When the world says, "Give up,"
Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."
Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops... at all.
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.
When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you're slamming the door in the face of God.
~Charles L. Allen
Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.
AA does not suggest I am kind to the unkind, or honest to people who lie to me, or any variation of "practicing these principles in all our affairs" so that I am a good person, or for any inherently moral reason. AA makes that suggestion because when I am not soaking my brain in consciousness numbing chemicals I cannot live comfortably in my skin when I indulge in sick or fear-based behaviors. To put it more simply, my head gets really noisy when I lie and act like an ass to people, even when they (seem to) deserve it. And then putting energy into not having a noisy head by saying to myself "I don't care" when in fact, I do (and if I didn't I wouldn't have to spend energy convincing myself that I don't) -- is stupid and exhausting and ultimately is harder to live with than just working at being kind and honest to begin with.
There is simply no substitute for the "unshakable foundation" that writing, prayer and meditation provide.
Time sober is not a tool for remaining sober. The best analogy for that is the realization that I can't build muscle today on last month's weight lifting. Working out diligently over time will change your body, yes. But if you stop working out then the results of all you did in the past will likely, eventually fade. The same is true of the spiritual transformation engendered by maintaining physical sobriety and working the 12 Steps. The quality of my recovery today is based on what I do today. Not on what I did last month or twenty years ago.
For many of us, we instantly believe whatever negative thing anyone says about us is true.
And for many of us, no one says anything half as mean or negative to us as we do to ourselves.
I cannot think or feel my way into healthy actions. It is by taking healthy actions that I change for the better how I think and feel. And so it follows, to develop self esteem one must do self esteeming things. Ironically, most alcoholics at first believe this means we need to be nicer to ourselves. The great cosmic punch line is that what it actually means is that we need to be nicer to others.
I want to "yes, but..." this
except I suspect
it is even more true than I currently am able to understand and/or believe.
In sobriety I find that (for me)
I must be open to this kind of philosophy
if I am to have a living faith in the transformative power of both a higher power and myself.
Right sized, and in balance, I need each of those to face the day
A wonderful weekend of AA and Alanon speakers, meetings and workshops at the Convention (or Roundup, depending on what part of the country you're in) I was lucky enough to go to this weekend.
Much like a gust of wind to a becalmed sailboat, the Roundup was a true boost to my somewhat flagging spirits. If you've never been to one I urge you to go. The speakers generally have a great message, and the workshops provide special focus to things every person in recovery should be mindful of. This convention was especially warm and charming and full of energy, sobriety and affection, and I am deeply grateful I had the opportunity to attend and participate.
Something I thought about on the plane home (and I didn't get patted down by TSA at either end of my journey -- is it wrong to feel slightly rejected by that?):
So often, even in sobriety, it can be negative energy which prompts us to action. The fear, the resentment, push/pulling us out of our complacency and into forward motion. It's not for nothing the expression is: "Pain is the touchstone of our spiritual growth."
But sitting on the plane (I can still buckle an airplane seatbelt without doing severe injury to internal organs, so there's that, too!), looking out the little window at the clouds and turning the Convention over in my mind -- savoring the various recollections of a weekend spent with a community of sober alcoholics, addicts and alanons coming together in love and service -- I felt reinvigorated and it really struck me that if we remember to open ourselves to it, the positive energy can be as motivating, as much a call to action as the negative.
So if you'll forgive the brush with grandiosity it is for me to amend a classic quotation (just a brush, Mr. SponsorPants? My, you are doing better!):
Pain is the touchstone of our spiritual growth. Yes. But not pain alone.
Love too can call our spirits to rise and flourish and move forward with real purpose on our path;
in short, Love is an equal touchstone to our spiritual growth in recovery.
And if that sounds like pap, like treacle, to you... well, maybe it is.
