no words can ever fully express
one day at a time
is a joyous and
containing rewards undreamt of
at the start;
a little bit of
hidden among the days.)
for all my
mad, scrabbling ego,
my bizarre, relentless vanity
(and oh! how some days
I romance those dreary false glamours and
I know with
this stupid beautiful corny sweet clumsy cliche-ridden nearly perfect AA deal
is the best damn thing that
how this damaged and foolish child
one day at a time
remains balanced on the ever cresting wave of spiritual transformation
and somehow keeps riding the miracle
is only for some Divine Agency
to fully understand.
when I remember to break free from the
of my little schemes and
my little dreams
(like a dog shaking water from its coat)
and in my limited way try to comprehend the gift I've been given
my heart swells and I am grateful
in a way no words can
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 fishing and 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... that's passive/aggressive.
Mr. SP: <sigh> How come when I start to talk with you about something else we keep taking 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. 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's 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. And when it comes to real tragedy I'm just... well, I land somewhere between horrified and terrified, actually.
GOD: So you just use other people's challenges, their paths, as a frame of reference for yourself.
Mr. SP: Yes.
GOD: Or a way to see what you've been, if you'll forgive a somewhat Biblical term, 'spared.'
Mr. SP: God, I can't think of anyone whose got more of a right to throw Biblical terms around now and again than you.
GOD: Fair enough. But, to go back to the point, you use what happens to other people as a frame of reference.
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.
GOD: I know that, too.
Mr. SP: Of course you do.
when I pray,
I am asking God to actually show up in my life - to be a for real thing;
a kind of tangible intangible.
I don't need God
to be a noun.
An idea. I need God
to be a verb. A force.
Not in a supernatural way, like a burning bush or magic bees (but still, that would be so cool), but in the gritty, substantive way of getting into my bones.
God, I'm asking: Please take up space and make some noise.
I'm not even afraid of that request anymore
(well... hardly even).
That's an old idea, anyway, that God making some noise in my life would result in something to be afraid of.
Result in hardship? Sometimes. Maybe.
Change? Very probably.
But it's my resistance to those things (however human and natural that resistance might be) which creates the pain. I actively reject (I mean it!) the idea of some harsh task master of a God who gives hard lessons to punish me for falling short or beats me into improving.
We are surrounded by messages which exhort us to Go! Do! Achieve! Seize the day!
I have come to believe that the day often has some sharp edges to it.
Seizing the day can get you cut up, sometimes.
What if being so busy doing (achieving! earning!) what I am told I deserve (I deserve it!) is like a
What if the hypnosis of the hamster wheel keeps me too spun to accept Divine assistance with actual for real down-in-my-gut, change?
Rather than try to seize the day,
rather than be consumed with my petty successes and failures, measured on a yardstick which doesn't even actually exist,
it's better to reach for a God who is (for real) working from my inside
That God is a real.
It hardly seems possible that this is the EIGHTH (!) Annual Holiday Survival Guide I'm posting.
I've made very few changes to it over the years -- each time I re-read it to do an edit I find myself thinking, "Based on my experience this really does pretty much cover it for me." It bears repeating: In sobriety I find that it's less about constantly finding new things to do as it is about remembering to do the things that work.
In years past it was pointed out that I put this up on the blog a little late to be of any practical use to people. So here, two and a half weeks before Thanksgiving -- in all its sugar-coated, carb-laden glory --explodes across dining room tables everywhere, and while travel arrangements might still be in the works, (and thus this Guide for alcoholics would hopefully be more helpful) is... "Mr. SponsorPants Annual Sober Holiday Survival Guide"
This is a group of broad suggestions to cover whether you're newcomer or long-timer, host or guest, travelling to family out of town or (God help you) having the familial hordes descend upon you, attending a work function, a casual gathering or a formal affair.
I sincerely hope there is something helpful here for everyone.
