service and a desire to help. And try as I might, I just couldn't sit on that pea.
I was talking to a friend on the phone this evening -- we've known each other for many years, and he is sober a long time.
The conversation meandered some, as we hadn't caught up in a while. He mentioned a big meeting he used to go to, which prompted me to say, "Oh, I'm going to be speaking there this Monday." I went on to add how it was the first time I'd ever been asked to speak at a meeting via FaceBook, and how odd and funny that somehow felt.
So naturally then we chatted about FaceBook and speaking at meetings. Over the years he has heard my tired story many, many times.
On the topic of FB, I said, "I've seen some people put up little notices on their profiles, saying things like 'Hey, I'm speaking at such-and-such meeting, and it would be great if people showed up to support me.' I just don't get that. What the hell, right?"
"Well, you know," he said, "it's different for them than for you now."
"Yeah, but ... I don't get that. I mean..." I went on to rehash what I'd just said. Making a little speech about it I fear.
The conversation moved on, we talked about lots of other things, had some laughs, and committed to doing a better job of keeping up and maybe going to a meeting together and grabbing a bite some time soon.
After the call ended, I had that feeling I've come to know so well. That little *ping* on my recovery radar, which usually precedes a few butterflies as I connect some dots to form a picture I'd rather not look at.
I suddenly had an uncomfortably clear memory of my making that same little speech about asking people to "come and support you when you're speaking at a meeting" more than once -- and how it was colored with varying degrees of superiority and disdain. I could see myself clearly, in fact, doing that with a few sponsees.
I realized that when I was making that observation it wasn't about "not getting it" at all. It was a subtle trumpeting about how I was so above that. It was really about my telling people that I was so different, so evolved, so much better than that behavior. Making sure I looked like a tough cookie, so experienced, yet so humble. (I would give a lot not to have typed that. But it's the truth.)
It was pure ego on my part.
It was the worst kind of grandstanding -- a speech about other people's behavior as a gambit to underscore something "special" about myself.
As crude in its way as asking people, "Does this shirt make me look fat?" knowing perfectly well it doesn't, but only so that people will tell you how thin you look. (A metaphor in my case, believe me).
There is always more to learn about how to be more truthful with myself and more authentic with others.
There is always more to see when it comes to the threads of ego which are woven throughout some exchanges I have, and the subtle posturing I am capable of.
There is always more work to do.
Man, I sure hope this one comes out right.
Recently I ran into someone I used to work with.
We were standing on the sidewalk chatting, playing a bit of catch up, a little bit of "have you heard from so-and-so" (Facebook fills that space for a lot of people, and in running into this gal what we discovered, as we talked, was that "Friending" each other on FB gave us a good framework to fill in, rather than replace our need to catch up in person -- so much, once again, for the evils of the internet age -- that's not a plug, by the way. I come woefully late to the Facebook party -- it's just an observation. I actually only reluctantly joined FB because a sibling badgered me into starting a Mr. SponsorPants Facebook page -- which I did for a day but then took down and haven't remade. But I digress...).
A guy I know from AA came along, and stopped to say hello to me. I introduced my friend from our former job to my AA friend. "This is ______, " I said. "We used to work together."
"Actually," my former work friend said, "Mr. SponsorPants here used to manage me."
The conversation went on, and my AA friend went his merry way.
Work Friend and I chatted a bit more. Out of the blue she said, "You know, that's funny. I remember at [place we used to work], when we would go out to lunch or something and we ran into someone you knew, you used to do the same thing." (If you go to a lot of meetings and you go out locally sometimes you look like the mayor for all the AA peeps you run into. Well, the mayor or a slut.)
"What same thing?" I asked, totally not following her.
"You always said 'we worked together.'"
"Yeah. I said that we worked together because we worked together." I laughed.
"No," she went on, "you never said 'She works for me' or 'I was her manager.' You always said it like that -- that we 'worked together.'"
"Well we did. I mean ... " the point was so odd to me, I didn't really know what to do with it, so I just trailed off.
We talked a little more, made noises about meeting for coffee, I'm sure both of us thinking that would be nice and each of us assuming that life was busy and full and it was a lovely idea that likely wouldn't come together. With a hug and a wave we went our separate ways -- she with my book recommendation and I with her movie suggestion.
It wasn't until later my thoughts drifted back to what she said. I don't think it's a big deal, but I realized that for some people it might have been -- asserting their position might have been something they did really without much thought. But ... it just wasn't important to me.
I'm not saying that it is a good thing or a bad thing -- as I type this I'm not at all sure that I'm expressing myself very well about this. I'm not making any kind of value judgment about how other people might have done it -- but as an observation it's been nibbling at me all night.