Or maybe you're just afraid to believe in good things because it's safer to stay in the comfortable, stagnant, boring land of sarcasm and faux sophistication and hide behind the mask of cooler-than-you. "Cooler-than-you" is at heart a child's evasion. You might want to look at that. There is courage in being willing to embrace a message of positivity and hope. There is courage in being willing to be mocked or minimized for that -- even if the mocking and minimizing is mostly in your own head. (And could that be your alcoholism talking? Using a pitch-perfect impersonation of the voice-in-your-head which will most intimidate you, to keep you from raising your eyes to the next great place of healing for you to achieve?)
Be brave, and keep the faith in good things.
And sometimes, when I write these blog posts -- these strange messages from (sometimes) my ego, (sometimes) my experience, and (often) my heart -- it feels like I'm just sitting talking with all of you, and you're sitting right next to me with a cup of tea, your shoes off and your feet tucked up under you on the sofa. Just me blabbing to you -- as much mess as message. This is one of those, I'm afraid.
I'm doing a poor job of mult-tasking. Writing while noodling around on iTunes (somehow all my music got sucked up into the cloud, along with my playlists, which of course I never bothered to back up -- do it now? when I can do it later? Please! I imagine my music up there in the cloud, bumping into everyone else's music, and at first feeling shy and self conscious but then remembering, "Hey! We are great!" and standing up tall. Wow. Project much SP?) Anyone who saw all my music in one group would be... puzzled. There's eclectic and then there's multiple personality disorder. Given that scale, when we talk about "the committee" in our heads in AA, it seems like each of mine has their own personal iTunes shopping experience.
I'm also randomly jotting down a list of things not to forget -- packing for a road trip this weekend. Heading out to an AA Convention and man, do I need one right now. So far my list includes "Phone charger cord. Almonds. Blazer."
I told you I was doing a poor job of multi-tasking. Real grown-ups make organized lists and not random stream-of-consciousness scribbles on the back of an envelope for Christ's sake! Ah well, unmasked once again -- if there's such a thing as a real grown up I. Ain't. It.
Part of why the break is such a welcome relief is that there have been some changes at work I haven't had time to write about here. (I've barely had time to write here period, let alone get all personal and chatty about my fear -- why is it always fear? <sigh> -- and daily challenges on the job.) They've moved me to a different restaurant from the cozy one I started at. Lest you think this is some sort of endorsement on their part, I'm afraid it's more akin to a battlefield promotion. Someone quit, then someone else quit... if my bosses are like the little boy sticking his fingers in the dyke to stem the flood, then I, dear readers, am one of the fingers gettin' stuck.
Much (much) busier. Much harder. A much younger crew. I say this without (too much) exaggeration: I come home from work sometimes and think "this job is actually shaving years off my life."
Boo hoo, poor me.
Never fear. AA works. Some days I'm grateful -- I just wake up that way with my head on straight.
Some days I have to get to grateful -- and it's like starting a car on a cold winter's morning. Takes a couple turns of the ignition key and a little "rrrr...rrrr...rrrr" before it starts up. And even then you have to sit and let it idle some.
And some days... some days it's like that thing that fell on the floor and rolled under the sofa and you lay down on the rug and sneeze at all the dust bunnies you discover and stretch your arm all the way out and fish around and you can only just brush it with your finger tips and then the very act of doing so seems to push it that little bit farther away and out of reach and your head space is simply crap all day.
Since I've had a few more of those last types of mornings lately than I care to confess, even with all the damn writing and praying and sponsees and blah blah blah, a weekend of AA out of town is (possibly) quite literally a life-saving prescription from Dr. God. (who, by the way, does take all kinds of insurance, but the lab work is still killer and covered under a different plan.)
"Arrange someone to check on cats" goes on the list.
"Kindle" on the list.
The new restaurant -- and the drama around this which isn't entirely in my head -- has prompted a fresh round of spiritual examination, too. Seems to be God's will that some people are cashiers at Walmart. Or cooks in my kitchen (which is hot, hard work. I'm a really nice boss, but it is still really hot, hard work). What if you don't like God's will for you? You can do the footwork right? But what if
Wait. STOP. Now you see why a weekend of AA for me can be filed under "potentially life saving." The "What if's" are about as useless as the "Why's" when it comes to God and God's will. Accept or skewer yourself on the kabob of your famously, redundantly, riotous self-will. Or shut up and do the footwork and (as always, damnit) stay out of the result. (Aargh! I literally want to scream at that sometimes.)