Holidays, families and alcoholics. A potent combination, be it for feeling gratitude or copping an attitude. As the old joke goes, no one knows how to push your buttons like your family -- after all, they installed them. With that said, here is some of the best I can offer when it comes to holiday parties, family visits, and this whole wonderful/terrible time of year:
1. Remember, you don't have to go. Yes, yes, maybe you should go. Maybe it's a bad idea for your career, or it would be hurtful or disappointing to someone if you don't go -- those can be compelling reasons to get on a plane or show up at a party -- but you don't have to go. You aren't trapped, and you can change your mind at any time if you need to -- you can turn that car right around on the way to the airport or before you enter the parking structure. If you are a real addict your life is on the line, and though we can be prone to drama and selfish decisions, it's obviously better to stay sober, and after the fact determine if you might have been oversensitive or dramatic (a very real possibility), than to force yourself to go somewhere slippery when you're feeling frightened, resentful and trapped -- and then relapse. Because if you really are an alcoholic then your alcoholism really is trying to kill you -- and you may have taken the holiday off, but it hasn't.
2. Remember, you can leave. In the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a toast, in the middle of the cutting of a cake, you can, without drama, without a scene, excuse yourself and leave. If the occasion or the moment seems to indicate a reason should be offered, just say you suddenly feel ill and step out. It's not even a falsehood, though you may mean emotionally or spiritually ill and others may think the artichoke dip didn't agree with you. In fact, it doesn't matter if people in the moment believe you or not, or if you have to explain a little more later, or make amends after the fact -- it is better to leave quietly and stay sober than remain at an event and relapse -- because if you relapse, they'll most likely wish you had left. As I've said to sponsees, you can leave with a fork halfway to your mouth, if you have to. Which leads me to...
3. Remember, if at all possible, drive yourself and don't give anyone a lift -- not out of selfishness, out of self preservation. If you have to leave because you are freaking out and you think you might not be able to stay sober then you need to leave -- not wait for someone to dither around saying goodbye or getting their coat or finishing that last slice of pie. If you do have someone with you, hopefully you can explain in advance that you might have to leave abruptly -- not that you're planning on it, but that you might need to -- so help them have a Plan B for leaving if they want to stay, or perhaps agree that they're willing to leave on short notice with you. If you're the passenger, be ready to call a cab or walk to the bus stop or at least step outside for some air. Which brings us to...
4. Remember, you can leave and then return. Leaving doesn't have to mean leaving the whole event and going home or back to the hotel or wherever -- go for a walk, get some of that aforementioned air, sit in the car and scream (though the valet may look at you funny) -- and then once you've gotten your equilibrium again go back in -- with an eye on the Exit for Round 2, if you have to.
5. Remember, don't expect Program responses from people who aren't in the Program. There you are, flush with recovery and armed with a whole new language to identify how you feel and communicate it with people. Remember that the family dinner table is not a 12 Step Meeting, and if you start "sharing" rather than talking you may be met with "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard." Or worse (in my book) patronizing smiles that are the equivalent of a pat on the head and a "isn't that nice, dear." Again: Don't expect people who aren't in a 12 Step Program to act like people in a 12 Step Program. (And what's the set up there? The evil alcoholic node in that sentence? "expect" -- expectations of family are some of the deepest -- and often least conscious -- and most lethal expectations an alcoholic can have. Yes, it's a high bar to clear -- an impossible bar to clear in fact, to have absolutely no expectations of people -- but if you're aware of the mechanism at work it helps keep the resentments from running you ragged.)
6. Remember, for most addicts, maybe = yes. If you think you might drink or use if you visit certain people or places then that's just a prelude to actually doing so. Be sure of yourself. If you're not sure, the stakes are too high to play a people-pleasing game and place yourself at risk.
7. Remember, other people find the holidays difficult and emotionally charged as well -- you're not the only one having a tough time of it -- watch for ego and hyper-sensitivity, and rather than sit in your own upset, see who and how you can help wherever you may be or whomever you may be with. Short answer: Want to feel better? Be of service.