AA literature makes the excellent point -- somewhere in the 12&12 I think -- that "humility has a bad time of it in this world." (Evil Old Cat is asleep on my shoulder as I write this, and it would take a braver man than I to wake her so that I could get up and go grab my 12&12 to give you a page number -- sorry).
When I was new to AA, I thought humility meant keeping yourself down -- and that you weren't allowed to say anything "good" about yourself -- actually I thought the game was to get other people to say something good about you -- thereby turning almost every exchange into a minefield of passive-aggressive, self-deprecating manipulation. Then if other people did say something good about you, you had to dismiss it. "Oh no, no ... it's nothing." Man, that is all so convoluted and (sorry) fucked up. (Really, the depth of dysfunction there requires I express it thusly: SO fucked up).
Elsewhere, in the 12&12 it says that "another word for humility is perspective." For me it's all about right sizing -- not falsely diminishing myself, not needing to inflate myself.
Along the way to actually living this, what is important to me and how I need to identify myself has changed profoundly.
Sure, if you're an AA doubter you might credit some of that with just plain old getting older -- and you're right, that's undoubtedly a part of it.
But the way I am wired and how I relate with people has undergone a much more dramatic evolution than merely logging time on the planet.
AA has not just given me sobriety -- first and foremost, it is about not picking up a drink -- but it's given me ...
I'm having a helluva time writing this.
I keep trying not to write, "AA has given me some degree of humility" since actually writing that seems somewhat lacking in humility -- or is that just my fear of how it will be read.
Right-sized, Mr. SponsorPants. Not inflating and not diminishing -- <sigh> how dreadful to, as I write this, in real time, have to walk my talk.
I guess what my friend from work said made me realize that AA has given me a sense of humility, and it feels right -- it's a good and comfortable thing today.
Yeah, this one was weird to write.
It has been my experience (my painful, embarrassing, experience, actually) whenever I am in that place again, that my real problem is twofold:
The first is that I am looking at the result and not the process. In other words, it is easy to want to have money in the bank, but where I need to ask for HP's help is in spending differently. It is easy to want to get to work on time, but the focus should be on the willingness to go to sleep at a decent hour and get up at a realistic time to actually get ready and go. It's easy to want a different body, it's hard to be willing to eat differently or become disciplined about exercise.
My character defect is really not in the result, i.e. the bank balance, the tardiness or the numbers on the scale ... my character defect is to be found somewhere in the process.
The second thing -- and somehow I have found that although, logically, it doesn't appear related to the above, it actually is in powerful and unfathomable ways (cue spooky music) -- if I'm applying the principles and ideas from the 12 Steps to these things, the main point of the 7th Step (which, for the new kids, is "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.") is about humility -- not the shortcomings. Not the defects.
I need a constant reminder of this, since, in certain areas I keep trying to make it about the problem, and not about a spiritual solution -- which I reach via humility.
Frankly, on some days it seems like this whole deal would be a lot easier if we could just scrap this "humility" thing altogether.
But apparently, some people have tried that.
From what I understand, they can be found down at the bar.
Do you know what happens when you stop people pleasing?
People are not pleased.You're going off script, you're breaking out of your box (the box you built, by the way), you're changing the rules you've worked hard to set up -- and people may not like it.
One of the great truths I heard early on in an AA meeting was this: "We teach people how to treat us."
Damn this AA and its insufferable insistence upon me taking responsibility!
A tough question I've had to ask myself -- and some sponsees -- is, "Can you live in a world in which people are not pleased with you?" It sounds so stupid, so small, so weak and silly, when put baldly like that, written out in black and white. But for some people in recovery, answering that question with a "yes" is a serious and (pun intended) sobering turning point.
As always, the surprise ingredient in letting go of character defects such as this is humility -- sure, sure, courage, honesty, willingness ... all important. But it's humility, as described so beautifully in the Chapter on the Seventh Step in the book "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" (AA's "12 & 12") which seems to facilitate real and lasting change in alcoholics.
Wish it came naturally. <sigh>
Mr. SponsorPants: God?
Mr. SP: Why is it that, despite how horrifically we crash and burn, the alcoholic ego grows back so quickly?
GOD: Oh, that's easy, Mr. SponsorPants. It's because alcoholics are full of so much fertilizer.
Mr. SP: Oh.
GOD: And by "fertilizer" I mean ...
Mr. SP: Yeah. Got it. Thanks.
Spiritual arrogance is a subtle and slippery (pun intended) foe.
Embracing things that make it hard to indulge that can be the best possible habit to develop as the days become months become years.
And as with so much of what AA has taught me about spiritual growth and remaining right-sized, I find it is not in the thinking, but in the doing.Thus, if you want to walk on water...
mop the floor.