"Kindle Charger" on the list.
"Comb. Chapstick." Wait, is that one of those can't-take-with-you things for airplanes now? I've been able to avoid flying for quite a while. Oh well, if they need to confiscate my chapstick they're welcome to it.
And I have a new boss. Which is another whole post for another whole day, I assure you. Suffice to say that he has, so far, not proven to be a huge fan of the Mr. SponsorPants Experience. And sometimes that is in your head, and sometimes it isn't. This... isn't.
Boo hoo, poor me. Did you know there are children in Africa who have so many flies around their eyes that from a distance they appear to be wearing glasses? (Multi-tasking! I'm also watching an interview with a former President who does a lot of wonderful charity work around the world. He's talking about the more than two million latrines they've dug in the sub-sahara regions, transforming whole villages' hygiene almost overnight. And I am whining about my boss who might not like me as much as I want him to. Jesus.) Perspective SP? BUT... perspective is good -- IMPORTANT -- but my life is my life and my problems are MY problems and I'm the one who needs to do something about it. What's that part in the Big Book about the retired clergyman sighing about the sins of the 20th Century? Awareness of the world and the deplorable things sometimes found in it must not be used to completely undercut myself. That, too, is as out-of-balance as NO awareness of the world and a complete self-focus.
Oh man, some of this music is old, old drinking music. Music I listened to when sneaking out of the house, stealing my dad's car out of the garage and driving out into the night. Purchased in a nostalgic sweep of emotion, sometimes it takes me right back to being that sad boy on those mad nights of very bad freefall. Let's... let's skip listening to those this evening, shall we?
The new kids who work for me have divined so far that I don't drink, and that I am a man of a certain age with a suspicious amount of knowledge about old Broadway musicals, books, movies and television they've never heard of. I try not to judge, but at least once a day I tell them all they are woefully un-informed and that by having the poor judgement to be born as late as they were they missed... well, simply everything fun and interesting, and must now wander a barren pop landscape of "Real Housewives" and Little Heinie, or Baby Lulu -- or whatever that poor child with the tv show and the sugar addiction is called. They pause in whatever they're doing and look at me like rabbits, confused by the oncoming headlights of a strange and maybe dangerous car barreling towards them.
See? AA Weekend. Stat.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I've come to recognize I can't stop this alone, and there is a meeting every week at night at a church very near where I live. What do I do? Just walk in, sit down and listen? Is once a week enough to realize results? I'm nervous and scared of what to expect, but my current level of drinking is unsustainable. If I get up the courage to go, what should I expect?
Dear Starting Out,
I want you to imagine that you've never been in a bar, and you asked me to describe for you what it will be like when you walk in your first bar. I'd be able to say that generally, all bars have certain things in common. There's the actual, physical bar, which you can usually sit at and also is the place to order drinks. There may be tables with chairs, and/or a dance floor. There will certainly be a bartender, maybe more than one. Possibly servers, maybe some security. There could be live music, or a dj, or an old school jukebox. The patrons might be a diverse group or very similar, friendly or flirty or mostly keeping to themselves. Having maybe been to a bar or two in your life (wink!) you can easily see how the answer to such a question is, strangely, both general and specific.
The broadest answer to your question is a lot like the answer to my hypothetical example above. That is, almost all meetings have a few things in common. You can usually expect that there will be a focus to the meeting -- meaning, it might be a speaker/discussion, or a book study of some kind, or a meeting which examines the 12 Steps in some way. There's usually a written format, often a speaker, generally a secretary who helps organize things and, while responsible for helping the meeting to function is not actually in charge in the traditional sense. You may find seats arranged in a circle, or classroom style. Generally in my experience, regardless of the kind of meeting or the city I've been in, people are usually pretty friendly, and someone will probably introduce themselves to you, and ask your name. If you tell them this is your first meeting -- and I encourage you to be as honest as possible right from the start -- someone may offer you a meeting directory, or the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (what is usually referred to as our "Big Book), and may introduce you to people. If the meeting has readings you might be asked to read one -- or you might not. None of this is done to make you uncomfortable, but is more a practice of trying to make you feel welcome and "a part of" the group.