8. Remember, "Please pass the gravy" is not code for "Please, now that you're sober, unload all of your pent up anger and frustration you've been stuffing for the past X years, right here right now, during dinner."
9. Remember, Alcoholics Anonymous suggests when dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. Even for those of us who are learning that we are not doormats it is not necessarily smart to immediately confront a situation head on. In fact, by writing out a quick inventory (and be careful where you leave that paper lying around if you're visiting home, Bucko) and organizing your thoughts and feelings you can then confront something and talk about the actual thing that caused your resentment, rather than get all tripped up talking about your feelings and anger. It's a very different thing to say "Please don't make jokes about my job" instead of "I feel angry when you make jokes about my job." The latter will just create a discussion about your feelings, and that's not what you're trying to do -- you're setting a boundary, not inviting opinions on your emotional sensitivity level. If you write out your resentment you can get clarity in your head before you open your mouth -- I've tried it the other way, to spectacularly poor results, I assure you. And all that is said with a giant IF in front of the idea that it is wise for you to "confront" anyone at all. Most of the time it probably isn't.
10. Remember, it is possible to look like you're listening intently to someone while you are actually saying The Serenity Prayer over and over in your head.
11. Remember, "love and tolerance is our code." If your family, or your boss, or your employees, or whomever, actually could do any better they probably would. For particularly difficult, toxic or challenging people try to consider that it is much worse to be them than to deal with them -- keep at the forefront of your mind that those who trouble us are spiritually sick themselves, and are deserving of our compassion (as difficult as it may be to summon for some) more than our criticism.
12. Remember, you may not have been such a winner yourself on past occasions -- it may take a while for people to "see" who you are today. Be patient, show who you are now rather than tell who you are now, and things will eventually change.
13. Remember, miracles do happen -- damaged relationships heal, wounded parties forgive, shattered families come back together ... it doesn't happen the way we may envision it, or with a clever soundtrack and excellent lighting as in your favorite independent film, but it really does happen.
14. Remember, breathe. Just three deep breaths before speaking can save a life. I am not exaggerating.
15. Remember, it is not your family's job to understand alcoholism or Alcoholics Anonymous -- it's yours.
16. Remember, it's not your job to diagnose everyone with your magical sober powers, nor is it your job to whip out your spiritual took kit and try to fix anyone around you. AA is a program of attraction, not promotion. When in doubt, keep your mouth shut. If you're being an example you don't have to explain, and if you find yourself doing a lot or explaining you're probably doing a poor job of being an example.
17. Remember, AA is a "design for living" -- and what that means in the real world is that other people's behavior does not dictate my behavior -- you can't make me yell or behave badly, only I can make me do that. I am not a doormat, but I don't have to go to every fight I'm invited to, either. A smile and shrug is an excellent strategy for quietly deflecting things.
18. And finally, remember, bring your Higher Power with you -- you're not going in there alone. Why 18 and not a nice round number like 20? Dunno -- I only have 18 I guess. Happy holidays to all, and while whatever you celebrate and whomever you celebrate it with can make for a wonderful/terrible day, it is also just another 24 hours, and one minute at a time, this too shall pass. Cheers!
Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
- Pema Chödrön
A lot of truth to Andy's observation.
Of course the "sober lawyer" in me -- the part of me always looking for loopholes and exceptions -- wants to reply to his sentiment with something along the lines of "But I thought I was relying on a Higher Power. I thought I asked God to make all the changes..."
Two things about that.
1. When I take the 3rd Step, and I offer my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God, I accept that God is the principal, I am the agent. I do the footwork. I don't sit back passively and wait for God to do things for me. I am an active participant in the process. The result is the God part. But the process is all me.
2. Through bitter challenging experience I have found time and again that God will not do for me what I will not do for myself. God will do for me what I cannot do for myself. Big, big difference.