It's funny what you learn and how you learn it.
Well, it's not always funny -- and by funny I mean strange, not ha-ha.
In retrospect I guess there's nothing funny-strange about this at all -- it's just my ego, yet again.
I've tried to write this three or four times since I wrote Part 1, but it always came out much snarkier than I intended. But then I got it: That's what I needed to see in all this. The bits of snark hiding in the corners, like crappy emotional dustbunnies.
You see, it turns out that this rehab which may (or may not) go in on my street -- so laughably close to my front door that it's hard not to see a cosmic punchline somewhere in the offing -- is what would generally be referred to as "high end."
Very high end.
"Luxury concierge accommodations for people willing to pay $28,000 a month (doctors are billed separately) ..."
According to the owner/founder of the rehab it would "cater to Fortune 500 CEO's, Major League Baseball and Soccer Players and entertainers. Ten percent (two) of our beds would be committed to 'community use' for low/no cost patients, but we'll screen them carefully to fit in with our clientele."
Yeah, I know. Me too.
I had thought I would be describing the process of finding out about the rehab, and maybe whatever then passed between myself and my neighbor who seems so opposed to its placement here on our street. I'd wondered if the situation was going to turn out to be a little amusing, and I might have fun sharing it here -- not at her expense -- just the irony of the larger dynamic -- what with me being a big AA booster and her apparent attitudes (not unwarranted, I hasten to add) about addicts in general.
But instead of humor, I found my own snark. I found my AA arrogance. And of course, my familiar friend, ego.
You know, for the longest time in early sobriety I never thought I played God -- I thought "playing God" meant you were some kind of know-it-all bully-type. (And I'm too wiley for that -- I'm the passive/aggressive low-self-esteem charming bully-type, who grinds you down with courtesy and kindness. Death by butter knife.) But it is playing God to think that I know how things should be for people. It is playing God to assume -- albeit not always with a side order of snark, sometimes with the best of intentions -- that my way of getting sober is in any way morally superior or more effective than a method which costs $28,000 per month.
Because the fact is, I don't know. (Some people only value information they have to pay dearly for, after all.)
Turns out that in trying to write Part 2 of this I saw that my initial reaction to what I learned about the proposed rehab was dripping with reverse-snobbery, and a good sized dollop of God-playing snark underneath it.
If my own financial roller coaster and checkered job history has taught me anything, it's that poverty is not ennobling, and money is not degrading. Sure, poverty can put you in survival mode, and it's hard not to succumb to fear when you're there. And money can prey on ego, and engender its own kind of fear (in my experience the fear of not getting what you think you need is a dull throbbing ache, but the fear of losing what you've got is a sharp, acute, stabby kind of thing.) It's cheap sentiment, populism and reverse snobbery to make the leap that just because someone can and does spend a lot of money to go to rehab that they are ... foolish? Misguided? Spoiled? Grandiose? Wasting their money?
None of those things are true.
Some of those things may be true. But I am not an authority on what works for other people -- I must remember that the only thing I can be sure of is what works for me.
It is embarrassing to write here, but my initial reaction to a $28,000 per month rehab had all the sophistication of an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies": "Garsh, Jethro, those city folks shure are high steppin when they go to dry out!"
Sure, I'm being a little hard on myself. You could make the case that something which appeals to elitism may not be very helpful in dealing with the commonly agreed-upon profile of an addict, which includes a propensity for grandiosity and a generally high level of self-involvement. (And playing the victim! Let's not forget the victim stuff! Oh, and the entitlement!) Having the concierge swing by the dry cleaners before you go into Group is not a treatment strategy I'm familiar with, I grant you, and the questions it immediately raises for me are worthy of consideration.
But it's not for me to say. No, really. That is not a posture I'm striking. If I'm going to be open and available to newcomers, if I'm going to be open to new ideas, and not be rigid or close-minded, I must guard against playing God, and watch for arrogance in all things recovery-related.
AA is one way of getting sober. The 12 Step world has been an amazing, healing experience for me, and for a lot of people I know.
And certainly lots of people try lots of things -- potentially including the Fortune 500 rock-star style rehab -- before they are willing to try AA -- if they're ever willing to.
What I learned from this (so far -- more will be revealed, as the expression goes) is how subtle -- but hopefully not pervasive -- my arrogance can be on certain topics. How easily my affection for and loyalty to AA alchemizes into something which serves no one -- not the newcomer and not me.
AA is a program of attraction, not promotion. Thinking that we're the only and the bestest way to get sober is probably not very attractive.
It is the best way for me, yes. But again, that's the only part of this I can be certain of.
Ah, nothing like an uncomfortable recognition of my character defects and the humbling phasers set to stun as I start the week.