Given that there is a mental component to alcoholism which is constantly trying to talk us out of getting help for our disease, sometimes AA members with good intentions can come on a little strong to new people, mostly due to their own experiences with the struggle to get sober. These extra-enthusiastic folks might seem a bit intense, but I assure you that it is only because they know too well how serious addiction is. Based on your email, Starting Out, I can tell you have a glimmer of understanding about that. Conversely, it is also true that when we're new some of us are a little hypersensitive, and it's not that people are coming on too strong, it's that we're tender and adrift without a drink in our hands. Either way I pray you give the people in the meeting a chance. It might seem strange, there could be lingo which feels alien or hokey to your ears. Some people might talk about God (and you do NOT need to believe in God to make a start in Alcoholics Anonymous. You can remain on the fence about God -- or choose not to believe -- for as long as it is right for you -- which might mean many years, or you may not be troubled by this element. AA only suggests you find a Power Greater than yourself -- eventually to many of us that is God, but it's okay if that's not where you are with it.)
People usually identify when they speak; they usually say "I'm so-and-so, and I'm an alcoholic" and it is a general custom for people to respond, "Hi so-and-so." The roots of this are from the need for people to be honest with themselves about their condition and also to be friendly and help people feel welcome. You are not required to do anything you don't want to do, but the more you participate the more you might get out of the experience -- so don't be thrown by this, and if you're asked to introduce yourself you can say out loud that you're an alcoholic (if that's what you believe) or just say your name or say you're name and say that you're just here to listen.
Can you get results from going to AA once a week?
Well, let me ask you, can you get results from going to the gym once a week?
I would suggest that once a week is a little light when it comes to treating alcoholism. I can absolutely tell you my experience is that I needed a good number of meetings for a good long while to help me stay sober. My dead sponsor -- he who's wise counsel I miss every single day -- used to sqint through his cigarette smoke, sip his espresso and say to me, "Did you drink every day?" and I would be forced to answer, "Pretty much. Yeah." Then he would nod and say, "Then what's your [expletive] problem about going to a meeting every day?" It would have taken a better man than I to balk at his dire glare and dry tone.
Now, Starting Out, I hope the above helps you feel like you know what to expect, and thus makes it a little easier to walk through the door, but the simplest answer to your email is this:
Yes, just walk in, sit down, and listen. No one can make you do anything, you can leave at any time. No one is judging you. Sure, they're people, with the attendant foibles of any group of people, but they are people gathered to share their experience in being drinkers like you, and to talk about how the solution AA offers is helping them stay sober -- and part of that solution is sharing it with other people, and they'll be more than happy toshare it with you if you let them.
There is a basket that is passed, but if you're short of cash no one will think anything of you not putting anything in. Most people have been there -- especially when they're new. You might get some phone numbers, so when you're afraid you're going to drink you can call someone and talk it through. Yes, this sounds appalling, to call a virtual stranger and ask for help about such a thing, but if you do you'll actually be helping them tremendously, since you'll help them get out of their head and be of service to you for a little bit -- and that is actually a life saving thing for most of us, self obsessed as we are.
AA is the best thing that ever happened to me, Starting Out, and I credit it with helping me become the man I am today -- and, for the most part, I'm pretty happy with the result. With the kind of drinking I used to do, and the things I used to do when loaded, or trying to get loaded, or trying to recover from getting loaded -- well, AA uses the word miracle a lot, and for the most part it feels pretty apt when I look at my life today.
Don't wait for the time you're not nervous or afraid -- that time might never come. Go anyway, despite the fear. I'm not sure of exactly what you'll find, but the one thing I can guarantee is that you will find people who truly understand.
Walk in, sit down and listen.
And despite having a terrible illness which will try every trick in the book from preventing you from doing so, you might just save your life.
Say a little prayer. "Help! Help! Help!" is good enough to probably get you through the door.
I'll say one for you too.